F[rancesco] D[omenico] Guerrazzi.

Beatrice Cenci: a historical novel of the sixteenth century online

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recommenced their chants more sorrowfuUy, sprinkled with holy
water the unhappy body, and with many lamentations gave it the
last adieu. But the crowd did not soon leave the church empty ;
for to those who went out others would succeed, as the Catholics
on the Holy Thursday when visiting the Holy Sepulchre ; and
thus they kept on till midnight.

At this hour the steps which sounded on the pavement of
the church became less frequent. The sexton announced that
the church was about to be closed, and after a short time, it
seeming to him that all had left, he turned the heavy door upon
its hinges, and with a strong push he shut it.

This noise re($choing from nave to nave shook the ancient
sepulchres in every comer — then gradually it ceased, and all
became silent.

Only one torch remained lighted a few steps from the bier.
The lamps, which burnt dimly at long intervals before the altars
of the saints, rendered more solemn and fearful the obscurity of
the place..

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Ort r^OM U tao capo cadato,
Che raccolto, e da man pla rlconglimto
Al TirglDeo tuo coUo, ebbe ghlrlanda,
Slmbolo del dolenti auxii redsl
Sul mattln deUa Tita.

AvroBSi, Bwtrie* Ctnci.

A FOOTSTEP is heard, it is repeated. It is the step of a liying
being, who mores towards the bier. By the light of the torch
the aspect of Father Angelico is reyealed, as pale as the wax of
the torch which burns. For what is the poor Mar coming ?

He seats himself upon the step of the bier near the chande-
liers, embraces his knees, leans his forehead aponthem, and thus
he remains motionless to weep and praj.

From the remotest comer of the chorch behold another
fignre comes forth. His steps are not heard, so softlj thej pass
oyer the marble of the pavement ; bat thej are lengthened
and staggering. The yarions lamps, hanging down from the
vaults of the naye, reflect on more than one side several long
shadows upon the walls and floor; so that it seemed that a crowd
of people had assembled there, perhaps to accomplish some dark
design. Bat this is only a mere appearance ; the shadows move
from one person alone — alone, if joa except the desperation
wfiich accompanies him. This man's breast pants heavily ; but
he stifles his breath so, that it is hardly heard. He is barefooted ;
his eyes are staring and gleaming like fire.

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The Sepulchre. 287

He is Gnido Onerra. What thoaght urges him to that place
is manifest by the poniard, which he grasps in his hand, the same
poniard with which he pierced the throat of the father of Bea-
trice, executed for parricide — that poniard which, before the
axe of the executioner, had cut the thread of her youthful days.

He already touches the hem of the cloth, and is about to lift

" I expected you 1" said Father Angelico, starting suddenly
to his feet, and placing his hands upon his shoulders.

A long time they stood motionless and silent beside the bier
of the beheaded girl. Father Angelico broke finally this silence
by saying :

" Beatrice commands you to live. — ^Her last thought, ah I her
last thought was not of God — ^it was yours. She died happy in
the hope of seeing you again in heaven ; this she imposed upon
me to say to you, and more, she commanded me to remind you
that you have committed heavy sins, which Divine justice cannot
forgive you, without long repentance. Do you wish to betray
the hope of the loving maiden ? Do you wish, unfortunate
man ! to shut to yourself the way of rejoining her in the
bosom of God I — Give me this weapon, that I may deposit it
within her tomb, and live. Take this instead — it is her hair,
which the unhappy one sends to you that you may wear it over
your heart — and this image of the Madonna before which she
prayed her last prayers, in order that you also might pray before
her, and through her mercy obtain that pardon, which your
bride Beatrice is now begging before the throne of God. Now,
go, my son, go : — do not disturb the peace of the dead — Bea
trice is not here. Raise your eyes to heaven, and there you will
see her again."

The hand of Guido opened, and let the poniard fall. He
took the hair, and placed it in his bosom, he took the image also,
and bowing his head wept bitterly.

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288 Beatrice Cenci.

The friar, gradaallj forcing with him the desolate lover, took
him away forever from that bier.

Goido moved slowly, and aoconscioasly approached the door
of the church. The friar opened it, and going out into the open
air with Guido began to quiet him with consoling words ; but
he, maddened, suddenly rushed away from him, and silently wan-
dered through the country, where the oblique rays of the setting
moon rendered the shadows more frightful.

Tradition narrates, that with the rising of the sun his
madness agitated his breast a thousandfold, and he cursed
the hour in which he was prevented from accomplishing his
design : and since he had been forbidden to pour out his blood
upon the tomb of the beloved girl, he swore to propitiate her
shadow with the blood of others : miserable vow, which he kept
too well I Making himself the head of a band, he became terri-
ble, not only in the Roman coMpagna, but with subtle skill he
plotted against and took several lives in Rome itself, in the very
midst of guards, and even within the security of domestic walls.

In 1605 Pope Clement VIII. died, and succeeding to him,
after the very short pontificate of Leo XI, Cardinal Cammillo
Borghese under the name of Paolo Y. a partaker in the spoils of
the Cenci house, and supposed also by Guido to be an accomplice
in the slaughter ; he warned him to make his will, because in one
way or another he should die by his hands. And, as if this were
not enough, to put greater terror into the mind of the pontiff,
there was also added the prophecy of a certain astrologer, who
foretold him a very short life. So that the Pope, dismissing his
cook and steward, kept shut up in the Vatican, not daring to
appear in public ; or if ever he went out, armed servants sur-
rounded him before and behind. If any one presented a paper
or address to him, under the suspicion that they might be poi-
soned, he would let them fall to the ground.*

• Paolo Sahti. IfUtrry o/the ConncU n/TVmt,

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The Sepulchre. 289

One day Gaido, looking at the hair of Beatrice, felt ashamed
of this degraded life which he was leading ; and aspiring to a
greater reyenge, suddenly went from Rome to Flanders where
war was still raging, which its people maintained for indepen-
dence and liberty. But he arrived too late ; for the war was
drawing to a close, and after his arrival nothing of conseqnence
occurred, so that in a short time he found, with inexpressible grier
to himself, that he only came to be present at the peace. Then
he turned to look upon his past life, and he <;onsidered that all
his steps had ever dragged him away from that path which the
maiden of his heart before dying had recommended to him. Nor
was a letter of small use in changing his mind, which his old
mother, called by Providence to a better life, had written him,
who conjured him, in atonement for the bitterness with which he
had saddened her maternal heart, to render himself to Ood and
obtain pardon for his sins. Listening to these voices of his con-
science, he thought it not well to loiter in a cloister drowning
his thoughts in corpulence and idleness ; but still hoping to
appease Divine mercy, he retired to the Alp of St. Bernard,
where for the indefatigable care, and wonderful courage shown
in placing himself in the fiercest dangers for the safety of the un-
happy ones buried by the avalanches, he came into repute foi*
his piety, as well as courage ; and we may hope that appeased
justice may have granted him to see again her, whom he loved
80 well, in the dwellings of the just.

Where does the body of Beatrice now rest? Prom the
Church of St Pietro in Montorio the Transfiguration of Raphael
has disappeared, and with it the tomb-stone of the betrayed girl.
The picture of the Transfiguration, however, placed in a worthier
gitnation, ptill receives the homage of posterity ; whilst the

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290 Beatrice CencL

deTOiit pilgrim searches in vain for the sepulchre of Beatrice.
The monks, like the good son of Noah, ready to coyer the shame
of the Court of the Popes, have tamed the stone upside down,
and the inscription has disappeared. Poor monks 1 A far
tiiicker mantle is required to hide the wicked and detestable sms
of avaricious Babylon ; nor can records be cancelled like lives
and marbles. Let the pilgrim, whom love may urge, go to St.
Pietro in Montorio ; stop before the greater altar behind
the balustrade. There, on the right side, at the foot of the
steps of the altar, let him look upon the flat broad stone of pen-
iiUc marble, which makes an angle with the lateral stones :
underneath this sleep in peace the bones of Beatrice Genci, a
maiden of sixteen^ condemned by Clement VIII.^ Vkar of Christ, to
an ignominious death, for parridde not committed.

This will be enough to enable the devout pilgrim to recognize
the place where the maiden lies; but if not sufficient, let him look
closer, and he will read upon the stone the following epitaph,
which, substituted by the hand of Qod for that which men had
carved on it, will never be erased, even in the consummation
of ages :

"the avaricious cbueltt of Prissts has drukk the blood


The following Tuesday, which was the 14th of September,
1599, the Brotherhood of St. Marcello, enjoying the privilege of
freeing one prisoner on the festivity of Santa Croce, obtaiqed
permission that Bon Bernardino Cenci should be restored to
liberty, on condition, that within one year after he should pay
twenty-five thousand ducats to the Brotherhood of the most
Holy Trinity of Ponte Sisto. How Bernardino, despoiled of all

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The Sepulchre. 391

his property, would be able to pay these twenty-fi^e thoo-
sand ducats, could not be clearly understood ; but the still
greedy Oourt, spread a net to endeavor to extract the money
fh>m the most noble and powerful relatives which the Genci
house had both in Rome and elsewhere. The fact is, that these
twenty-five thousand ducats were never paid ; every day the
indignation in the public mind increased in seeing the greater
part of the Genci property grasped by the Aldobrandini family ;
the Pope by an act of the 9th of July, 1600, was forced to restore
to the children of Don Qiacomo the property of several confiscated
possessions, as they were under the bond of entail, n^ \owever
without the compensation of a good amount of moub^, as is
proved m the order sent to Monsignore Tavema to transact this
business, in which occur the following words : ** Pro aUqua conr
dectntiori Camera pecuniaria gumma per eosdem Jacohi JiUos per"
solvenda transigas." In July, .1601, the same suit still further be-
ing pursued, it was necessary to open the jaws of the masti£f and
restore all the other plunder, except the immense estate of Casale
di Torre Nova, which the Pope had been solicitous to bestow
on Giovanfrancesco Aldobrandini, for a pretended payment of
ninety-one thousand ducats. After the death of Glement YIII.
and Paul Y., Luisa Yellia, the courageous widow of Don Gia-
como, intent on recovering the stolen property of her children^
brought a suit to show the iniquity of this sale ; complaining of
it as of a notorious injustice, she asked either the restitution, or
the liberty to show the most enormous fraud and perjury of that
instrument against Pupissa Aldobrandini, Paolo Borghese, and
others mentioned in the address to Gregory XV. I have not
been able to find any other records of these litigations ; but the •
lawsuits between the heirs Genci, Aldobrandini, and Borghese
lasted for centuries ; and it is only about forty years ago, that
the Roman tribunals heard again renewed the ancient quarrel
between Prince Borghese and Gount Bolognetti CencL

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Beatrice Cenci.

If it would seem to some, that I have acted unadTisedlj in
charging the memory of that Pontiff with so mach infamy, I
request him to consider principally two tilings : first, that snch
infamies in the Court of Rome are neither new nor rare ; secondly,
that when the gold of the condemned is poured into the coffers
of the judge, the latter ought with the clearest proofs to satisfy
the people, that he did not make common cause with the ez-


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Online LibraryF[rancesco] D[omenico] GuerrazziBeatrice Cenci: a historical novel of the sixteenth century → online text (page 41 of 42)