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The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 09, No. 52, February, 1862 online

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His blessed Mother and all the holy archangels, the martyrs and prophets
and apostles, are with me. The end is coming."

"But, dearest father," said Antonio, "think you the Lord will suffer the
wicked to prevail?"

"It may be for a time," said Savonarola. "As for me, I am in His hands
only as an instrument. He is master of the forge and handles the hammer,
and when He has done using it He casts it from Him. Thus He did with
Jeremiah, whom He permitted to be stoned to death when his preaching
mission was accomplished; and thus He may do with _this_ hammer when He
has done using it."

At this moment a monk rushed into the room with a face expressive of the
utmost terror, and called out, -

"Father, what shall we do? The mob are surrounding the convent! Hark!
hear them at the doors!"

In truth, a wild, confused roar of mingled shrieks, cries, and blows
came in through the open door of the apartment; and the pattering sound
of approaching footsteps was heard like showering raindrops along the
cloisters.

"Here come Messer Nicolo de' Lapi, and Francesco Valori!" called out a
voice.

The room was soon filled with a confused crowd, consisting of
distinguished Florentine citizens, who had gained admittance through a
secret passage, and the excited novices and monks.

"The streets outside the convent are packed close with men," cried one
of the citizens; "they have stationed guards everywhere to cut off our
friends who might come to help us."

"I saw them seize a young man who was quietly walking, singing psalms,
and slay him on the steps of the Church of the Innocents," said another;
"they cried and hooted, 'No more psalm-singing!'"

"And there's Arnolfo Battista," said a third; - "he went out to try
to speak to them, and they have killed him, - cut him down with their
sabres."

"Hurry! hurry! barricade the door! arm yourselves!" was the cry from
other voices.

"Shall we fight, father? shall we defend ourselves?" cried others, as
the monks pressed around their Superior.

When the crowd first burst into the room, the face of the Superior
flushed, and there was a slight movement of surprise; then he seemed to
recollect himself, and murmuring, "I expected this, but not so soon,"
appeared lost in mental prayer. To the agitated inquiries of his flock,
he answered, - "No, brothers; the weapons of monks must be spiritual, not
carnal." Then lifting on high a crucifix, he said, - "Come with me, and
let us walk in solemn procession to the altar, singing the praises of
our God."

The monks, with the instinctive habit of obedience, fell into procession
behind their leader, whose voice, clear and strong, was heard raising
the Psalm, _"Quare fremunt gentes"_: -

"Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?

"The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel
together, against the Lord, and against his Anointed, saying,

"'Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.'

"He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh.: the Lord shall have them
in derision."

As one voice after another took up the chant, the solemn enthusiasm rose
and deepened, and all present, whether ecclesiastics or laymen, fell
into the procession and joined in the anthem. Amid the wild uproar, the
din and clatter of axes, the thunders of heavy battering-implements on
the stone walls and portals, came this long-drawn solemn wave of sound,
rising and falling, - now drowned in the savage clamors of the mob, and
now bursting out clear and full like the voices of God's chosen amid the
confusion and struggles of all the generations of this mortal life.

White-robed and grand the procession moved on, while the pictured saints
and angels on the walls seemed to smile calmly down upon them from a
golden twilight. They passed thus into the sacristy, where with all
solemnity and composure they arrayed their Father and Superior for the
last time in his sacramental robes, and then, still chanting, followed
him to the high altar, - where all bowed in prayer. And still, whenever
there was a pause in the stormy uproar and fiendish clamor, might be
heard the clear, plaintive uprising of that strange singing, - "O Lord,
save thy people, and bless thine heritage!"

It needs not to tell in detail what history has told of that tragic
night: how the doors at last were forced, and the mob rushed in; how
citizens and friends, and many of the monks themselves, their instinct
of combativeness overcoming their spiritual beliefs, fought valiantly,
and used torches and crucifixes for purposes little contemplated when
they were made.

Fiercest among the combatants was Agostino, who three times drove back
the crowd as they were approaching the choir, where Savonarola and his
immediate friends were still praying. Father Antonio, too, seized
a sword from the hand of a fallen man and laid about him with an
impetuosity which would be inexplicable to any who do not know what
force there is in gentle natures when the objects of their affections
are assailed. The artist monk fought for his master with the blind
desperation with which a woman fights over the cradle of her child.

All in vain! Past midnight, and the news comes that artillery is planted
to blow down the walls of the convent, and the magistracy, who up to
this time have lifted not a finger to repress the tumult, send word to
Savonarola to surrender himself to them, together with the two most
active of his companions, Frà Domenico da Pescia and Frà Silvestro
Maruffi, as the only means of averting the destruction of the whole
order. They offer him assurances of protection and safe return, which he
does not in the least believe: nevertheless, he feels that his hour is
come, and gives himself up.

His preparations were all made with a solemn method which showed that
he felt he was approaching the last act in the drama of life. He called
together his flock, scattered and forlorn, and gave them his last
words of fatherly advice, encouragement, and comfort, - ending with the
remarkable declaration, "A Christian's life consists in doing good and
suffering evil." "I go with joy to this marriage-supper," he said, as he
left the church for the last sad preparations. He and his doomed friends
then confessed and received the sacrament, and after that he surrendered
himself into the hands of the men who he felt in his prophetic soul had
come to take him to torture and to death.

As he gave himself into their hands, he said, "I commend to your care
this flock of mine, and these good citizens of Florence who have been
with us"; and then once more turning to his brethren, said, - "Doubt not,
my brethren. God will not fail to perfect His work. Whether I live or
die, He will aid and console you."

At this moment there was a struggle with the attendants in the outer
circle of the crowd, and the voice of Father Antonio was heard crying
out earnestly, - "Do not hold me! I will go with him! I must go with
him!" - "Son," said Savonarola, "I charge you on your obedience not to
come. It is I and Frà Domenico who are to die for the love of Christ."
And thus, at the ninth hour of the night, he passed the threshold of San
Marco.

As he was leaving, a plaintive voice of distress was heard from a young
novice who had been peculiarly dear to him, who stretched his hands
after him, crying, - "Father! father! why do you leave us desolate?"
Whereupon he turned back a moment, and said, - "God will be your help.
If we do not see each other again in this world, we surely shall in
heaven."

When the party had gone forth, the monks and citizens stood looking into
each other's faces, listening with dismay to the howl of wild ferocity
that was rising around the departing prisoner.

"What shall we do?" was the outcry from many voices.

"I know what I shall do," said Agostino. "If any man here will find me a
fleet horse, I will start for Milan this very hour; for my uncle is now
there on a visit, and he is a counsellor of weight with the King of
France: we must get the King to interfere."

"Good! good! good!" rose from a hundred voices.

"I will go with you," said Father Antonio. "I shall have no rest till I
do something."

"And I," quoth Jacopo Niccolini, "will saddle for you, without delay,
two horses of part Arabian blood, swift of foot, and easy, and which
will travel day and night without sinking."


CHAPTER XXII.

THE CATHEDRAL.


The rays of the setting sun were imparting even more than their wonted
cheerfulness to the airy and bustling streets of Milan. There was the
usual rush and roar of busy life which mark the great city, and the
display of gay costumes and brilliant trappings proper to a ducal
capital which at that time gave the law to Europe in all matters of
taste and elegance, even as Paris does now. It was, in fact, from the
reputation of this city in matters of external show that our English
term Milliner was probably derived; and one might well have believed
this, who saw the sweep of the ducal cortege at this moment returning
in pomp from the afternoon airing. Such glittering of gold-embroidered
mantles, such bewildering confusion of colors, such flashing of jewelry
from cap and dagger-hilt and finger-ring, and even from bridle and
stirrup, testified that the male sex at this period in Italy were no
whit behind the daughters of Eve in that passion for personal adornment
which our age is wont to consider exclusively feminine. Indeed, all that
was visible to the vulgar eye of this pageant was wholly masculine;
though no one doubted that behind the gold-embroidered curtains of the
litters which contained the female notabilities of the court still more
dazzling wonders might be concealed. Occasionally a white jewelled hand
would draw aside one of these screens, and a pair of eyes brighter than
any gems would peer forth; and then there would be tokens of a visible
commotion among the plumed and gemmed cavaliers around, and one young
head would nod to another with jests and quips, and there would be
bowing and curveting and all the antics and caracolings supposable among
gay young people on whom the sun shone brightly, and who felt the world
going well around them, and deemed themselves the observed of all
observers.

Meanwhile, the mute, subservient common people looked on all this as
a part of their daily amusement. Meek dwellers in those dank, noisome
caverns, without any opening but a street-door, which are called
dwelling-places in Italy, they lived in uninquiring good-nature,
contentedly bringing up children on coarse bread, dirty cabbage-stumps,
and other garbage, while all that they could earn was sucked upward by
capillary attraction to nourish the extravagance of those upper classes
on which they stared with such blind and ignorant admiration.

This was the lot they believed themselves born for, and which every
exhortation of their priests taught them to regard as the appointed
ordinance of God. The women, to be sure, as women always will be, were
true to the instinct of their sex, and crawled out of the damp and
vile-smelling recesses of their homes with solid gold ear-rings shaking
in their ears, and their blue-black lustrous hair ornamented with a
glittering circle of steel pins or other quaint coiffure. There was
sense in all this: for had not even Dukes of Milan been found so
condescending and affable as to admire the charms of the fair in the
lower orders, whence had come sons and daughters who took rank among
princes and princesses? What father, or what husband, could be
insensible to prospects of such honor? What priest would not readily
absolve such sin? Therefore one might have observed more than one comely
dark-eyed woman, brilliant as some tropical bird in the colors of her
peasant dress, who cast coquettish glances toward high places, not
unacknowledged by patronizing nods in return, while mothers and fathers
looked on in triumph. These were the days for the upper classes: the
Church bore them all in her bosom as a tender nursing-mother, and
provided for all their little peccadilloes with even grandmotherly
indulgence, and in return the world was immensely deferential towards
the Church; and it was only now and then some rugged John Baptist,
in raiment of camel's hair, like Savonarola, who dared to speak an
indecorous word of God's truth in the ear of power, and Herod and
Herodias had ever at hand the good old recipe for quieting such
disturbances. John Baptist was beheaded in prison, and then all the
world and all the Scribes and Pharisees applauded; and only a few poor
disciples were found to take up the body and go and tell Jesus.

The whole piazza around the great Cathedral is at this moment full of
the dashing cavalcade of the ducal court, looking as brilliant in the
evening light as a field of poppy, corn-flower, and scarlet clover
at Sorrento; and there, amid the flutter and rush, the amours and
intrigues, the court scandal, the laughing, the gibing, the glitter,
and dazzle, stands that wonderful Cathedral, that silent witness, that
strange, pure, immaculate mountain of airy, unearthly loveliness, - the
most striking emblem of God's mingled vastness and sweetness that ever
it was given to human heart to devise or hands to execute. If there be
among the many mansions of our Father above, among the houses not made
with hands, aught purer and fairer, it must be the work of those grand
spirits who inspired and presided over the erection of this celestial
miracle of beauty. In the great, vain, wicked city, all alive with the
lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, it seemed
to stand as much apart and alone as if it were in the solemn desolation
of the Campagna, or in one of the wide deserts of Africa, - so little
part or lot did it appear to have in anything earthly, so little to
belong to the struggling, bustling crowd who beneath its white dazzling
pinnacles seemed dwarfed into crawling insects. They who could look up
from the dizzy, frivolous life below saw far, far above them, in the
blue Italian air, thousands of glorified saints standing on a thousand
airy points of brilliant whiteness, ever solemnly adoring. The marble
which below was somewhat touched and soiled with the dust of the street
seemed gradually to refine and brighten as it rose into the pure regions
of the air, till at last in those thousand distant pinnacles it had the
ethereal translucence of wintry frost-work, and now began to glow with
the violet and rose hues of evening, in solemn splendor.

The ducal cortege sweeps by; but we have mounted the dizzy, dark
staircase that leads to the roof, where, amid the bustling life of the
city, there is a promenade of still and wondrous solitude. One seems to
have ascended in those few moments far beyond the tumult and dust of
earthly things, to the silence, the clearness, the tranquillity of
ethereal regions. The noise of the rushing tides of life below rises
only in a soft and distant murmur; while around, in the wide, clear
distance, is spread a prospect which has not on earth its like or its
equal. The beautiful plains of Lombardy lie beneath like a map, and the
northern horizon-line is glittering with the entire sweep of the Alps,
like a solemn senate of archangels with diamond mail and glittering
crowns. Mont Blanc, Monte Rosa with his countenance of light, the
Jungfrau and all the weird brothers of the Oberland, rise one after
another to the delighted gaze, and the range of the Tyrol melts far off
into the blue of the sky. On another side, the Apennines, with their
picturesque outlines and cloud-spotted sides, complete the inclosure.
All around, wherever the eye turns, is the unbroken phalanx of
mountains; and this temple, with its thousand saintly statues standing
in attitudes of ecstasy and prayer, seems like a worthy altar and shrine
for the beautiful plain which the mountains inclose: it seems to give
all Northern Italy to God.

The effect of the statues in this high, pure air, in this solemn,
glorious scenery, is peculiar. They seem a meet companionship for these
exalted regions. They seem to stand exultant on their spires, poised
lightly as ethereal creatures, the fit inhabitants of the pure blue sky.
One feels that they have done with earth; one can fancy them a band of
white-robed kings and priests forever ministering in that great temple
of which the Alps and the Apennines are the walls and the Cathedral the
heart and centre. Never were Art and Nature so majestically married by
Religion in so worthy a temple.

One form could be discerned standing in rapt attention, gazing from a
platform on the roof upon the far-distant scene. He was enveloped in
the white coarse woollen gown of the Dominican monks, and seemed wholly
absorbed in meditating on the scene before him, which appeared to move
him deeply; for, raising his hands, he repeated aloud from the Latin
Vulgate the words of an Apostle: -

"Accessistis ad Sion montem et civitatem Dei viventis, Ierusalem
caelestem, et multorum millinm angelorum frequentiam, ecclesiam
primitivorum, qui inscripti sunt in caelis."[A]

[Footnote A: "Ye are come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the
living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of
angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are
written in heaven."]

At this moment the evening worship commenced within the Cathedral, and
the whole building seemed to vibrate with the rising swell of the great
organ, while the grave, long-drawn tones of the Ambrosian Liturgy rose
surging in waves and dying away in distant murmurs, like the rolling
of the tide on some ocean-shore. The monk turned and drew near to the
central part of the roof to listen, and as he turned he disclosed the
well-known features of Father Antonio.

Haggard, weary, and travel-worn, his first impulse, on entering the
city, was to fly to this holy solitude, as the wandering sparrow of
sacred song sought her nest amid the altars of God's temple. Artist no
less than monk, he found in this wondrous shrine of beauty a repose
both for his artistic and his religious nature; and while waiting for
Agostino Sarelli to find his uncle's residence, he had determined to
pass the interval in this holy solitude. Many hours had he paced alone
up and down the long promenades of white marble which run everywhere
between forests of dazzling pinnacles and flying-buttresses of airy
lightness. Now he rested in fixed attention against the wall above the
choir, which he could feel pulsating with throbs of sacred sound, as if
a great warm heart were beating within the fair marble miracle, warming
it into mysterious life and sympathy.

"I would now that boy were here to worship with me," he said. "No wonder
the child's faith fainteth: it takes such monuments as these of the
Church's former days to strengthen one's hopes. Ah, woe unto those by
whom such offence cometh!"

At this moment the form of Agostino was seen ascending the marble
staircase.

The eye of the monk brightened as he came towards him. He put out
one hand eagerly to take his, and raised the other with a gesture of
silence.

"Look," he said, "and listen! Is it not the sound of many waters and
mighty thunderings?"

Agostino stood subdued for the moment by the magnificent sights and
sounds; for, as the sun went down, the distant mountains grew every
moment more unearthly in their brilliancy, - and as they lay in a long
line, jewelled brightness mingling with the cloud-wreaths of the far
horizon, one might have imagined that he in truth beheld the foundations
of that celestial city of jasper, pearl, and translucent gold which the
Apostle saw, and that the risings and fallings of choral sound which
seemed to thrill and pulsate through the marble battlements were indeed
that song like many waters sung by the Church Triumphant above.

For a few moments the monk and the young man stood in silence, till at
length the monk spoke.

"You have told me, my son, that your heart often troubles you in being
more Roman than Christian; that you sometimes doubt whether the Church
on earth be other than a fiction or a fable. But look around us. Who
are these, this great multitude who praise and pray continually in this
temple of the upper air? These are they who have come out of great
tribulation, having washed their robes and made them white in the blood
of the Lamb. These are not the men that have sacked cities, and made
deserts, and written their triumphs in blood and carnage. These be men
that have sheltered the poor, and built houses for orphans, and sold
themselves into slavery to redeem their brothers in Christ. These be
pure women who have lodged saints, brought up children, lived holy and
prayerful lives. These be martyrs who have laid down their lives for the
testimony of Jesus. There were no such churches in old Rome, - no such
saints."

"Well," said Agostino, "one thing is certain. If such be the True
Church, the Pope and the Cardinals of our day have no part in it; for
they are the men who sack cities and make desolations, who devour
widows' houses and for a pretence make long prayers. Let us see one of
_them_ selling himself into slavery for the love of anybody, while they
seek to keep all the world in slavery to themselves!"

"That is the grievous declension our master weeps over," said the monk.
"Ah, if the Bishops of the Church now were like brave old Saint
Ambrose, strong alone by faith and prayer, showing no more favor to an
unrepentant Emperor than to the meanest slave, then would the Church be
a reality and a glory! Such is my master. Never is he afraid of the face
of king or lord, when he has God's truth to speak. You should have heard
how plainly he dealt with our Lorenzo de' Medici on his death-bed, - how
he refused him absolution, unless he would make restitution to the poor
and restore the liberties of Florence."

"I should have thought," said the young man, sarcastically, "that
Lorenzo the Magnificent might have got absolution cheaper than that.
Where were all the bishops in his dominion, that he must needs send for
Jerome Savonarola?"

"Son, it is ever so," replied the monk. "If there be a man that cares
neither for Duke nor Emperor, but for God alone, then Dukes and Emperors
would give more for his good word than for a whole dozen of common
priests."

"I suppose it is something like a rare manuscript or a singular gem:
these _virtuosi_ have no rest till they have clutched it. The thing they
cannot get is always the thing they want."

"Lorenzo was always seeking our master," said the monk. "Often would he
come walking in our gardens, expecting surely he would hasten down to
meet him; and the brothers would run all out of breath to his cell to
say, 'Father, Lorenzo is in the garden.' 'He is welcome,' would he
answer, with his pleasant smile. 'But, father, will you not descend
to meet him?' 'Hath he asked for me?' 'No.' 'Well, then, let us not
interrupt his meditations,' he would answer, and remain still at his
reading, so jealous was he lest he should seek the favor of princes and
forget God, as does all the world in our day."

"And because he does not seek the favor of the men of this world he will
be trampled down and slain. Will the God in whom he trusts defend him?"

The monk pointed expressively upward to the statues that stood glorified
above them, still wearing a rosy radiance, though the shadows of
twilight had fallen on all the city below.

"My son," he said, "the victories of the True Church are not in time,
but in eternity. How many around us were conquered on earth that they
might triumph in heaven! What saith the Apostle? 'They were
tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better
resurrection.'"

"But, alas!" said Agostino, "are we never to see the right triumph here?
I fear that this noble name is written in blood, like so many of whom
the world is not worthy. Can one do nothing to help it?"

"How is that? What have you heard?" said the monk, eagerly. "Have you
seen your uncle?"

"Not yet; he is gone into the country for a day, - so say his servants. I
saw, when the Duke's court passed, my cousin, who is in his train, and
got a moment's speech with him; and he promised, that, if I would wait
for him here, he would come to me as soon as he could be let off from
his attendance. When he comes, it were best that we confer alone."

"I will retire to the southern side," said the monk, "and await the end
of your conference": and with that he crossed the platform on which they
were standing, and, going down a flight of white marble steps, was soon
lost to view amid the wilderness of frost-like carved work.


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Online LibraryVariousThe Atlantic Monthly, Volume 09, No. 52, February, 1862 → online text (page 2 of 19)