The Entrance To The Grotto.

The Entrance To The Grotto.

I shall not soon forget the impression made upon me when I passed beyond the plain fagade which screens the grotto from the outer world, and found myself in a kind of vestibule, part of whose walls consisted of the natural mountain side, and whose high roof was merely the blue dome of heaven. It was already late in the afternoon, but a warm flood of sunshine filled this high-walled courtyard with a mellow light, and tinged its naturally sombre cliffs with a peculiar glow that seemed almost unearthly in its strange intensity. Within the grotto itself, however, on the further side of this open space, a twilight gloom prevailed, relieved somewhat by several burning lamps, which glittered like a miniature constellation behind the iron grating, that barred the sacred area from rash intruders. There, every day, religious services are conducted by the fathers of the adjoining monastery, which has existed here for nearly three hundred years. One of these monks, an agèd, gentle-mannered priest, showed no reluctance to admit us, and pointed out with evident pride a beautifully sculptured, marble statue of Santa Rosalia, reclining in the attitude of a sleeping girl, her head supported by one hand, while the other holds a crucifix. A golden robe - a gift of royalty - surrounds this graceful figure; a diamond necklace clasps her slender throat; rich, jeweled rings adorn her fingers, and on her breast is a magnificent Maltese cross. It is evident, therefore, that many who have been cured by faith in her have been most lavish in their votive offerings. In fact, so reverenced is Rosalia's memory, and so remarkably efficacious are her hallowed bones, that during her four days' festival in July the people of Palermo swarm by thousands up the mountain side, and wait for hours for an opportunity to enter this enclosure and pray before the recumbent statue of its occupant. During this celebration also the maiden's relics are conveyed in a grand procession through the city streets upon a sumptuous car, the top of which towers far above the tallest residences in Palermo!

The Interior Of The Grotto.

The Interior Of The Grotto.

The Shrine Of Santa Rosalia.

The Shrine Of Santa Rosalia.

What can one say of this, save that it offers a striking illustration of the permanence of that " eternal feminine " in human faith and worship which has existed in all ages and all creeds, and shows itself to-day, in Sicily, in the adoration of Santa Rosalia, no less than formerly in devotion to Ceres, Juno, and Persephone? It is not, therefore, strange that many marriages are celebrated in this grotto in spite of its comparative inaccessibility; for popular belief in the protective power of the saint makes any ordinary obstacles to such an act seem trivial. Moreover, until recently, this cave was looked upon as a place of refuge for persecuted lovers; since, if the latter could contrive to elude their guardians, and gain the precincts of this shrine, they became free from molestation. Once past the iron gate and in the grotto, the rights of the parents ceased, and those of the saint began. Hence, the indulgent priest would merely ask if they desired to be wedded; and, on receiving an affirmative reply, he married them, and after the celebration of a mass the happy pair returned in triumph to Palermo.

The Triumphal Car Of Santa Rosalia.

The Triumphal Car Of Santa Rosalia.

The Silver Sarcophagus Of Santa Rosalia.

The Silver Sarcophagus Of Santa Rosalia.

Bird's Eye View Of Palermo From Monte Pellegrino.

Bird's-Eye View Of Palermo From Monte Pellegrino.

Leaving this singular sanctuary, an hour's rather arduous climbing brought us to the summit of the mountain, the glorious view from which would have repaid me for tenfold the exertion necessary to arrive there. In the sublime circumference of vision I first discerned a chain of radiant mountain peaks, of which the nearest stood forth sharp and clear, while the remainder melted gradually through the haze of distance into tender lines of blue. To right and left, along the island's legend-haunted coast, a series of bold capes and headlands cleft the water like gigantic plowshares, on either side of which we traced a thread of white surf, "Where the pebble-paven shore Under the quick, faint kisses of the sea Trembled and sparkled as with ecstasy".