The Athlete Scraping Himself.
Most travelers, in their eagerness to reach St. Peter's, forget that on the way to it are some important relics of imperial Rome. One is the bridge of San Angelo, erected seventeen hundred years ago by Hadrian, as a grand avenue of approach to the stupendous mausoleum which he built to contain his own remains and those of his successors.
A Corner In The Imperial Baths.
From what is left of it, to-day, we can form little idea of the original magnificence of this imperial tomb; yet it is certain that its circular tower, one thousand feet in circumference, was formerly covered with Parian marble, and adorned with fine Greek statues and columns of variegated marble and porphyry. Upon the summit, also, stood a colossal figure of its founder, only the head of which has been preserved. Poor Hadrian! He little thought that all the splendid ornaments upon his sepulchre would, a few centuries after his death, be pried off and hurled down upon an army of barbarians who, nevertheless, having gained possession of the Eternal City, would sack this burial-place of Roman Emperors, and, seizing its alabaster urns, give to the winds the dust of Marcus Aurelius, Antoninus Pius, Caracalla, Commodus, Septimus Severus, and Hadrian himself. In the seventeenth century many statues were found in the moat surrounding this mausoleum, among them being the colossal Head of Hadrian, now in the Vatican, the Dancing Faun of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and the Barberini Faun in Munich, all of which, with many others, had been lying there for at least one thousand two hundred years.
The Bridge Of San Angelo.
"Look toward the summit of the structure," said my friend, "while I remind you of another change that has here taken place".
I did so, and beheld a huge bronze statue of the Archangel Michael sheathing his sword.
"In the sixth century after Christ," continued my companion, "a plague was devastating Rome. One day Pope Gregory the Great was leading a procession across this bridge to pray to Heaven for relief, when he beheld above the tomb of Hadrian a vision of the Archangel replacing his sword in its scabbard, as if the work of destruction were concluded. The plague, in fact, at once abated, and the statue stands here to commemorate the event. Moreover, it has given a new name to this imperial sepulchre, for now its usual title is the Castle of the Holy Angel".
Leaving this famous edifice, a few steps brought us to the square which forms the approach to St. Peter's. Despite the many visits I have since made to it, I can recall with perfect vividness my first impressions. The grandeur of the intervening space, the curving colonnades on either side, the lofty obelisk, the breadth of the gigantic edifice, all these were even more than I had dared anticipate; yet when I looked up toward the mighty dome, which I had thus far seen only at a distance, I felt a pang of disappointment. The dome seemed low to me, and being concealed by the unfortunate facade, actually diminished as I advanced across the area. That this impression is produced is not, however, the fault of Michelangelo. His plan was to construct the church in the form of a Greek cross, with equal arms, having in front a portico which would have left the whole dome visible from the square; but, after his death, the design was changed to that of a Latin cross, and the facade was placed three times as far in front of the dome as the great Florentine had intended, so that on near approach much of the cupola's majesty is lost.
The Square Of St. Peter's.
The Egyptian obelisk, which occupies the centre of the Piazza, is a solid block of reddish granite, the gilded cross of which glitters one hundred and thirty-two feet above the pavement. A Pagan obelisk appears at first an inappropriate decoration for a Christian church; but when this shaft was brought from Egypt eighteen hundred years ago, it was placed in the Circus of Nero, where many Christians suffered martyrdom. When, therefore, this magnificent basilica was built, so near the site of the Neronian circus that a part of the church's southern wall rests on the ruins of the ancient seats for the spectators, what could be more appropriate than that this ancient monolith, which had looked down upon so many scenes of suffering, should be erected here to hold up, as it were, exultingly, the Cross of Christ, which had at last so permanently and completely triumphed over the sword of Rome ?