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precious stones. After they had completed the third circuit, they halted opposite the grand entrance; and the archbishop, from a censer, scattered incense against the doors, and over the priests. Suddenly the doors were thrown open, and the effect was beyond description fine. The profusion of lights, the richness of the dresses, the vastness of the assembly, and the loud chorus which burst forth at the instant, and continued until the archbishop had taken his seat, filled my mind with astonishment.
ANGELINA. Was there any ceremony performed ? * MR. STANLEY. There was : for the archbishop soon left his seat, and proceeded all round the cathedral; first offering incense to the priests, and then to the people, as he passed along. When he had returned to his seat, the priests, two by two, performed the same ceremony, beginning with the archbishop, who rose and made obeisance with a lighted taper in his hand. From the moment the church-doors were opened, the spectators continued bowing their heads and crossing themselves, until they appeared nearly exhausted. Notwithstanding, after two hours had been spent in various ceremonies, the archbishop advanced, holding forth a cross, which all the people crowded to embrace, squeezing each other nearly to suffocation. This ceremony over, he retired to the sacristy; and having put on a plain purple robe, again advanced, exclaiming three times, “ Christ is risen !”,
WILLIAM. Which I suppose was the concluding scene of this magnificent spectacle.
MR. STANLEY. No: the most remarkable part of the ceremony now followed. The archbishop, descending into the body of the church, crawled round the pavement on his hands and knees, kissing all the consecrated pictures, whether on the altars, the pillars, or the tombs; the priests and people following his example. After which several sepulchres were opened, and the mummied bodies of saints were exhibited and kissed. Thus is Easter Sunday commemorated in Russia ; and I am afraid that you can form little notion of its grandeur from the description I have given. Indeed, the dresses of the priests alone should be seen to be admired. Their robes of various coloured satin were of the most costly embroidery, decorated with innumerable miniatures of saints, brilliantly set in pearls and diamonds; while their long black hair fell down upon their shoulders, and their dark thick beards entirely covered their breasts.
MARIA. It must have been an imposing spectacle ; and the congregation, I suppose, returned to their homes with minds suitably impressed by its performance.
Mr. STANLEY. I scarcely know what their feelings were; though I suppose they were feelings of joy; for, immediately upon leaving the cathedral, riot and dissipation broke loose. The inn at which I lodged became the scene of drinking, dancing, and singing, which continued through the night and day. For myself, notwithstanding I had been seriously affected by the solemn strains of music, and tolling of bells, which had occasionally burst upon my ear during the performance of the various rites, I could not witness without pain what appeared to me to be a complete prostration of the understanding on the part of the devotees. Indeed, it is impossible for an Englishman to travel on the Continent, and in Catholic countries, without experiencing this mixed feeling of awe, sorrow, and contempt. I can assure you, that, of all the religious ceremonies which I have seen in Italy and elsewhere, there are very few which are dedicated to the Supreme Being; it is generally to some saint, sometimes to the Virgin, and very rarely to Jesus Christ. When the Protestants, therefore, call the Catholics idolaters, they seem to have just grounds for doing so, seeing the proneness of their customs to that result. Their Calendars being
crowded with saints, to whom the people are daily required to do hoinage, it is not to be wondered at, that, in the midst of so many calls for their worship and service, they should lose sight of the Creator of all. Besides, there is another evil; this overstrained piety is generally succeeded by the most dissolute practices. Thus, in Russia, on Easter Monday, after the presentation of the paschal egg, (when lovers to their mistresses, relatives to each other, and servants to masters, all bring ornamented eggs,) business is laid aside; the upper ranks are engaged in balls, dinners, suppers, and masquerades; while the common people fill the air with their songs, or roll intoxicated about the streets.
MR. Constance. Although it must be matter of regret to every reflecting mind, that a circumstance so important, considered either in reference to its antiquity, or to its valuable results, should be so celebrated ; yet it will create little surprise when we remember, that the Roman Catholic and Greek forms of worship enjoin great severity; and that it is natural for those who have been so long held in subjected penance, by the strict observance of Lent, to run riot at the first opportunity. But let us not presume to censure those who differ with ourselves as to the most acceptable mode of commemorating an event, which hath bequeathed to us the rich legacy of a faith, the practices and promises of which enhance human happiness, and afford us a sublunary foretaste of “the bliss immortal.” It is customary with every nation and every sect, to celebrate this season by some religious rites; and it is also a general season of holyday and festivity.
ANGELINA. The description given by Lady Morgan of the manner in which Easter Sunday is celebrated at St. Peter's at Rome, is too interesting to pass unnoticed ; I will, therefore, with permission, read it. She writes :“On Easter Sunday the service is performed at St. Peter's; and it is then that the church exhibits all its splendour, and exhibits its forces on a site worthy their display. The spacious piazza of St. Peter, its porticoes, and colonnades, its beautiful fountains, its stupendous façade, glittering in the noon-day sun, become the scene of action. Above its marble walls rise fantastic awnings, for the accommodation of the spectators, who, at an early hour, crowd their elevated seats. The space below is lined with infantry. The light-horse, with their showy dresses, form a line within. The Roman military standards, once the banners of universal conquest, now serve only to deck the pageant, and to flaunt above the gaudy little colours of the Swiss corps. In the centre of all, forming the inner circle, and crowding the steps of the church, are a multitude of common people. The loggie above the portico are filled with the cardinals; and in the centre, raised upon men's shoulders, high above all, and reduced almost to a speck by his elevation, appears the Pontiff. He is said to pray, but prays unheard ; and when he rises to give the benediction, the act, scarce visible, is awfully announced by the tolling of the great bell of St. Peter's, and the firing of the cannon of St. Angelo. The military ground their arms, and drop on their knees; the cardinals fling down the church's indulgences among the people ; drums beat, trumpets sound, the music plays, the troops file off, and the ceremony finishes at night with the illumination of the Vatican,” which her Ladyship calls “the most beautiful, the most splendid, and the most indescribable of all the spectacles exhibited by Rome to wondering nations." Now, all this, if not very religious, must be very grand, and which I should very much like to see.
CHARLES. But there are several other holydays mentioned in the calendar, such as Easter Monday and Tuesday: what happened on those days?
WILLIAM. Nothing particular; but it was ordered by the church, that to do the greater honour to the remembrance of those festivals which are of the greatest importance to us, additional holydays should be kept after them; thus you observe in the calendar, that after the festivals of Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Trinity, Advent, and Christmas, Sundays are set apart for particular services. So that Monday and Tuesday in Easter week are enjoined to be kept as holydays; and on the five following Sundays appropriate church services are read, in remembrance of the great event of our Saviour's resurrection.
Mr. CONSTANCE. And now that you have heard an account of the festivities performed in celebration of Easter, there is one important circumstance connected with this ancient festival, which ought not to pass unregarded. It has been styled the “ Feast of Feasts," and therefore regulates and determines the time of all other moveable feasts. The rule for the celebration of Easter, fixed by the council of Nice, is, that it be held on the Sunday which falls next after the full moon following the 21st of March; that is, the Sunday which falls next after the first full moon after the vernal equinox,
CHARLES. Then that regulation explains why Easter sometimes falls in this month, and sometimes in April..
MR. CONSTANCE. It does so: and the reason of this decree was, that Christians might avoid celebrating their Easter at the same time that the Jews celebrated their Passover, which was always the very day of the full, or paschal moon. Having found Easter Sunday, the other feasts which it influences are easily ascertained. (D)
The importance of several of the subjects noticed in this month having extended the evening's Conversation to a late hour, induced Mr. Constance immediately to break up the party.