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What Mark Twain Saw


Mark Twain visited Italy in 1867 in what he called "the first organized pleasure party ever assembled for a transatlantic voyage". He published in 1869 The Innocents Abroad a detailed account of a long journey through most of Europe and the Holy Land. In 1867 Italy was already a unified country, with the sole exception of Rome and Latium, which were still ruled by the Pope.
This page contains (illustrated!) excerpts of that book dealing with Rome.
The sentences in red make reference to the images in the left column.


and ..... The Playbill of the Coliseum!!!!

Images of St. Peter's
St. Peter's

Of course we have been to the monster Church of St. Peter frequently. I knew its dimensions. I knew it was a prodigious structure. I knew it was just about the length of the Capitol at Washington - say seven hundred and thirty feet. I knew three hundred and sixty-four feet wide and consequently wider than the Capitol. I knew that the cross on the top of the dome of the church was four hundred and thirty-eight feet above the ground, and therefore about a hundred or maybe a hundred and twenty-five feet higher than the dome of the Capitol. Thus I had one gauge. I wished to come as near forming a correct idea of how it was going to look as possible; I had a curiosity to see how much I would err. I erred considerably. St. Peter's did not look nearly so large as the Capitol, and certainly not a twentieth part as beautiful, from the outside.
When we reached the door and stood fairly within the church, it was impossible to comprehend that it was a very large building. I had to cipher a comprehension of it. I had to ransack my memory for some more similes. St. Peter's is bulky. Its height and size would represent two of the Washington Capitol set one on top of the other - if the Capitol were wider; or two blocks or two blocks and a half of ordinary buildings set one on top of the other. St Peter's was that large, but it could and would not look so. The trouble was that everything in it and about it was on such a scale of uniform vastness that there were no contrasts to judge by - none but the people, and I had not noticed them. They were insects. The statues of children holding vases of holy water were immense, according to the tables of figures, but so was everything else around them. The mosaic pictures in the dome were huge, and were made of thousands and thousands of cubes of glass as large as the end of my little finger, but those pictures looked smooth, and gaudy of color, and in good proportion to the dome. Evidently they would not answer to measure by. Away down toward the far end of the church (I thought it was really clear at the far end, but discovered afterward that it was in the center, under the dome) stood the thing they call the baldachino - a great bronze pyramidal framework like that which upholds a mosquito bar. It only looked like a considerably magnified bedstead - nothing more. Yet I knew it was a good deal more than half as high as Niagara Falls. It was overshadowed by a dome so mighty that its own height was snubbed. The four great square piers or pillars that stand equidistant from each other in the church and support the roof, I could not work up to their real dimensions by any method of comparison. I knew that the faces of each were about the width of a very large dwelling house front (fifty or sixty feet) and that they were twice as high as an ordinary three-story dwelling, but still they looked small. I tried all the different ways I could think of to compel myself to understand how large St. Peter's was, but with small success. The mosaic portrait of an Apostle who was writing with a pen six feet long seemed only an ordinary Apostle.
But the people attracted my attention after a while. To stand in the door of St. Peter's and look at men down toward its further extremity, two blocks away, has a diminishing effect on them; surrounded by the prodigious pictures and statues, and lost in the vast spaces, they look very much smaller than they would if they stood two blocks away in the open air. I "averaged" a man as he passed me and watched him as he drifted far down by the baldachino and beyond - watched him dwindle to an insignificant school-boy, and then, in the midst of the silent throng of human pygmies gliding about him, I lost him. The church had lately been decorated, on the occasion of a great ceremony in honor of St. Peter, and men were engaged now in removing the flowers and gilt paper from the walls and pillars. As no ladders could reach the great heights, the men swung themselves down from balustrades and the capitals of pilasters by ropes to do this work. The upper gallery, which encircles the inner sweep of the dome, is two hundred and forty feet above the floor of the church - very few steeples in America could reach up to it. Visitors always go up there to look down into the church because one gets the best idea of some of the heights and distances from that point. While we stood on the floor one of the workmen swung loose from that gallery at the end of a long rope. I had not supposed before that a man could look so much like a spider. He was insignificant in size, and his rope seemed only a thread. Seeing that he took up so little space, I could believe the story then that ten thousand troops went to St. Peter's once to hear mass, and their commanding officer came afterwards and, not finding them, supposed they had not yet arrived. But they were in the church, nevertheless - they were in one of the transepts. Nearly fifty thousand persons assembled in St. Peter's to hear the publishing of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. It is estimated that the floor of the church affords standing room for - for a large number of people; I have forgotten the exact figures. But it s no matter - it is near enough.
They have twelve small pillars in St. Peter's, which came from Solomon's Temple. They have also - which was far more interesting to me - a piece of the true Cross, and some nails, and a part of the crown of thorns.
Of course we ascended to the summit of the dome, and of course we also went up into the gilt copper ball which is above it. There was room there for a dozen persons, with a little crowding and it was as close and hot as an oven. Some of these people who are so fond of writing their names in prominent places had been there before us - a million or two, I should think. From the dome of St. Peter's one can see every notable object in Rome from the Castle of St. Angelo to the Coliseum. He can discern the seven hills upon which Rome is built. He can see the Tiber, and the locality of the bridge which Horatius kept "in the brave days of old" when Lars Porsena attempted to cross it with his invading host. He can see the spot where the Horatii and the Curiatii fought their famous battle. He can see the broad green Campagna, stretching away toward the mountains, with its scattered arches and broken aqueducts of the olden time, so picturesque in their gray ruin, and so daintily festooned with vines. He can see the Alban Mountains, the Appennines, the Sabine Hills, and the blue Mediterranean. He can see a panorama that is varied, extensive, beautiful to the eye, and more illustrious in history than any other in Europe. About his feet is spread the remnant of a city that once had a population of four million souls; and among its massed edifices stand the ruins of temples, columns and triumphal arches that knew the Caesars and the noonday of Roman splendor; and close by them, in unimpaired strength, is a drain of arched and heavy masonry that belonged to that older city which stood here before Romulus and Remus were born or Rome thought of. The Appian Way is here yet, and looking much as it did, perhaps, when the triumphal processions of the emperors moved over it in other days bringing fettered princes from the confines of the earth.

Arson of a heretic
Relief in the Monument to Giordano Bruno in Campo de' Fiori
The Inquisition

... we look out upon many objects of interest from the dome of St. Peter's; and last of all, almost at our feet, our eyes rest upon the building which once was the Inquisition. How times changed between the older ages and the new! Some seventeen or eighteen centuries ago the ignorant men of Rome were wont to put Christians in the arena of the Coliseum yonder and turn the wild beasts in upon them for a show. It was for a lesson as well. It was to teach the people to abhor and fear the new doctrine the followers of Christ were teaching. The beasts tore the victims limb from limb and made poor mangled corpses of them in the twinkling of an eye. But when the Christians came into power, when the holy Mother Church became mistress of the barbarians, she taught them the error of their ways by no such means. No, she put them in this pleasant Inquisition and pointed to the Blessed Redeemer, who was so gentle and so merciful toward all men, and they urged the barbarians to love him; and they did all they could to persuade to love and honor him - first by twisting their thumbs out of joint with a screw; then by nipping their flesh with pincers - red-hot ones, because they are the most comfortable in cold weather; then by skinning them alive a little; and finally by roasting them in public. They always convinced those barbarians. The true religion, properly administered, as the good Mother Church used to administer it, is very, very soothing. It is wonderfully persuasive also. There is a great difference between feeding parties to wild beasts and stirring up their finer feelings in an Inquisition. One is the system of degraded barbarians, the other of enlightened, civilized people. It is a great pity the playful Inquisition is no more.

Skeleton in S. Pietro in Vincoli
Details of funerary monuments in S. Pietro in Vincoli and in S. Maria della Scala. More on the Representation of death in Baroque Rome.
The Capuchin Convent

From the sanguinary sports of the Holy Inquisition ... I naturally pass to the picturesque horrors of the Capuchin Convent. We stopped a moment in a small chapel in the church ... and then we descended into the vast vault underneath.
Here was a spectacle for sensitive nerves! Evidently the old masters had been at work in this place. There were six divisions in the apartment, and each division was ornamented with a style of decoration peculiar to itself - and these decorations were in every instance formed of human bones! There were shapely arches, built wholly of thighbones; there were startling pyramids, built wholly of grinning skulls; there were quaint architectural structures of various kinds, built of shinbones and the bones of the arm; on the wall were elaborate frescoes, whose curving vines were made of knotted human vertebrae, whose delicate tendrils were made of sinews and tendons, whose flowers were formed of kneecaps and toenails. Every lasting portion of the human frame was represented in these intricate designs (they were by Michelangelo, I think), and there was a careful finish about the work and an attention to details that betrayed the artist's love of his labors as well as his schooled ability. I asked the good-natured monk who accompanied us, "Who did this?" And he said, "We did it" - meaning himself and his brethren upstairs, I could see that the old friar took a high pride in his curious show. We made him talkative by exhibiting an interest we never betrayed to guides.
"Who were these people?"
"We - upstairs - monks of the Capuchin order - my brethren."
"How many departed monks were required to upholster these six parlors?"
"These are the bones of four thousand."
"It took a long time to get enough?"
"Many, many centuries."
"Their different parts are well separated - skulls in one room, legs in another, ribs in another - there would be stirring times here for a while if the last trump should blow. Some of the brethren might get hold of the wrong leg in the confusion, and the wrong skull, and find themselves limping, and looking through eyes that were wider apart or closer together than they were used to. You cannot tell any of these parties apart, I suppose?"
"Oh, yes, I know many of them."
he put his finger on a skull. "This was Brother Anselmo - dead three hundred years - a good man."
He touched another. "This was Brother Alexander - dead two hundred and eighty years. This was Brother Carlo - dead about as long."
Then he took a skull and held it in his hand and looked reflectively upon it, after the manner of the grave-digger when he discourses of Yorick.
"This," he said, "was Brother Thomas. He was a young prince the scion of a proud house that traced its lineage back to the grand old days of Rome well-nigh two thousand years ago. He loved beneath his estate. His family persecuted him, persecuted the girl as well. They drove her from Rome; he sought her far and wide; he found no trace of her. He came back and offered his broken heart at our altar and his weary life to the service of God. But look you. Shortly his father died, and likewise his mother. The girl returned, rejoicing. She sought everywhere for him whose eyes had used to look tenderly into hers out of this poor skull, but she could not find him. At last, in this coarse garb we wear, she recognized him in the street. He knew her. It was too late. He fell where he stood. They took him up and brought him here. He never spoke afterward. Within the week he died. You can see the color of his hair - faded somewhat - by this thin shred that clings still to the temple. This (taking up a thighbone) was his. The veins of this leaf in the decorations over your head were his finger joints a hundred and fifty years ago."
This businesslike way of illustrating a touching story of the heart by laying the several fragments of the lover before us and naming them was as grotesque a performance, and as ghastly, as any I ever witnessed. I hardly knew whether to smile or shudder. ... I asked the monk if all the brethren upstairs expected to be put in this place when they died. He answered quietly:
"We must all lie here at last."
See what one can accustom himself to. The reflection that he must someday be taken apart like an engine or a clock or like a house whose owner is gone, and worked up into arches and pyramids and hideous frescoes, did not distress this monk in the least. I thought he even looked as if he were thinking, with complacent vanity, that his own skull would look well on top of the heap and his own ribs add a charm to the frescoes which possibly they lacked at present.
Here and there, in ornamental alcoves, stretched upon beds of bones, lay dead and dried-up monks, with lank frames dressed in the black robes one sees ordinarily upon priests. We examined one closely. The skinny hands were clasped upon the breast; two lusterless tufts of hair stuck to the skull; the skin was brown and sunken; it stretched tightly over the cheekbones and made them stand out sharply; the crisp, dead eyes were deep in the sockets; the nostrils were painfully prominent, the end of the nose being gone; the lips had shriveled away from the yellow teeth; and brought down to us through the circling years, and petrified there, was a weird laugh a full century old!
It was the jolliest laugh, but yet the most dreadful, that one can imagine. Surely, I thought, it must have been a most extraordinary joke this veteran produced with his latest breath that he has not got done laughing at it yet. At this moment I saw that the old instinct was strong upon the boys, and I said we had better hurry to St. Peter's. They were trying to keep from asking, "Is-is he dead?"

Mosaic near Scala Santa
The Mosaic in Piazza di Porta S. Giovanni

I wish here to mention an inscription I have seen, before I forget it:
"Glory to God in highest, peace on earth TO MEN OF GOOD WILL!" It is not good scripture, but it is sound Catholic and human nature.
This is in letters of gold around the apsis of a mosaic group at the side of the scala santa, Church of St. John Lateran, the mother and mistress of all the Catholic churches of the world. The group represents the Saviour, St. Peter, Pope Leo, St. Silvester, Constantine, and Charlemagne. Peter is giving the pallium to the Pope and a standard to Charlemagne. The Saviour is giving the keys to St. Silvester and a standard to Constantine. No prayer is offered to the Saviour, who seems to be of little importance anywhere in Rome; but an inscription below says "Blessed Peter, give life to Pope Leo and victory to King Charles." It does not say, "Intercede for us, through the Saviour, with the Father, for this boon," but "Blessed Peter, give it us."
In all seriousness -without meaning to be frivolous - without meaning to be irreverent, and more than all, without meaning to be blasphemous - I state as my simple deduction from the things I have seen and the things I have heard that the Holy Personages rank thus in Rome:
First: "The Mother of God" - otherwise the Virgin Mary.
Second: The Deity.
Third: Peter.
Fourth: Some twelve or fifteen canonized popes and martyrs.
Fifth: Jesus Christ the Saviour (but always as an infant in arms).
I may be wrong in this . my judgement errs often, just as is the case with other men's - but it is my judgement, be it good or bad.
Just here I will mention something that seems curious to me. There are no "Christ's churches" in Rome and no "churches of the Holy Ghost" that I can discover. There are some four hundred churches, but about a fourth of them seem to be named for the Madonna and St. Peter. There are so many named for Mary that they have to be distinguished by all sorts of affixes, if I understand the matter rightly. Then we have churches of St. Louis, St. Augustine, St. Agnes, St. Calixtus, St. Lorenzo in Lucina, St. Lorenzo in Damaso, St. Cecilia, St. Athanasius, St. Philip Neri, St. Catherine, St. Dominico, and a multitude of lesser saints whose names are not familiar in the world - and away down, clear out of the list of the churches, comes a couple of hospitals: one of them is named for the Saviour and the other for the Holy Ghost!




Engagement of the renowned



The management beg leave to offer to the public an entertainment surpassing in magnificence anything that has heretofore been attempted on any stage. No expense has been spared to make the opening season one which shall be worthy the generous patronage which the management feel sure will crown their efforts. The management beg leave to state that they have succeeded in securing the services of a


such as has not been beheld in Rome before.
The performance will commence this evening with a


between two young and promising amateurs and a celebrated Parthian gladiator who has just arrived a prisoner from the Camp of Verus.
This will be followed by a grand moral


between the renowned Valerian (with one hand tied behind him) and two gigantic savages from Britain.
After which the renowned Valerian (if he survive) will fight with the broadsword


against six sophomores and a freshman from the Gladiatorial College!
A long series of brilliant engagements will follow, in which the finest talent of the empire will take part.
After which the celebrated Infant Prodigy, known as


will engage four tiger whelps in combat, armed with no other weapon than his little spear!
The whole to conclude with a chaste and elegant


in which thirteen African lions and twenty-two barbarian prisoners will war with each other until all are exterminated.


Dress Circle One Dollar; Children and Servants half price.

An efficient police force will be on hand to preserve order and keep the wild beasts from leaping the railings and discommoding the audience.

Doors open at 7; performance begins at 8.


Diodorus Job Press

Read What Dante Saw.
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Read What Lord Byron Saw.
Read What Charles Dickens Saw.
Read What Henry James Saw.
Read What William Dean Howells Saw.

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