Friday, January 11, 2008

Far from the World

[Evelyn Underhill to her Husband]

Hotel Bethell,
Saturday in Easter Week [1910]

To Hubert Stuart Moore,

. . . Now I must tell you about my audience. I went with a weird old female staying here who was having one the same day and we arrived at the Vatican pretty early and walked up I don't know how many hundred stairs. At all the corners there were lovely mediaeval servants in crimson damask doublets and the Swiss Guard in their full dress at the entrance of the the throne room. The throne room is immense, all hung with crimson silk, and with a frescoed ceiling, and at one end the gold throne Venice gave him when he was made Pope. There were chairs all round the edge and we sat patiently and watched the people arrive--such a mixed lot, every country in the world I should think. There was a Canadian sitting next me and beyond two Greeks, and a French lady the other side. Presently an officer of the Noble Guard came in and picked out a few favoured people who were having private audiences. The room got fearfully full and we saw there would be no possibility of each person kissing the Pope's hand. Then some purple ecclesiastics came and made us all close up into a big semi-circle round the throne. Fortunately we were near the front or would have seen nothing. Then the Papal Guard came in and then the Pope in his white things and ascended the throne so quietly and simply that he was there before one had noticed him. He has a beautiful voice and gives one an intense impression of great holiness, kindness and simplicity. He made us a little speech in Italian saying he thanked everyone for their kindness in coming to see him, and that he blessed us, our families and friends, but we must remember that only those who were trying to live good and Christian lives, etc., were capable of receiving the blessing. Then he gave the full blessing, very elaborate, to all the rosaries, etc., which had been brought to receive it: made the sign of the Cross over us: and went quietly away. There was a rush when he descended the throne to try and kiss his hand but I was not quite near enough to manage it. . . .

I went out to St. Lorenzo yesterday morning where SS. Lawrence and Stephen are buried. Such a beautiful basilica, right away from everywhere, standing by the side of the road in a clump of cypresses and a flock of sheep feeding in front of it. The choir is the 6th century church, and the nave the 13 century church tacked on. There was hardly anyone there but a nice brown Cistercian lay-brother who gave me pious cards; and it seemed so peaceful and far from the world.

-from The Letters of Evelyn Underhill edited with an introduction by Charles Williams (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1945) p. 113-14.

No comments: