Saturday, January 12, 2008

Reverend Piece of Church Furniture

[Evelyn Underhill to her Husband]

Hotel Flora,
9 April, 1910.

To Hubert Stuart Moore,

Yesterday I had a rather nice solitary prowl on the Coelian Hill--in fact, very nice. It's a lovely solitary place beyond the Colosseum, with nothing but a few old churches and convents and a farm-housey villa garden or two and steep paved roads with old archways over them and little views of the mountains here and there. I went into four old churches--one I'd seen before but not the others. I think I most enjoyed St. Gregorio; it has been rather rebuilt and done up, but there are a lot of nice things in it and as there was a sudden downpour of rain just then I was there some time and saw it at my ease. Tell Dickums [Richard, her cat] that it is built on the site of the house in which Gregory the Great retired from the world in the 6th century, taking with him nothing but his favourite cat: so I was very pleased to see, in one of the front chairs in the nave, a very nice black and white cat, sleeping soundly. The old woman who was bossing about told me it always slept there, and during Mass was often curled up in the sanctuary. As St. Gregory was a Benedictine and wore black and the church is now kept by Camaldolese monks who wear white, the cat was rather suitably coloured wasn't it? I felt I was stroking quite a reverend piece of church furniture.

I saw the "miraculous" picture of the Virgin which St. Gregory thought talked to him when he was meditating before it--it's very beautiful and alive, and I'm not surprised he thought it!--and the splendid marble table sitting on the backs of lions, where he used to have twelve beggars to dinner every day. One day a 13th came in and insisted on joining the party, and when Gregory looked at him attentively, he saw that he was an angel! What with that, and the cat, and Gregorian music, and the "Non angli sed angeli" I think he was a really nice saint. . . .

Good night, darling. I am all right and resigned without being mournful, and seeing some nice things, but I do wish you were here.

-from The Letters of Evelyn Underhill edited with an introduction by Charles Williams (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1945) p.114-15.

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