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the other the Church of Ara Cæli, believed to be the site of the famous Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. The Tarpeian Rock, from whence traitors were hurled, taking the famous leap that "cured all ambition,” is not so horrible a precipice now as it was in the brave days of old, the bottom having been filled up with buildings and débris, but it is still steep enough to inspire dread, even though it is approached through a pleasant garden, with wild flowers growing in profusion on the fatal edge, and ferns and forget-me-nots peeping out from crannies in the cliff. The Church of Ara Cæli-so named from a legend that Augustus erected an altar here to Christ with the inscription, “ Ara Primogeniti Dei”-is in many respects one of the most curious and interesting in Rome, and certainly the interior is one of the most picturesque. It is made up of any number of styles of architecture, and is as much a museum of curiosities as a church. The floor is of the ancient mosaic known as Opus Alexandrinum, broken up by monumental slabs with worn-out inscriptions and effigies almost obliterated; the nave is separated from the aisles by twenty-two columns of varying size and material, taken from ancient edifices; the walls of the chapels are covered with rare frescoes; and the transepts are full of curious monuments. In the Holy Chapel is the altar marking the spot where it is said the altar of Augustus was erected to the First-born of God; in the chapel dedicated to Saint Anthony of Padua, a quaint variety of ex-votos adorn the walls, placed there by pious people who have escaped every deadly peril conceivable to life and limb through the good offices of the saint. In the chapel of the Presepio, only open at Christmas time, there is a set-scene which is then exhibited, of the Nativity, all the figures being life-size, and then the celebrated Bambino forms part of the show. At other times it is only to be seen upon application to the authorities of the church. Il Santissimo Bambino (the Most Holy Child) is a wooden doll, about two feet high, said to have been carved from olive-wood from the Mount of Olives, crowned with a gold crown resplendent with emeralds, rubies, and diamonds, and robed in swaddling clothes literally covered with precious stones. The Bambino is alleged to have worked many miracles, and is still employed for that purpose when all human aid is failing or has failed. It is taken in a state-carriage to see patients, and the people in the streets, if they be decently devout, uncover their heads and kneel as it passes. The great festival of the Bambino is celebrated annually in the presence of a vast assembly, when the priests take the doll to the head of the great stair-way leading up to the church, and, amid the crash of music, the waving of censers, and the hum of voices, the Bambino is raised above the head of the priest, when every head is uncovered, every knee is bent, the soldiers on duty present arms, and the Bambino is worshipped, as Mr. Hobart Seymour says, “as if the Eternal Jehovah were visibly present in the image," and "with idolatry as gross as any that was ever found in Pagan Rome.”
Numberless associations crowd on the memory and imagination while standing in this Church of Ara Cæli. “It was here that Romulus, in the grey dawning of Rome, built the temple of Jupiter Feretrius. Here the spolia opima were deposited. Here the triumphal processions of the emperors and generals ended. Here the victors paused before making their vows, until from the Mamertine prisons below the message came to announce that their noblest prisoner and victim--while the clang of their triumph and his defeat rose ringing in his ears, as the procession ascended the steps-had expiated with death the crime of being the enemy of Rome. On the steps of Ara Cæli, nineteen centuries ago, the first great Cæsar
limbed on his knees after his first triumph. At their base, Rienzi, the last of the Roman tribunes, fell; and if the tradition of the church is to be trusted, it was on the site of the present high altar that Augustus erected [as has already been stated) the “Ara Primogeniti Dei,' to commemorate the Delphic prophecy of the coming of our Saviour. Standing on a spot so thronged with memories, the dullest imagination takes fire. The forms and scenes of the past rise from their graves and pass before us, and the actual and the visionary are mingled together in strange poetic confusion.” * It was in this church that Gibbon sat musing on the evening of the 15th October, 1764, when there flashed across his mind his first idea of writing “ The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.”
The Mamertine Prison, excavated from the solid rock under the Capitol, is entered through a church which is reached by descending the steps by the Palace of the Senators in the Piazza Campidoglio. The dungeon, constructed by Ancus Martius and described by Livy and Sallust, consists of two chambers, one below the other, with a circular opening through which the condemned were precipitated. A modern staircase leads to these dungeons, which are constructed of huge blocks of tufa without cement; and, standing in the lower chamber, “black, stealthy, stagnant and naked,” there is no doubt that we stand where Jugurtha was starved to death; where the accomplices of Catiline were strangled; where the gallant Vercingetorix was put to death by order of Julius Cæsar; where Sejanus was executed, and where Simon Bar-Gioras, the last defender of Jerusalem, suffered during the triumph of Titus. It was here too, according to tradition, that the Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul were bound. The pillar to which they were bound is shown, and also the well of water which sprang up in order that they might baptise the gaolers, and an indentation in the wall made by the head of St. Peter; all of which things may be taken for what they are worth. Few will care much for such details apart from the great fact that St. Paul was twice a prisoner in Rome, and that it is at least not improbable that he was imprisoned here. If so it was from this sickening and gloomy vault that the aged man wrote to Timothy, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith : henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day.”
As we descend from the Capitol the ruins of Ancient Rome lie at our feet. is the Palatine, where Romulus stood ; beneath you are the Cyclopean walls and the rock-hewn dungeon of one of the villages out of which the Empire sprang. On yonder hills Hannibal encamped. Through those gates marched the legions which conquered the world. There runs the Via Sacra, along which the victorious generals passed in triumph. The Forum, in which crowds hung upon the eloquence of Cicero, and the spot where Cæsar fell pierced with wounds, is before us. There stretches the Appian Way, trodden by the feet of a prisoner from Jerusalem who was to win for his Master a nobler victory, and for himself a more imperishable crown, than Romans ever knew. That vast pile is the Colosseum, where Christians were flung to the lions, and gave their blood to be the seed of the Church. The Campagna around us is hollowed into catacombs, in which they laid down their dead to rest in peace. There stands the arch where Titus passed, bearing the spoils of the Temple. Baths, temples, palaces, basilicas attest the splendour of the Empire, and mark its decline and ruin." + Story, “Roba di Roma."
† “ Italian Pictures."
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