[ocr errors]

trious nations officially separated from Catholicism may, for reasons even of dignity and taste alone, envy the most humble that are possessed of its consolations and inheritors of its genius. What is all the magnificence of a state pageant, if compared with the office of the dead? How solemn would sound under the dome of St. Paul's, where our great duke is laid to rest, the nocturns and psalms, the antiphons and prose, of that bighinspired, matchless lamentation! How impressive would it be to hear the vested priest, in allusion to him, sing

“ Breves dies hominis sunt; numerus mensium ejus apud te est. Constituisti terminos ejus, qui præteriri non poterunt!” Popery, it must be owned,” says Dr. Johnson, “is a religion of external appear. ance sufficiently attractive." We are observing an instance which verifies his words. But why limit its advantages to what is external ? Surely the utterance of such prayers is accompanied with an internal act, and with consequences, though invisible to human eyes, which render so reserved a eulogy unjust.

During the middle ages the funerals of eminent and holy men were often, owing to popular reverence, great public events, which were commemorated ever afterwards by the erection of crosses or chapels where the bearers rested. Thus in a spot of wild grandeur amidst pines and torrents near the cascade of Bonnant, between Mont Blanc and the Col du Bonhomme, was a chapel under the invocation of St. Germain l'Auxerrois, on the spot where the Gauls and people of Auxerre, in solemn procession, met the Italians escorting the remains of St. Germain, who had died at Ravenna, and who had desired to be buried in his native land. Exact details respecting such ceremonies used to be taken into grave histories, as in the instance of the funeral of St. Hugues of Lincoln. When Maria de Escobar died, Don Francis de Vinjuela wrote a long letter describing her obsequies to Don Louis of Castilia, assessor of the Council of Granada and governor of Gupuzcoa *. As soon as she was dead, the whole population of Valladolid flocked to the house where her body lay; and as the house was small and old, so as to be insecure when overcrowded, it was necessary to order out guards immediately to prevent more than a certain number from entering at a time. The vice-governor and all the authorities, the nobility and the poor, all testified the same respect and devotion ; and though the rain fell in torrents, the multitude never left the open square, but waited day and night. The funeral obsequies were appointed to occupy nine days, with solemn offices and sermons each day. Such were the honours paid after death to one who had wished to lie hidden in life through a religious motive f."

* Vita ejus, P. ii. lib. iii. c. 3.

+ ii. iii. 2.

It cannot be denied, however, that even for common persons, Catholicism, where its influence is widely felt, provides a respectful and even imposing burial, midst tapers, and floating odours, and music soft and majestic. Though the ancestors of the deceased, represented by living men with waxen masks, no longer walk before the corpse, as in Roman times, when the whole line of progenitors, along with collateral branches, swept along in front of the body, there are not wanting heraldic images to proclaim the family, and sacred symbols to recall faith and honour, when Catholics are paying those tragic duties to the dead which become piety and love. At the funeral of Michael Angelo were represented in painting all his illustrious predecessors in art from Cimabue downward. His own portrait was displayed, as were also the principal events in his life. A figure of death appeared, lamenting that he had robbed the world of such a man; it held a tablet with these words, “coegit dura necessitas." There was also a female figure representing Christian love ; for, says the admiring disciple who records the ceremony, “this being made up of religious and every other excellence, being no less than an aggregate of all those qualities which we call the cardinal, and the pagans the moral virtues, was thus appropriately displayed at his obsequies, since it beseems Christians to celebrate those qualities, without which all other ornaments of body and mind are as nothing."

In general it is worthy of remark that Catholicism, without incurring expense, seeks to invest even burial rites with a certain beauty. At Florence it was the custom, at the funerals of the nobility, to carry before the bier a range of small banners affixed to some devout picture, which used to be left as a present to the Church, and in perpetuation of the memory of the deceased and the family. Thus, for the burial of one gentleman, we read that the celebrated artist Jacopo da Puntormo painted twentyfour banners, on each of which was a figure of our Lady with the divine Child, and on two of them a figure of the patron saint of the deceased. On all these occasions, and not less so when the poor are buried, nothing hideous or revolting is permitted to appear. We read of the great artist, Baldassare Peruzzi of Sienna, having painted an exceedingly beautiful bier for the removal of the common dead to the place of their burial. Domenico Beccafumi employed his genius in the same way for the two burial confraternities of Santa Lucia and Sant'Antonio. “ Nor let any one marvel,” says an old historian of painters, “that I should mention works of this character, since these are, in fact, beautiful to a miracle, as all who have seen them can bear witness.” The beautiful bier which Giovan Antonio Razzi painted for a burial confraternity in Sienna may still be seen in the church of the Laical Brotherhood of San Giovanni and San Gennaro ; and all this latter decoration, we must remember, was for the burial of the indigent. In general the lovely forms of children in white veils are employed to grace the funerals of the young, on whose coffins are strewed chaplets of sweet Aowers, Catholicism in every case favouring eminently the general principle of cheap beauty opposed to expensive horrors, though for the burial of persons of high quality, of course, it sometimes provides a suitable and costly solemnity: How grand is that scene described by Cervantes, when his knight and squire, travelling in darkness, see all of a sudden advancing towards them a great number of lights, resembling so many moving stars! Soon after, we read, they perceived about twenty persons in white robes, all on horseback, with lighted torches in their hands, behind whom came a litter covered with black, which was followed by six persons in deep mourning; and the mules they rode on were covered likewise with black down to their heels; and those in white came muttering to themselves in a low and plaintive tone. This was the funeral of a gentleman who died in Baerza, which was proceeding to Segovia, where he was born, and where he wished to be buried. All this, no doubt, involved expenses; but it ill becomes the frivolous to find fault, when we find the grave Mabillon writing to Magliabechi, and saying, “I am grateful to those who have procured such solemn obsequies for the good Signor Mazzi, who loved literature, and who enriched the public with productions of his mind. It is just that the loss of so good a man should be marked with regrets *."

But lo! the gate of the cemetery and the cypress groves! It is here that the road terminates ; we shall now see the tombs from which it derives its name. Here are those, Homer would say, whom the life-producing earth holds down. What care, what solicitude seems to reign in human breasts, having regard even to these last mansions ! It is that there are wants beyond life itself.

• To man alone of all animals is given,” says Pliny, "the care of sepulture-uni sepulturæ cura.” The Christian religion, in committing human bodies to the earth, only consecrated the ancient and primitive practice of mankind. At Rome,” says Pliny,“ wars, sparing not even the dead, caused the ancient mode of burial in the ground to be changed for burning, though some families never adopted the new rite. No one of the Cornelian house was burned before the dictatorship of Scylla t." Young children, however, were never burnt, but always inhumed.

Sophists, who would dig turfs out of a maiden's grave to feed


• Correspondance, &c., tom. ii. let. cxcü.
+ Nat. Hist. lib. vii. 55.

their larks, and fabricate dice out of their father's bones to make him participate in their crime, affect to ridicule the importance attached by men generally to the attainment of a grave. Those whom they loved, if such men can be said to love any one, may lie unburied at any cross road for aught they care ; they are not like Tancred, who cannot achieve the enterprise of the enchanted forest because his dead mistress seems to come out of one of the trees. Without such perversity, but by mere dint of neglecting all reverence, many officials, in places where Catholicism is unknown, seem to adopt the opinion of the greedy, avaricious Nabatæi in Arabia, who, as Strabo says, regard the bodies of the dead as only fit for the dunghill; following Heraclitus, who said that they should only be thrown out as so much filth, so that even the dead bodies of their kings are committed to the scavengers *. The voice of mankind in general would never sanction such barbarism, which is condemned by the sacred Scriptures, in which are commemorated many examples to recommend and confirm the primeval sentiment of respect for the dead. Thus we read that when the son of Tobias had gone, returning he told his father that one of the children of Israel lay slain in the street, and that he forthwith leaped up from his place at the table and left his dinner, and came fasting to the body; and taking it up privately, when the sun was down went and buried him t. All the primitive traditions of the world attest the universality of this sentiment. According to Plato, to assist at the obsequies of the dead, and to respect their sepulchres, is to fulfil the third part of justice. Hence funeral rites were called rà dikala, vópua, as among the Romans “justa facere.” The act of Kreon was a public crime, an offence to Heaven and to men. Catholicism not only inspires the same feeling, but it secures, as far as it has power, for all men the same benefit. The first among clerks,” said the primitive Christians, “is the order of grave-diggers-fossariorum ordowho, after the example of holy Tobias, are admonished to bury the dead, that from the care of visible they may hasten to that of invisible things-et resurrectionem carnis credentes in Do. mino, totum quod faciunt Deo se præstare, non mortuis cognoscant I.” In later times to bury the dead, as one of the works of mercy, was the office of many confraternities, the greatest men belonging to them. Lopez de Vega, as member of the congregation of priests confined to those who were born at Madrid, used to acquit himself of all its duties, we are told, with devotion, one of its obligations being to accompany the dead to their graves. Once he expressed a wish to bury the corpse

• Lib. xvi.

+ Tobias 2. # De Sept. Gradib. Eccles. inter Opera S. Hieron,

with his own hands. The assistants desired to spare his old age from such an office, but he persisted. Laying aside his ecclesias. tical cloak, he went into the grave to receive the body, placed it down, and then covered it with earth.

To provide ground for the dead, instead of being a money speculation as at present, a last but most useful resource, is with those who are under the influence of Catholicism a work of charity. To purchase a cemetery for Christians was one of the causes which justified the sale of the sacred vessels of the Church, to relieve the poor from famine and to redeem captives being the other two cases required by the Fathers *. Štowe relates, that in the year 1849 Sir Walter Manny“ purchased thirteen acres and a rod of ground adjoining to No Man's Land, and lying in a place called Spittle-cross, because it belonged to St. Bartilmewe's hospital, since that called the New Church haw, and caused it to be consecrated by the bishop of London to the use of burials. In consideration of the number of Chris. tian people here buried, the said Sir Walter Manny caused first a chapel to be built, where for the

of twenty-three years offerings were made; and it is to be noted, that above one hundred thousand bodies of Christian people had in that churchyard been buried; for the said knight had purchased that place for the burial of poor people, travellers, and other that were deceased, to remain for ever ; whereupon an order was taken for the avoiding of contention; to wit, that the bodies should be had unto the church where they were parishioners, or died, and, after the funeral service done, had to the place where they should be buried. And in the year 1371 he caused there to be founded a house of Carthusian monks, which he willed to be called the Salutation, and that one of the monks should be called prior; and he gave them the said place of thirteen acres and a rod of land, with the chapel and houses there built, for their habitation.” In this respect the poor, at least, may be attracted to central principles by observing the care that emanates from them in regard to their sepulture, which both in pagan and modern times seems, where they are opposed, not unfrequently more a deception than a reality. At Athens, indeed, we are told that each dead man had a separate grave; but the multitude of the slaves formed an exception; and it would have been as difficult to find their graves at Rome, where even the poorer citizens were deprived of decent burial. “ Generals deceive our soldiers,” said Tiberius Gracchus, “when they exhort them to combat for their tombs and temples. Amongst that multitude of Romans, is there one who has an ancestral tomb or a domestic altar? They have not so much earth as would supply them with


* St. Ambrose, i. Off. c. 28.

« VorigeDoorgaan »