« PreviousContinue »
The roof is hung with innumerable lustres filled with wax candles, and, I am persuaded, when the whole is lighted up, it must be equal to any palace either in the Fairy Tales or the Arabian Nights Entertainment. Indeed it seems pretty much in the same stile too, for all is gold, silver, and precious stones. The saints are dressed out in all their glory, and the fairy queen herself was never finer than is St. Rofolia. The people are lying yonder in crowds before her, praying with all their might. I dare say, for one petition offered to God Almighty, the has at least an hundred.
We were just now remarking, with how little respect they pass the chapels dedicated to God; they hardly deign to give a little inclination of the head; but when they come near those of their favourite saints, they - bow down to the very ground : Ignorance and superstition have ever been inseparable : I believe in their hearts they think he has already reigned long enough ; and would be glad to have a change in the government : and every one of them (like the poor Welchman who thought he should be succeeded by Sir Watkin Williams) is fully persuaded, that his own favourite faint is the true heir apparent. Indeed they already give them the precedency on most occasions ; not in processions and affairs of etiquette ; there they think it would not be decent; but, in their more private affairs, they generally pay the compliment to the saint : Yet in their inscriptions on churches and chapels, (which one would think are public enough) when they are dedicated to God and any particular; saint, they have often ventured to put the name of the saint first. Sancto Januario, et Deo Opt. Max. taking every opportunity of raising their dignity, though at the expence of that of God himself.
L E T T E R XXVIII.
Palermo, July 7th. I HAVE
HAVE been enquiring who this same St. Rosolia may be, who has become so very capital a personage in this part of the world ; but, notwithstanding their adoring her with such fervency, I have found none that can give any tolerable account of her saintship. They refer you to the most fabulous legends, that even differ widely in their accounts of her. And, after all the offerings they have made, the churches they have built, and monuments they have raised to her memory, I think it is far from being improbable, that there really never did exist fuch a person. I went through all the booksellers shops, but could find nothing relative to her, except an epic poem, of which she is the heroine. It is in the Sicilian language ; and is indeed one of the greatest curiosities I have met with. The poet fet her at once above all other saints except the Virgin, and it seems to be with the greatest reluctance, that he can prevail upon himself to yield the pas even to her. I find, from this curious composition, and the notes upon it, that St. Rosolia was niece to King William the Good. That she began very early to display symptoms of her
fan&tity. That at fifteen she deserted the world and disclaimed all human society. She retired to the mountains on the west of this city; and was never more heard of for about five hundred years. She disappeared in the year 1959. The people thought she had been taken up to heaven; till in the year 1624, during the time of a dreadful plague, a holy man had a vision, that the saint's bones were lying in a cave near the top of the Monte Pelegrino. That if they were taken up with due reverence, and carried in procession thrice round the walls of the city, they hould immediately be delivered from the plague. At first little attention was paid to the holy man, and he was looked upon as little better than a dreamer; however, he persisted in his story, grew noisy, and got adherents. The magistrates, to pacify them, sent to the Monte Pelegrino; when lo the mighty discovery was made! the sacred bones were found, the city was freed from the plague, and St. Rosolia became the greatest faint in the calendar. Churches were reared, altars were dedicated, and ministers appointed to this new divinity, whose dignity and consequence have ever since been supported at an incredible expence. Now I think it is more than probable that these bones, that are now so much reverenced, and about which this great city is at present in such a bustle, belong to some poor wretch that perhaps was murdered, or died for want in the mountains. The holy man probably could have given a very good account of them.
It is really astonishing to think, what animals superstition makes of mankind. I dare say, the bones of St. Rosolia are just as little intitled to the honours they receive, as those of poor St. Viar, which were found somewhere in Spain under a broken tomb-stone, where these were the only legible letters. The story I think, is told by Dr. Middleton. The priests found that the bones had an excellent knack at working miracles, and were of opinion that this, together with the S. Viar on the stone, was proof sufficient of his fan&ity. He continued long in high estimation, and they drew no inconsiderable revenue from his abilities ; till untortunately they petitioned the pope to grant him some immunities. The pope (Leo the tenth, I think,) not entirely satisfied with regard to his faintship, desired to be informed of his pretensions. A list of his miracles was sent over, accompanied by the stone with S. Viar upon it. The first part of the proof was sustained ; but the antiquaries discovered the fragment to be part of the tomb-stone of a (Roman) prefeétus viarum, or overseer of the high road; to whose bones they had been so much indebted : and poor St. Viar, though probably an honester man than moft of them, was ordered to be struck out of the calendar.
The people of fashion here hold the superstition of the vulgar in great contempt; and perhaps that very superstition is one principal cause of their