Chapter XIX: Mission to Italy
Florence — Rome — Pius IX — Audiences and ovations — Venice — Echallens
The itinerary of the journey, which began in December, 1846, was through the South of France, via Genoa and Florence to Rome, as the principal centre for research and piety. When he should have taken up his winter quarters, the Professor promised himself a run at his leisure through Umbria, the Romagnas, Ravenna, Venice, and Lombardy. He intended to penetrate through the Spliigen Pass and the country around Chur, as far as St. Gall and Einsiedeln, to which ancient German and monastic monuments were calling him. Then, following the Rhine from Basle to Cologne, he would take the route to France through Belgium. He would return to France with body and mind refreshed, laden with souvenirs and documents for the fulfilment of his literary mission, and with a new strength and courage for the resumption of his lectures and his activities.
” That memorable journey was made,” in M. Ampère’s phrase, “in a state of perpetual enchantment. Ozanam had a continual flow of that good humour and gaiety which constituted one of the principal charms of his company. His enquiring and enthusiastic mind never wearied of learning and admiring, now the things of nature, now of Art. He took copious notes, read numerous inscriptions, visited places illustrious in history, and scenes revivified by his imagination. Some of his notes have grown into volumes, as we shall see. The greater part have remained unfinished as they were first sketched out. We shall select some passages from his published notes, which best exemplify his Christian mind.
Ozanam’s notes describe himself to us on me 8th January, 1847, on the top of the dome of Florence whence “his eye swept the city of marble, surrounded by its green hills.” What each of those wonderful buildings suggest to him is the thought of the men who conceived them, of the life which throbbed in them, of the names of the saints and men of genius who immortalised them, of the artists who chiselled or decorated them during that period of inspiration and art which includes Michael Angelo. He gives the following appreciation of the latter: “That great man was probably the greatest of all Christian sculptors, but he was the last. He interred the natural sculpture of the Middle Ages right nobly, and left behind him the bad example of having sought to astonish mankind, when he might have chosen to edify and instruct them.”
Nothing impressed him more than the proud inscription which he read on the tower of the Vieux-Palais: “J. C. Rex, Flor. elect. S.P.Q. Jesus Christ, King of Florence, elected by the Senate and the people.” He adds “I recognise in that a people who wished to obey God only, and who, alas! did not obey Him always.”
In Pisa, the pilgrim of art and faith paid his pious addresses to the Cathedral, the Dtionio. Viewing that Notre Dante, so like a lance, so light in construction, he asked himself “if it be indeed raised from the ground or if, having descended from heaven, it simply rests there, with the eighty-four columns of its five naves, recalling the palms of the eternal gardens.”
The journey from Florence to Rome was made in easy relays, in a carriage or even an open car, stopping to admire, to learn, or to pray, wherever there was anything to admire or any special place of prayer, admiring and praying doubly because his wife and he were together. Thus, on returning from a visit to the old and curious Church of San Gemignano: “It was on the 17th January, the feast of St. Anthony. We were descending the slopes of San Gemignano. The sun had set, but the air was so balmy that we did not feel the cold through our cloaks. The pleasure of being together on the evening of my feast will remain one of the most charming memories of the journey.”
On the 2nd February, 1847, the Feast of the Presentation, Ozanam assisted for the first time at a Pontifical function in the Quirinal Chapel: “At first I only saw the Pope in the distance on his throne, from which he was distributing the candles of Candlemas. But when the procession approached and I could scan closely the features of the Vicar of Jesus Christ, I was moved to tears. I saw that face so sweet and holy, those eyes and that mouth expressive of such charity, that head which was beginning to blanch under the weight of the Pontificate. As he was entering the Choir, I read the words of the Introit of the day which are so applicable to Pius IX: Veniet desideratus cunctis gentibus et implebit domum istam gloria. That ancient house of the Quirinal is filling with glory and the eyes of all nations are looking to him today.”
On the 13th February Monsieur and Madame Ozanam went to the Seminary Church of St. Apollinaris to receive the blessing of the Holy Father, and the Holy Communion from his own hands. “The sublime moment arrived when the Pope, having finished giving Holy Communion to the ecclesiastics, expressed the wish to give the Host to the people. The guards opened a passage. The Pope descended the altar and a movement took place among the crowd to come to him at the Holy Table. The steps were filled with two rows of the faithful, crowded together, moved even to tears. The dowager Queen of Saxony, poor Italians, men and women of different nations were all there: and my Amalie by my side, as we have always been in our happiness, as we hope always to be to the end of this life and in the next. The sacred procession approached. I saw the marvellous figure of Pius IX illumined by the candles, moved by the sacredness of the moment, appearing nobler and gentler than ever. I kissed his ring, the ring of the Fisherman which has sealed so many immortal acts during the course of eighteen centuries! Then I would look no more, for I wished to concentrate my mind on Him who is the Master of all and in Whose presence even Pontiffs are but dust.”
The rest of that letter is devoted to Pius IX: “Pius IX, the conqueror of all hearts; it was by winning affections that the earlier Popes conquered all Europe. You will see that it will be the Bishop of Rome who will reconcile the world and the Papacy.” Pius IX, the saint of God: “It is three centuries, the time of Pius V, since the Church has witnessed the canonisation of a Pope. This Pope will indeed link up the long chain of saints from the Chair of Peter.”
Then there is Pius IX in his private life and in his private audience. Ozanam writes of him as follows on the 7th February: “We have had the great honour of being received in special audience, and His Holiness was gracious enough to insist on my wife being seated, and on patting and blessing my little child of a year and a half. My child, Marie, behaved like a little angel, kneeling of her own accord before the Pope, joining her hands with an air of veneration, as if he were the good God Himself. The Holy Father spoke to us of France, of the youth in the schools, of the duties of education, with inexpressible nobility, feeling and grace. I seized the opportunity to speak to him about the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The Pope answered that he knew the Society and the good work which the young men were doing in their visits to the poor and to the sick. ‘ It is doing so much good in France!’ he exclaimed. ‘There is so much Charity being accomplished. All our hope for the future lies in young men.’ Then he added with impressiveness: ‘Religion is the most beautiful blossom that can open on this earth.’ ”
” When I said that the deserved popularity of his name would multiply conversions to Catholicism, he replied: ‘ I am well aware that God has performed the miracle of changing unreasonable prejudices suddenly into respect and love. What I cannot understand is that He has deigned to make use of such an unprofitable servant as I for such a change.’ Those words were spoken with such sincerity and humility that, coming from the Vicar of God, they moved us to tears.”
The popularity of Pius IX was the fruit and the reward of his liberal policy. Elevated to the See of Peter on the 17th June, 1846, he had inaugurated his reign with a series of spontaneous acts of reform. Amnesty, revision of the Civil and Criminal Code, the organisation of a Civil Guard, the creation of a Council of State, had been received one after another with growing enthusiasm by the Italian people. Ozanam’s noble spirit and simple heart were amazed and delighted. He describes the Papal Blessing on Easter Sunday from the basilica of St. Peter: the improvised escort which conducted the Pope in triumph back to the Quirinal, the streets which, as he was passing by night, were suddenly illuminated as if by enchantment: “The people are captivated by their Bishop and their Prince,” he said; “they speak of him in extravagant terms. All this has gone on for almost ten months. That is a long time in an age in which popularity is ephemeral.”
The principal charm of the journey, next to seeing the Pope, was the visit to the tombs and the earthly traces of the saints and martyrs. He wrote as follows to Lallier: “All this veritable pilgrimage is full of spiritual consolation. We passed one half of our time by the side of the tombs of the great men and sainted women, whose spiritual value one appreciates better after seeing where they lived, moved, and had their being, and where they now repose.”
They found in Rome, the one priest who was best qualified to introduce them to the soul of Christian Rome. “We received Holy Communion at the Abbé Gerbet’s Mass in St. Peter’s, on the very spot where the holy apostle is buried: there, for more than one hour, we remembered in our prayers all those whom we love.
” We went down five times into the catacombs, nearly always with the Abbé Gerbet, who explained the sub-structure and the mural decorations. He generally closed the visit with a lecture on the marytrs and the recitation of the Litanies1. I know nothing in the world more touching than the sight of the cemeteries of the early Christians, nothing better calculated to quicken faith nor to strengthen souls. Nowhere can be seen better the innocence, simplicity, and invincible courage of the infant Church, the signs and tokens of its divinity.”
The same letter returns to Pius IX and young Italy: “I regard it as one of the greatest pieces of good fortune in my life to have been in Rome during the winter of 1847, to have witnessed the glorious inauguration of the Pontificate of Pius IX: to have seen at close quarters that most admirable Pope, to have been present at the universal awakening of Italy. The popularity or unpopularity of a Pope is certainly not a matter that should strengthen or shake faith; but the heart is none the less filled with a just pride at seeing the Father, in whom one believes, surrounded by such admiration and love.”
The happiness of the life in Rome, an enthusiasm mingled with piety, would have been an unmixed blessing for Ozanam, whom besides it was beginning to restore to health, if it had not been clouded by a cause for profound grief. He had been there for a month and a half, when he heard on the third of March, that his brother-in-law had succumbed to an unexpected attack of his infirmity. “Our well-beloved brother,” he wrote, “who had lived the life of a martyr, died the death of a saint. At the age of 23 he quitted this earth, I will not say merely with resignation, but with a joy that was divine. His death makes a terrible void in our family circle. He was its soul, his sufferings were our grief, his virtue and serenity were our consolation, his high intellect our pride and our hope. His sister has not yet recovered from the terrible blow. For three weeks my sole care has been to console her in her affliction. It was most desirable that she should return at once to Paris. But the very nature of her illness made that impossible.”
” However, the sympathy of kind friends, particularly of the Abbé Gerbet, the grandeur of the ceremonies of Holy Week, the certainty that the dear departed had exchanged a painful existence here below for the happiness of eternal life, all combined to make Amelie somewhat reconciled.” A later letter stated that the pilgrims had commenced their itinerary by way of Italy, not passing through Germany, “so as not to delay the moment of return to the family circle.”
Ozanam had desired previously to visit Monte Casino, where he now spent two days by himself: “I had the great happiness of receiving Holy Communion at the tomb of St. Benedict, and of finding all Benedictine tradition on record in the excellent library of the Abbey. The good fathers showed me their precious manuscripts, from which I made some extracts. That will not be the least interesting portion of my literary booty2. Those good religious know how to do everything except to keep one warm. I had like to have perished amid their beautiful records, and I returned with a severe cold which culminated in a feverish attack. Fortunately the attack lasted only one day, and left me well enough to be present on Monday afternoon at the audience which the Sovereign Pontiff had graciously accorded me. I had to thank him for the great assistance which he had deigned to afford me in my research.”
Another motive for that visit was “to place in the Holy Father’s hands addresses from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. It was nine o’clock at night when I was permitted to enter, and His Holiness, although much fatigued after the day’s work, received me so cordially that I was deeply moved. He enquired after my wife, my little child and my brothers with charming friendship and familiarity.”
The Romans excelled themselves in popular demonstrations. On the 21st April, two days before leaving Rome, Ozanam was able to view, from the top of the Coliseum where he had secured a seat, the great spectacle of a magnificent banquet to eight hundred guests organised by the municipality over the baths of Titus, in honour of the 2,600th anniversary of the foundation of Rome. It was merely an occasion for speech-making. Many addresses were delivered, among others, by the distinguished Professor Orioli, by the son-in-law of Manzoni and by the Marquis d’Azeglio. The event reached its climax in a tremendous ovation in honour of Pius IX, who had recently published an Edict broadening the basis of provincial representation. A torchlight procession was held at night. It was marshalled at the Piazza del Popolo and marched by the Corso and the Piazza Colonna to the Piazza Monte Cavallo. Ozanam describes the scene to his brother in these words:
“One thing alone was wanting to complete the happiness of our tour. We should have very much liked to see one of those popular ovations of which we had heard so much. It would have been a great privation to Amelie to depart without again seeing the Pope and carrying with her a final blessing . . .”
“On Tuesday evening, the 22nd, we were informed that all was ready to give thanks to the Pope for his new edict. There was to be a great torchlight procession. We hurried down to the Corso with the Abbé Gerbet and some other friends who had come to bid us good-bye. The place of meeting was at the Piazza del Popolo, where the torches were handed out. We saw the starting of the triumphal procession, which was headed by a band followed by a column of torchbearers, estimated at 6,000 men, marching in perfect order. There were middle-class people, workmen in overalls, priests in their soutanes, all united by the one sentiment. Viva Pio nono! As the procession advanced to the Corso, houses were illuminated on the way, every story being decorated with flags and mottoes. We followed the crowd to the Piazza Colonna, to reach by a short-cut the Piazza Monte Cavallo whither they were bound. The Piazza was already black with people. We saw the arrival of the bands and the torchbearers, who made room for themselves and formed a square around the Edict. This was borne as a banner before the gates of the Papal Palace.
“After some pieces had been discoursed by the band a great shout was raised, the shout of 50,000 men. The window on the balcony was opened and the Sovereign Pontiff appeared, accompanied by two Prelates and retainers bearing torches. He bowed right and left with captivating grace. The acclamation and shouts of welcome redoubled; but this is what most appealed to me. The Pope raised his hand and behold! but one word Zitto! (hush!) was heard, and in less than a minute silence reigned supreme over that enthusiastic multitude. Then the voice of the Pontiff was raised in benediction. He stretched out his hand and made the Sign of the Cross. When he had pronounced the solemn words of blessing, the sound of a grand Amen was heard from one end of the multitude to the other. Nothing could be more impressive and beautiful than the prayer of an entire city with its Bishop, at that advanced hour of the night under stars set in a superb sky! It was also a religious act, for as soon as the Pope had retired from the balcony all torches were extinguished at the same moment. The only light now cast on the scene was the flare from some Bengal lamps on the terraces of the palaces close by.
“At half-past nine we were among the last to leave the Piazza del Quirinale, and we returned through streets as silent and as deserted as if it were midnight. The Romans had gone to rest like good children, who had come to say good-night to their father before retiring.”
Ozanam left the next day. We do not intend to follow him on the second part of his itenerary into Umbria, the land of saints and of holy legends, into which his Mudes franciscaines will bring us again. “All that portion of our Italian journey,” he writes, “has been embittered, and it is through a veil of sadness that we saw Assisi, Ravenna, Venice, and other wonders. As we advance in years, is there not always a veil of sadness before our eyes, and must we not steel ourselves so to regard the beautiful things of this earth from which we are soon to tear ourselves away.”
Ozanam’s ten days in Venice were a period of enchantment. He arrived at night in a gondola. The unexpected view of the Piazza Grande garlanded with lights, drew from him expressions of joy and admiration. “On the right and on the left were the Palaces of the Procurator with the Campanile; at the further end St. Mark’s, its carved facade, its domes and its crosses; on turning around the Piazzetta, the superb frowning Ducal Palace, the columns of St. Mark and St. George, and then the sea. . . . At this point real vision failed me and I dreamed; it seemed to me that all this fairyland must disappear at the first cold rays of dawn. It was ten o’clock at night; one heard music on all sides; groups of men and young women were standing in the porticos. I was beginning to appreciate the the charm of that city of magic and the cause of its destruction.
” Day broke. Ten times I have seen the sun rise over Venice, and I realised as many times that my dream had not vanished. Venice attracted me more than I thought possible. . . . What charming hours, what happy all-too-fleeting moments in the gondolas, on the Lido, where we felt the gentle movement of the waters of the Adriatic! What interesting pilgrimages to the good Armenians of St. Lazare, who do the honours of their little monastery of red brick and laughing gardens; to the Isles of Muranno and Torcello where ancient sanctuaries survive a dead prosperity!
” But these joyous sights were tinged with an element of sadness. I saw the three masts despoiled of the banners of the three kingdoms, which were formerly the glory of the Republic, and on the Piazzetta were Austrian cannon with Hungarian grenadiers on guard.”
Ozanam is to be found in the early days of June resuming his journey to France through Switzerland. He was a pilgrim of history at St. Gall, that early centre of Christian civilisation for Germany. He had expected to find traces of St. Columbanus and of the great Western saints in that monastery. He arrived on the next day at Einsiedeln, where he mingled with the pilgrims from the Cantons and from the Tyrol, at the feet of Our Lady of the Hermits.
He was in Geneva on the 15th June with his friend, Dr. Dufresne. Opening a newspaper at random he learned of the death of M. Ballanche. He was much grieved at it. Ozanam unbosomed himself to Jean-Jacques Ampère in the following letter dated the 17th: “When I last shook the hand of our venerable friend, I never thought that lie was to form one of the number, alas, so large! of those whom I should not see again. Or rather, he is indeed one of those whom we shall see again, if we are worthy. That great pure soul, after a full Christian life crowned by a happy death, has departed to swell the circle of blessed souls, who are expecting and attracting us.”
” But for us here below, that is a loss which creates a mighty void in the already thin ranks of that refined literary generation which was thrown up by the Revolution to cover its ruins with immortal bloom What a solitary figure is M. de Chateaubriand to-day, who is now the sole surviving patriarch of the companions of his earthly pilgrimage, and who does not know where to turn for consolation because they are no more! What a source of grief for you who lose the dearest friend of your illustrious father, and for me who miss the best friend of my young days.”
” Permit us, my dear friend, to mingle our tears with yours, afflicted as we are with a like grief. We know only too well, from a recent bereavement, that all sympathy is sweet, even that coming from lowly sources.”
One of his last days in Switzerland was given over to a pilgrimage to a dear and hallowed spot. It was a pilgrimage of altogether domestic interest, having for Ozanam the dearest recollections of any scene in those mountain valleys. His description reproduces the scene fully.
He relates that it was on the zrst June that he remembered that “half way between Lausanne and Verdun was the village of Echallens whither his grand-father Nantas had fled during the late months of the Terror, and of which his mother had often spoken.” He made up his mind to visit it. “What would I not have given,” he exclaimed, “to know in which house my forebears dwelt! I saw the copses and paths where they picked wild strawberries. The Carthusian uncle preceded them as a guide, and when he discovered a cluster of strawberries he called his happy nieces, Come girls, they are quite ripe!’ They returned with their baskets full of that luscious little fruit, which they ate with excellent cream. I paid a visit to the Church where my dear mother made her first Communion under the direction of the good Cure, who often said to her, ‘ We shall both go to Heaven!’ It was alas! as my mother had described it, divided into two parts, one for Catholic, and one for Protestant worship. The dear Church is very badly kept, yet I prayed in it with more fervour than usual. I thanked God for the favours He had bestowed in this same place on the exiles. I prayed for my dear mother only because it is a duty to pray for the dead. As I believe she is happy and powerful in Heaven, I asked her to watch over us, to help us to conclude safely this long drawn-out journey, and above all to obtain for her children some of her sweet virtues.
” My wife and my mother-in-law prayed with me, and my darling Mary knelt quite seriously at the altar rails. Amelie gathered some flowers on the height on which the Church is perched.
” They are not the same flowers that our dear mother trod as she went to Mass, but they are like them, and please God we, too, shall be like her.”
The eight months tour amid such enchanting scenes had been beneficial to Ozanam as well as to his family. He wrote as follows to Lallier: “As for health, mine is not at all bad, and my wife has got stronger. What we cannot sufficiently thank Providence for is that during the whole period of eight months, our dear child has not had two days’ sickness. That freedom from human complaints would confirm me in the impression that she is a little angel, did she not give way occasionally to fits of violent temper.”
The sojourn was beneficial to his mind, which had been broadened by the contemplation of those impressive scenes; it was soothing to his heart which was now filled with such fair hopes. But were these latter not mere illusions which would be transformed by the malice of men into so many bitter disappointments? That is so, but it is none the less so that Ozanam’s enthusiasm for the progressive policy of Pius IX. was shared by the large majority of French Catholics. As far as Ozanam was concerned, that enthusiasm was not the effect of emotion and enthusiasm, but the result of observation and conviction, which he longed to unfold and to maintain as a politician and a Christian.
- The Abbé Gerbet was then working at the third volume of his Christian Rome. “ If we had him in France,” wrote Ozanam to Foisset, “would he not be the natural successor to Ballanche in the French Academy?
- Those documents were printed in 1850 under the title of: Documents inedits pour servir a l’histoire litter ire de l’Italie depuis le V I Ie slick jusqu’ au X II Ie.. Preceded by a long Preface on Les Ecoles en Italie aux temps barbares.