Make your own free website on Tripod.com


PASSION WEEK AND EASTER.

Good Friday, March 29.

LENT has hung heavily upon the Mentonese, who are obliged by their priests to keep it very strictly, and all look forward eagerly to an emancipation, which will allow their mouths to eat bonbons, and their legs to dance cotillons once more. Even the poor donkey-women, when out with us on a long day's expedition, have been obliged to refuse the poor remains of our luncheon, and to look on with wistful eyes and hungry stomachs, while dogs fed on the sandwiches that were left.

Palm Sunday was a hot sultry day, and when I went up the steps of St. Michele, an hour before the service at our own church, I found not only the interior of the building, but the piazza outside, filled with a steaming, heaving crowd. All were pressing eagerly but slowly towards the high altar, where the curé was giving his benediction to the long white waving palm branches, which each carried in his hand; some of the palms being left in their natural state, some twisted and curled in curious devices, with the leaves plaited half-way up into the shape of crosses and circles, and then rising into a feathery plume. Many of these, which were made by a bedridden man, were really beautiful. Some were laden with bread, figs, olives, oranges, &c., all the fruits of the earth, that they also might receive a blessing, while those of the children were covered with sugarplums and playthings. When all the palm-bearing people had filed up to the altar on one side of the church, and, having received their benediction, had regained the street by the other, the actual solemnities of the day commenced, and the clergy, bearing long palm-branches in their hands and chaunting as they came, slowly advanced down the centre of the church to the great western door, which was closed. There they remained singing the 24th Psalm. Meanwhile the chaunt was echoed in subdued strains from the piazza outside, till on reaching a particular point ("Lift up your heads ye everlasting doors, and the king of glory shall come in?") the great doors were thrown open, and a second procession entered, bearing the Host and followed by a great multitude of people. Then the first procession waving their long palm-branches and chaunting, preceded them to the altar, where the usual morning service was continued. After Vespers, a service here almost exclusively attended by women, a celebrated Dominican friar preached. We went again at sunset to be present at the Salut or Benediction. At this time the church was perfectly thronged by people of both sexes, among whom the most absolute silence prevailed, not a limb or a lip moving, when after the blessing a short interval was left for silent prayer.

On Holy Thursday and for two days afterwards the church clock which sets the time for the whole of Mentone is stopped, and does not strike again till "Christ is risen." The hours are told by people rattling bones in a box, which they call "rattling Judas' bones." This however is not only done at the stated hours, for a whole procession of children disturbed us very early in the morning, by coming to rattle their boxes at the chapel of St. Anne, under our windows, and at 6 p.m., half the population assembled on principle during three days, to "grind Judas' bones" together for a considerable time in the principal church. Yesterday evening, at eight o'clock, we set out to see the ceremonies, and found the town illuminated, lines of little lamps gleaming along the top of Il Portico, and flickering in every window. We went first to the church of St. John Baptist, where the Penitents Noirs in their black robes were waiting to hear a sermon, but the crowd and the heat were so great that we fled to the church of Il Conceptione, where we found the Penitents Blancs, with whom the chief business of the evening rests, assembled in white dresses, with ghastly sort of white night-caps on their heads, around a statue, which the people call "Jesu lié," and which is held by them in the utmost veneration. The statue, which represents the Saviour bound to a column, while an angel is performing an extraordinary gymnastic over his head, was lit up to-night by an immense number of wax candles, which flickered painfully upon the contorted limbs and agonized countenance. A Jesuit was preaching, but though his action was most violent, and though every now and then he dashed off his cap and threw his hands into the air, with an outcry which made the church re-echo, the poorer people seemed too much taken up with the image to attend to him. "When the sermon was over, twelve pilgrims were made to sit down in a circle in the middle of the church, and their feet were washed by the penitents, who kissed first the feet and then the face of each, as he finished the operation. "We were amused to recognize one of the penitents, who grinned in passing us, as our comical old postman. Soon we went out into the cool starlit piazza, where, sitting on the terrace, between the churches, we had a very pretty view of the two processions, the white penitents as they emerged from the Conceptione, bearing their old-fashioned silvered lanthorns on poles, their great black crucifix, and the famous statue; and the black penitents, as they wound up the hill to St. Michaele.

On entering this church, which was entirely hung with black, and only lighted by the candles on the altar and the great chandelier in the centre, we found one of the aisles closed by a huge transparency of the crucifixion, on which the gaze of the whole multitude was directed, while they continued to chaunt the penitential psalms together in the most congregational way. We sat in one of the side chapels, and there watched the two processions enter and make the circuit of the church. The whole service was chaunted, and the singing was very universal and devotional.

This morning at four o' clock, ''the Pilgrim Preacher of the Riviera" addressed the people in St. Michaele. He preaches at this early hour in order to secure the attendance of the work people, who are unavoidably obliged to go out on Good Friday to labour in the mountain olive groves. The congregations at this time are always numerous, and his sermons are said to be most striking, and so touching, that the strongest men are moved to tears by his eloquence.


Easter Monday.

Good Friday was a pouring day, so that the ceremonies which usually take place in the open air, in the Piazza Grande, where a sepulchre had been prepared to receive the image of our Saviour's body, were restricted to the interior of the church of St. Michaele. When we went there at eight o'clock in the evening, we found the church crowded from end to end with people, who were chaunting the Miserere, and radiant with a thousand wax-lights, which sparkled in the huge glass chandeliers. In the choir, on a raised bier, under a catafalque of black cloth, and surrounded by a treble row of tall wax tapers, lay the body, for which the whole service was in fact a funeral ceremony. Soon after we arrived, a sudden hush in the crowd, shewed that something important was going to happen, and a huge friar's lanthorn carried in by a boy, was the predecessor of the "Pilgrim Father of the Riviera" himself. This celebrated Capuchin monk is now quite an old man, with a long white beard, but is still sent forth from his convent, during Lent, to exercise his wonderful gift of preaching in the towns on the coast. His sermon was short, but most graphic and striking. He began by describing a dreadful murder which people committed upon the person of their kindest friend and benefactor, with the horror it excited; and then pointing to the white corpse which lay before him amid the blazing candles, he declared that those around him had themselves committed the crime, and that the object of it was no other than their Saviour, whose image they saw there pale and bleeding before their eyes. He ended by snatching the crucifix from the support by his side, and holding it aloft to entreat the people to repent, by the sufferings which they there saw figured. As he concluded, the military filed into the church, and then, amidst rolling of drums and blowing of trumpets, which filled up all the intervals of the chaunting, the body was taken up by the black penitents, and carried three times round the church. The penitents preceded it in their black robes, with their black crosses and silver lanthorns. At its head, was the Host in its shining golden monstrance, followed by the priests, while the Mentonese nobles supported the funeral canopy. The procession occupied more than an hour, but the chaunting and martial music were so varied, that it was scarcely tedious. We remained in a small chapel near the choir, where the altar had been opened to disclose a most terrible pieta statue, which looked as if it had fallen down in all the contorted agonies of violent death. It was touching, though sad, to see the circles of people kneeling round it at intervals, and the little children who kissed its gashed side, and its feet streaming with blood.


Easter Sunday.

"He is risen." The words have been proclaimed in triumphal chaunts by the priests and the religious orders in St. Michaele. The news has been echoed by the chorus of thousands of voices; the pillars and the altars have thrown off their mourning attire, and are again dressed up in crimson. The terrible pietas have been shut up in cupboards, to stay there till the Holy Week of next year, and all the shops are filled with the same gaily-painted eggs, which the children are playing with in the streets. The Mentonese may eat and dance again, for "Poor old Lent is dead," say the peasants, "and bad luck go with her."