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J. W. McGarvey
Lands of the Bible (1881)


L E T T E R   X X I I.


      WHEN I left Athens my journeying in Lands of the Bible was at an end, for Mars Hill was the last spot on which I trod that was made sacred by the feet of an Apostle. The other places of interest that I visited, and of which I have yet to speak very briefly, were seen merely in passing as I journeyed toward my Western home.

      During the voyage of six days around to Venice, one of which was spent in the harbor of Brindisi delivering and receiving freight, and one in that of Bari, an ancient town higher up the Italian coast, I gradually recovered my strength. The voyage was delightful. The Adriatic, over which we sailed, was most of the way as smooth as a mirror; we felt no breeze except the gentle current produced by the ship's motion; our meals were spread upon tables on the deck with an awning above us to protect us from the heat of the sun; the air was delightfully cool at night, and the round moon with its clear silvery light threw a peculiar charm over mountains, islands, passing vessels, and gleaming waters. At first I knew not that a soul on board could speak English, but as I stood at the rail after nightfall watching the rising moon, and the long stream of glimmering light which reflected from the broken water in the vessel's wake, I ventured a remark on the [607] beauty of the scene to a young girl who stood near me, and she answered me in plain English. Her features, her dark eyes, and her black hair all proclaimed her a Greek, and I was curious to know how she had learned English so correctly. My inquiries led to an acquaintance with her father's family, all of whom, to the number of eight, were on board. The old gentleman was a Greek merchant, named Empedocles, who had lived in London, where he and all his family had become acquainted with the English language and habits, and they were now on a summer excursion to some of the mountain lakes of Northern Italy. They contributed much by their pleasant conversation and gentle manners to my enjoyment of the voyage, and when they landed at Ancona I was quite lost for want of a single person on board with whom I could converse.

      Venice, it will be remembered, is situated on a multitude of small islands in the sea, the mainland being at least two miles distant at the nearest point. As we approached the city, she seemed to be seated upon the water; for the walls of the houses rise up out of the water, having their foundations beneath the surface. Our huge iron steamer sailed into Main Street as it were, and tied to a buoy with the Doges' palace on the right-hand side of the street and one of the famous churches of Venice on the left. This main street is the Grand Canal, which passes by a serpentine course entirely through the city. It has an average width of about 200 feet, and it is two miles long. It swarms continually by day and by night with gondolas, as the principal streets in other cities do with omnibuses, street cars, and carriages. Other canals, usually not more than 10 or 12 feet wide, branch out from this in every direction, and wind through all parts of the city, passing the front door of almost every dwelling. In leaving home the people step from their door-sill into the gondola, and from the gondola upon the door-sill of the house which they enter. When our ship had come to rest I descended with a group of the passengers into a gondola, and called to the gondolier the name of the hotel which I had chosen, the Hotel Victoria. Silently we glided along between the high walls of buildings, meeting other gondolas, turning sharp corners, passing men and boys swimming in the canals and teaching little children to swim, until the gondolier called out "Hotel Victoria," and I found myself at the hotel door, into which I entered at a single step. Here I found elegant apartments, and every comfort that heart could wish. Quite a number of English and American tourists were among the guests, though none with whom I was inclined to seek an especial acquaintance. As in Athens, I felt like enjoying the strange scenes about me alone, [608]

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without the task of talking to new acquaintances, or the nuisance of listening to the gabble of an officious guide. There were few objects which I cared to see, and I knew where to find these.

      Venice is the most silent city in the world. There is not a wheeled vehicle within its limits, and one hears no sound but the hum of human voices, the tread of human feet, and the ringing of church-bells. Not a horse, or a cow, or a quadruped of any kind is to be found in the city, and many of the children grow up without having seen a horse, while the more fortunate boys and girls take a gondola ride on holidays to see some ponies which are kept as a show on one of the suburban islands. While transportation and travel are chiefly by way of the canals, all the islands are traversed by narrow alleys between the houses, usually from four to eight feet wide, and the canals are crossed, where these alleys strike them, on bridges consisting of a single stone arch with steps to ascend it on either side.

      The one object of supreme interest in Venice, after beholding the strange peculiarity of the city itself, is the vast pile of buildings one end of which is the Church of St. Mark, and the other the Palace of the Doges. The former is one of the wonders of the religious world. "In no other building in the world" (says the author of "Cook's Northern Italy") "has there been lavished so costly material as in the composition of this church; domes, columns (500 of marble on the outside), statues, mosaics, wondrous arches, altogether make up a building that might be mistaken for an architectural museum of all ages. . . . It would be impossible to describe the mosaics which fill the church; they are more brilliant and diversified and extensive than can be seen elsewhere; nor can we refer particularly to the wonderful marbles from all nations, executed in all ages, and representing every style and period of art." Every country which the fleet of Venice visited when she was mistress of the seas was laid under contribution, and made to furnish its richest gems of art to embellish this building. As I walked slowly through it, pausing at almost every step to gaze upon its opening grandeur, and trying to form a distinct conception of it as a whole, I found myself awed into weakness, and incapable of an attempt to describe it.

      Tradition relates that the evangelist Mark died in Alexandria, and was buried there in a church founded by himself, but that in the year 829 two merchants of Venice got possession of his bones and brought them to their native city. From that time Mark became the patron saint of Venice; this church was built in his honor, and his bones are now said to lie under its altar. [609]

      In front of the church is the celebrated Piazza, an open space nearly 200 yards long, about 90 yards wide at the end near the church, and about 60 wide at the farther end. This is surrounded on three sides by a continuous palace, the lower story of which is now devoted to shops in which the richest articles of traffic are exposed for sale, and along whose front there is a continuous arcade with a wide pavement between the piers of the arches and the doors of the shops. No handsomer shops and none with a richer display of goods can be seen even in Paris.

      Near the church end of the Piazza is the Campanile, or bell-tower of the church. It is built of brick, and is nearly 40 feet square and more than 300 feet high. It is ascended not by steps, but by a succession of inclined planes in its interior; and from its summit one looks down upon the whole city with its canals and islands and churches and palaces, and the circumambient sea, and the distant mountains of Italy. Few more pleasing prospects are to be seen in the world.

      A multitude of tame pigeons find homes in the numberless recesses about the walls and roof of the church, and a decree of the Venetian Senate was long ago issued that they should be daily fed at public expense. The cause of this singular decree is now so little known that it is the subject of conflicting theories; but the pigeons are still fed at two o'clock every day, and they fly down upon the pavement of the Piazza punctually at the hour. The cut on the opposite page presents a view of part of the Piazza, with the front of the church and of the Doges' Palace on the left, the lower part of the Campanile on the right, and the pigeons receiving their daily food.

      The four figures of horses which are seen in the cut over the central portal are made entirely of copper, and were once covered with gold. They are of colossal size, and they weigh about two tons each. Their origin is in dispute, but they can be traced with certainty back to Constantine, who sent them from Rome to Constantinople. When the Venetians conquered the East they brought them to Venice. Napoleon seized them in 1797 and sent them by overland conveyance to Paris; but after his final downfall, in 1815, they were restored again to Venice. Notwithstanding the fact that they are made of metal, they have traveled more extensively than most other horses.

      The Palace of the Doges, the ancient rulers of Venice, adjoins the church on its southern side and extends thence to the Grand Canal. It is built around an open quadrangle in the interior, with open galleries filled with statuary on all sides of the quadrangle. The building is now a national museum of art, and it contains one of the [610]

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finest collections of paintings in Europe. At the eastern end of the great Council Chamber, an immense hall whose walls are entirely covered with fine paintings, is the largest picture ever painted on canvas. It covers almost one entire end of the great hall, and is 84 feet long by 34 in width. It is called The Glory of Paradise; and while nearly all the other pictures in that gallery have faded from my memory, this one remains indelibly impressed upon it. It represents Jesus seated high upon his throne near the middle of the canvas, while around him and high above is a countless multitude of angels extending so far away that those most remote seem lost in the dim distance. To the right and left of these, covering all the remainder of the immense canvas, are multitudes of human beings of all classes, conditions, and nationalities, kings, princes, priests, gray-haired sires, venerable matrons, young men and maidens, and many little children,--all with expressions of unspeakable happiness stamped on every brow, and all resting in attitudes of perfect repose. I gazed long and tearfully upon the blissful scene, until I almost felt myself transported from earth to heaven. No other painting, among the acres of them which I saw in various European galleries, made such an impression on my mind.

      Immediately east of the palace, across a narrow canal which passes on that side, is the prison in which criminals were formerly confined. They were brought into the palace across a bridge which spans the canal on a level with the second story of the palace, and which was closed in like a room, to prevent persons below from seeing the prisoners as they passed. This is the structure which has become immortalized under the name of "The Bridge of Sighs," simply through Byron's mention of it in the opening stanza of his description of Venice:

"I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs,
    A palace and a prison on each hand.
 I saw from out the waves her structures rise,
    As from the stroke of the enchanter's wand."

      The building on the left in the cut is the palace, that on the right the prison. Two gondolas, correctly represented, lie in the canal, and the low bridge in the distance is one of the foot-bridges which furnish crossings for the narrow streets. This canal is a fair specimen of all. The entire number of canals in the city is 146, and they are crossed by 400 bridges. The population of the city is now about 130,000.

      On Thursday, August 7th, I left Venice on the one o'clock train for Mil'an. The railway-track runs on piles from the city to the mainland, and as there is but little tide in the Mediterranean these piles are driven [611] down till the track is but a few feet above the level of the water. It was curious to look out at the windows on both sides of the car and see the water so close that the train appeared to be running on its surface. I reached Mil'an at eleven P. M., and was taken to one of the most elegant hotels I had seen in my travels. It had a peculiarity which pleased me above all other European hotels. Notices were posted in the rooms requesting the guests of the house to pay nothing to servants, and to report to the clerk any servant who should ask for anything. Nearly everywhere else the traveler has to run the gauntlet of all the servants who have had a chance to serve him in any capacity. They frequently form a double line at the hotel door as he is about to leave, and every one expects a franc or more. Frequently these extortions are most excessive where the regular bill is most extravagant. I commend to the traveling public the "Hotel Milan."

      I stopped at Mil'an chiefly to see two objects of absorbing interest, her cathedral and her wonderful picture of the Last Supper. I rode about the city and found it a rich and beautiful place, but I spent most of my time with the two objects just named.

      The Cathedral of Mil'an is the largest and most magnificent Gothic structure in the world. From its foundation to the top of its spire, which is 355 feet high, it is built of marble. Its floor is a mosaic pavement in red, blue, and white marble, and its roof is laid with enormous slabs of marble three inches thick, the courses of which lap upon one another like shingles. It bristles outside with a forest of spires, every one of which is surmounted by a statue. There are statues on the exterior of the building, including those of prophets, apostles, priests, nuns, and angels, to the enormous number of three thousand, and there are unoccupied places provided in the design for fifteen hundred more. The very excellent cut of the front of the building, on the opposite page, will convey a better conception of its appearance than any possible description.

      The entire length of the structure is 486 feet. The width of the main body of it is 252, while that of the transept at the rear is 288 feet. Its interior height, from the floor to the crown of the vaulting, is 153 feet. Within, one is lost in wonder and admiration as he gazes upon the forest of pillars, looks up into the dim and lofty vaults which they support, surveys the vast distances which spread out before him in the dim light, and catches glimpses of the marble statues that stand in solemn silence around the walls. Many objects of interest attract attention as we walk slowly about the vast area, not the least surprising of which is the marble baptistery, in which immersion is still [612]

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performed as it ever has been by the bishop and priests of this cathedral. The erection and ornamentation of such a building would necessarily require a vast amount of time and money, but one is not prepared on beholding it for the statement that its erection was commenced in 1386, and that it was not completed till within the present century. How many churches built in America would stand five hundred years? How many there are that crumble and must be rebuilt in less than fifty years! Yet here is one whose foundations were laid five hundred years ago, and it has scarcely a sign of old age about it. Unless it shall be demolished by gunpowder or by an earthquake, it seems as if it would yet stand five times five hundred years.

      Everybody in America has seen an engraving of the Last Supper of our Lord, copied from a great painting of that subject by West. But West copied from an old fresco in a very old and insignificant church in Mil'an. It is painted on an old wall, the end wall of a room adjoining the church which was once used by the priests as a dining-hall. The painting is 28 feet long, and the figures are somewhat larger than life. The wall on which it was painted is much broken and picked; but the figures, notwithstanding this injury, seem instinct with thought and feeling, and appear almost like living forms standing in the rear of the roughened surface. The moment represented by it is when Jesus had declared that one should betray him, and John, at Peter's request, was about to ask Jesus who it was. The distinctions of character displayed in the twelve faces, while all were at the same moment moved by a common impulse, are truly marvelous. I sat a long time, as others did who were present, studying in silence every face, and realizing the scene itself as I had never realized it before. The incomparable excellence of the work was the more deeply impressed on my mind by the circumstance that there were six copies of it in the room, all evidently the work of good artists, and all standing on their easels to be sold to visitors; yet not one of them had the true expression of a single face in the original. When I saw this my soul bowed in profound reverence before the genius of Leonardo da Vinci, who painted the original more than four hundred years ago, and I honored the Milanese for the statue of their great artist which they have recently erected in one of their public squares.

      On the afternoon of Friday, August 8th, I took the four o'clock train for Paris via Turin and the Mont Cenis tunnel. The ride through Lombardy and into Piedmont was hot and dusty, but it presented to view a rich, beautiful, and highly cultivated country. Among the agricultural products on the wayside, I was surprised to see many fields [613] of Indian corn, some of which would not have done discredit to a blue-grass farm in Kentucky.

      During the whole afternoon I was sweltering in a linen suit; but when the train had climbed for a few hours up the steep grades of the Alps, I became so chilled that I was compelled to make a change of clothing. Fortunately there were no ladies in our compartment, so after asking two Germans, my only companions, to excuse me, I deliberately made the change. Later in the night, having made a change of cars, I found myself by the side of a lady whom I took to be either a French lady or an Italian. There were several other persons in the compartment, who conversed in foreign tongues, while I sat as dumb as if I had no tongue at all. At last, after about two hours, I ventured a remark to the lady, and she answered promptly in plain English. I found that she was an American, and about as anxious for some one to talk to as I was.

      We ran through Southern France on the 9th of August, and I was surprised to find the farmers in the midst of their harvest. I had seen the beginning of harvest in the Valley of the Jordan as far back as the 20th of April; I had seen it in progress on the Lebanon Mountains on the 2d of July; and now I saw it again on the 9th of August in sunny France,--three months and a half of harvest time.

      I reached Paris on Saturday at five P. M., having run thither in 25 hours from Mil'an, and I remained there until the afternoon of the following Wednesday, when I left for London, and reached the latter city at midnight. I had unexpectedly overtaken Frank in Paris; and Brother Taylor, who had made a short visit to Scotland, rejoined me in London. Brother Earl had already reached his home in Southampton.

      After spending two days in London, during which I had visited the Tower, St. Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, and the British Museum, I was again taken sick and confined for the next four days. I had just finished examining the Alexandrian Manuscript, a Greek copy of the Bible written in the fifth century, the most interesting object to me among all the countless wonders of that vast museum, when I felt the approach of an ague and returned to my hotel. A doctor was called in, and quinine was of course the principal remedy; but in utter contempt for my American gelatine-coated quinine pills, the cruel man insisted on pouring down my throat the bitter stuff in solution, its very bitterest form, and my stomach was tormented with the remedy as much as my head and back were with the disease. The English are slow to accept any improvement which originates in America. [614]

      As the steamer "Indiana," on which I had engaged passage for Philadelphia, was to sail on August 19th, I was constrained to leave London as soon as I could leave my room. I was disappointed in not seeing more of its wonders, and in not seeing some friends on whom I had promised to call in other cities of England.

      Our homeward voyage across the Atlantic was void of incidents worthy of particular mention. I reached Lexington in a cold rain on the evening of September 2d, just six months after my departure. A missionary convention of my brethren in the State of Kentucky was in session. I first repaired with my wife and eldest son, who met me at the depot, to my own house, where greetings were exchanged such as are known only to the sacred circle of home after a long and perilous separation. Then for the first time I broke to my weeping wife and children the news of my almost fatal disaster in the Mediterranean Sea. I am sure that when we bowed around the family altar that night, our hearts drew a little nearer to God and to one another than ever before. The next day, when I appeared among the multitude of my fellow-laborers in the gospel, related to them the hitherto untold perils of my journey, and received their tearful congratulations, I was reminded again of the parting scene in that same house six months before, and I could scarcely decide which was the more painful and tearful, the parting or the meeting. Our holiest joys and our deepest sorrows, while tabernacling in the flesh, are much alike in the strain which they make upon our hearts.

      May I close this, my last letter, by expressing the wish that every reader who has followed me in my journey to the earthly Canaan may also journey with me and I with him to that upper and better Canaan of which this is but a feeble type? [615]


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J. W. McGarvey
Lands of the Bible (1881)

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