ST. ONOFRIO AND TASSO

One of the most romantic shrines of pilgrimage in Rome is the church of St. Onofrio. It is situated in the Trastevere, that portion of the city beyond the Tiber whose inhabitants boast of their pure descent from the ancient Romans. A steep ascent on the slope of the Janiculum, through a somewhat squalid but picturesque street, and terminating in a series of broad steps, leads up to it from the Porta di San Spirito, not far from the Vatican. The ground here is open and stretches away, free from buildings, to the walls of the city. The church has a simple old-fashioned appearance; its roof, walls, and small campanile are painted with the rusty gold of lichens that have sprung from the kisses of four centuries of rain and sun. It was erected in the reign of Pope Eugenius IV. by Nicolo da Forca Palena, an ancestor of that Conte di Palena who was a great friend of Torquato Tasso at Naples. It was dedicated to the Egyptian hermit Honuphrius, who for sixty years lived in a cave in the desert of Thebes, without seeing a human being or speaking a word, consorting with birds and beasts, and living upon roots and wild herbs. A subtle harmony is felt between the history of the hermit and the character of this building raised in his honour. A spot more drowsy and secluded, more steeped in the dreams of the older ages, is not to be found in the whole city. In front of the church there is a long, narrow portico, supported by eight antique columns of the simplest construction, in all likelihood borrowed from some old pagan temple. Under this portico is a beautiful fresco of the Madonna and Child by Domenichino. To the right are three lunettes, which contain paintings by the same great master, representing the Baptism, Temptation, and Flagellation of St. Jerome. On the left of the arcade are portraits of the most prominent saints of the Hieronomyte order. Exposed to the weather at first, these invaluable frescoes had faded into mere spectres of pictures; but they are now protected from further injury by glass.

Usually the church is closed, except in the early morning, and visitors are admitted by the custode on ringing a door bell under the portico. The interior is dark and solemn, with much less gilding and meretricious ornament than is usual in Roman churches. It contains, in the side chapels, many objects of interest; frescoes and altar-pieces by Annibale Caracci, Pinturicchio, and Peruzzi; and splendid sepulchral monuments. Of the last the most conspicuous are the marble tomb of Alessandro Guidi, the Italian lyric poet, who died in 1712; and the simple cenotaph in the last chapel on the left of one of the titular cardinals of the church, who died in 1849, the celebrated linguist Mezzofante. But the tomb upon which the visitor will gaze with deepest interest is that of Torquato Tasso, who died in the adjacent monastery in 1595. The chapel of St. Jerome, in which it is situated, the first on the left as you enter, was restored by public subscription in 1857, in a manner which does not reflect much credit upon the artistic taste of modern Rome. Previous to this the remains of the poet reposed for two hundred years in an obscure part of the church close to the door, indicated by a tablet. Above this spot there is a portrait of the time, which from an artistic point of view is very poor, but is said to be a good likeness. Removed on the anniversary of his death, about thirty years ago, to the chapel of St. Jerome, the poet's remains are now covered by a huge marble monument in the cinque-cento style, adorned by a bas-relief of his funeral and a statue of him by Fabris. Whatever may be said regarding the artistic merits of this monument, no one who has read the poet's immortal epic, and is conversant with the sad incidents of his life, can stand on the spot without being deeply moved.