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Architecture

No spot on earth has a grander name or a more imposing history than the Roman Forum. Its origin takes us far back to geological ages—to a period modern indeed in the inarticulate annals of the earth, but compared with which even those great periods which mark the rise and fall of empires are but as the running of the sands in an hour-glass. It opens up a wonderful chapter in the earth's stony book. Everywhere on the site and in the neighbourhood of Rome striking indications of ancient volcanoes abound.

Among the first objects that arrest the attention and powerfully excite the curiosity of the visitor in Rome are the Egyptian obelisks. They remind him impressively that the oldest things in this city of ages are but as of yesterday in comparison with these imperishable relics of the earliest civilisation. At one time it is said that there were no less than forty-eight obelisks erected in Rome,—six of the largest size and forty-two of the smaller,—all conveyed at enormous cost and with almost incredible labour from the banks of the Nile to the banks of the Tiber.

Rome after a season becomes oppressive. Your capacity of enjoyment is exhausted. The atmosphere of excitement in which you live, owing to the number, variety, and transcendent interest of the sights that have to be seen, wears out the nervous system, and you have an ardent desire for a little respite and change of scene. I remember that after the first month I had a deep longing to get away into the heart of an old wood, or into a lonely glen among the mountains, where I should see no trace of man's handiwork, and recover the tone of my spirit amid the wildness of nature.

In the porch of the interesting old church of Sta. Maria in Cosmedin near the Tiber is preserved a huge circular stone like a millstone. It is composed of white marble, upwards of five feet in diameter, and is finished after the model of the dramatic mask used in the ancient theatres. In the centre is a round hole perforating the mass right through, forming the mouth of the mask. It is called the Bocca della Verita, and has given its name to the irregular piazza in which the church is situated.

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.

Marble-hunting is one of the regular pursuits of the visitor in Rome. The ground in almost every part of the ancient city is strewn with fragments of historical monuments. The largest and most valuable pieces have long since been removed by builders and sculptors, to fashion some Papal palace, or to adorn some pretentious church; and at the present day, in almost every stone-mason's shed, blocks of marble belonging to ancient edifices may be seen in process of conversion into articles of modern furniture.

Among the numberless objects of interest to be seen in Rome, a very high place must be assigned to the Codex Vaticanus, probably the oldest vellum manuscript in existence, and the richest treasure of the great Vatican Library. This famous manuscript, which Biblical scholars designate by the letter B, contains the oldest copy of the Septuagint, and the first Greek version of the New Testament.

The Gospel first came to Europe in circumstances similar to those in which it came into human history. Through poverty, shame, and suffering—through the manger, the cross, and the sepulchre—did our Saviour accomplish the salvation of the world; through stripes and imprisonment, through the gloom of the inner dungeon and the pain and shame of the stocks, did Paul and Silas declare at Philippi the glad tidings of salvation. Out of the midnight darkness which enveloped the apostles of the Cross, as they sang in the prison, came the marvellous light that was destined to illumine all Europe.

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