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Region IX Pigna

There used to be a tradition, wholly unfounded, but deeply rooted in the Roman mind, to the effect that the great bronze pine-cone, eleven feet high, which stands in one of the courts of the Vatican, giving it the name 'Garden of the Pine-cone,' was originally a sort of stopper which closed the round aperture in the roof of the Pantheon. The Pantheon stands at one corner of the Region of Pigna, and a connection between the Region, the Pantheon and the Pine-cone seems vaguely possible, though altogether unsatisfactory. The truth about the Pine-cone is perfectly well known; it was part of a fountain in Agrippa's artificial lake in the Campus Martius, of which Pigna was a part, and it was set up in the cloistered garden of Saint Peter's by Pope Symmachus about fourteen hundred years ago. The lake may have been near the Pantheon.

No one, so far as I am aware,—not even the excellent Baracconi,—offers any explanation of the name and device of the Ninth Region. Topographically it is nearly a square, of which the angles are the Pantheon, the corner of Via di Caravita and the Corso, the Palazzo di Venezia, and the corner of the new Via Arenula and Via Florida. Besides the Pantheon it contains some of the most notable buildings erected since the Renascence. Here are the palaces of the Doria, of the Altieri, and the 'Palace of Venice' built by Paul the Second, that Venetian Barbo, whose name may have nicknamed the racing horses of the Carnival. Here were the strongholds of the two great rival orders, the Dominicans and the Jesuits, the former in the Piazza della Minerva, the latter in the Piazza del Gesù, and in the Collegio Romano; and here at the present day, in the buildings of the old rivals, significantly connected by an arched passage, are collected the greatest libraries of the city. That of the Dominicans, wisely left in their care, has been opened to the public; the other, called after Victor Emmanuel, is a vast collection of books gathered together by plundering the monastic institutions of Italy at the time of the disestablishment. The booty—for it was nothing else—was brought in carts, mostly in a state of the utmost confusion, and the books and manuscripts were roughly stacked in vacant rooms on the ground floor of the Collegio Romano, in charge of a porter. Not until a poor scholar, having bought himself two ounces of butter in the Piazza Navona, found the greasy stuff wrapped in an autograph letter of Christopher Columbus, did it dawn upon the authorities that the porter was deliberately selling priceless books and manuscripts as waste paper, by the hundredweight, to provide himself with the means of getting drunk. That was about the year 1880. The scandal was enormous, a strict inquiry was made, justice was done as far as possible, and an official account of the affair was published in a 'Green Book'; but the amount of the loss was unknown, it may have been incalculable, and it was undeniably great.

The names visibly recorded in the Region have vast suggestions in them,—Ignatius Loyola, the Dominicans, Venice, Doria, Agrippa, and the buildings themselves, which are the record, will last for ages; the opposition of Jesuit and Inquisitor, under one name or another, and of both by the people, will live as long as humanity itself.

The crisis in the history of the Inquisition in Rome followed closely upon the first institution of the Tribunal, and seventeen years after Paul the Fourth had created the Court, by a Papal Bull of July twenty-first, 1542, the people burned the Palace of the Inquisition and threatened to destroy the Dominicans and their monastery.


So far as it is possible to judge the character of the famous Carafa Pope, he was ardent under a melancholic exterior, rigid but ambitious, utterly blind to everything except the matter he had in hand, proud to folly, and severe to cruelty. A chronicler says of him, that his head 'might be compared to the Vesuvius of his native city, since he was ardent in all his actions, wrathful, hard and inflexible, undoubtedly moved by an incredible zeal for religion, but a zeal often lacking in prudence, and breaking out in eruptions of excessive severity.' On the other hand, his lack of perception was such that he remained in complete ignorance of the outrageous deeds done in his name by his two nephews, the one a cardinal, the other a layman, and it was not until the last year of his life that their doings came to his knowledge.

This was the man to whom Queen Elizabeth sent an embassy, in the hope of obtaining the Papal sanction for her succession to the throne. Henry the Second of France had openly espoused the cause of Mary Queen of Scots, whom Philip the Second of Spain was also inclined to support, after the failure of his attempt to obtain the hand of Elizabeth for the Duke of Savoy. With France and Spain against her, the Queen appealed to Rome, and to Paul the Fourth. In the eyes of Catholics her mother had never been the lawful wife of Henry the Eighth, and she herself was illegitimate. If the Pope would overlook this unfortunate fact and confirm her crown in the eyes of Catholic Europe, she would make an act of obedience by her ambassador. She had been brought up as a Catholic, she had been crowned by a Roman Catholic bishop, and on first ascending the throne she had shown herself favourable to the Catholic party; the request and proposition were reasonable, if nothing more. Muratori points out that if a more prudent, discreet and gentle Pope had reigned at that time, and if he had received Elizabeth's offer kindly, according to the dictates of religion, which he should have considered to the exclusion of everything else, and without entering into other people's quarrels, nor into the question of his own earthly rights, England might have remained a Catholic country. Paul the Fourth's answer, instead, was short, cold and senseless. 'England,' he said, 'is under the feudal dominion of the Roman Church. Elizabeth is born out of wedlock; there are other legitimate heirs, and she should never have assumed the crown without the consent of the Apostolic See.' This is the generally accepted account of what took place, as given by Muratori and other historians. Lingard, however, whose authority is undeniable, argues against the truth of the story on the ground that the English Ambassador in Rome at the time of Queen Mary's death never had an audience of the Pope. It seems probable, nevertheless, that Elizabeth actually appealed to the Holy See, though secretly and with the intention of concealing the step in case of failure.

A child might have foreseen the consequences of the Pope's political folly. Elizabeth saw her extreme danger, turned her back upon Rome forever, and threw herself into the arms of the Protestant party as her only chance of safety. At the same time heresy assumed alarming proportions throughout Europe, and the Pope called upon the Inquisition to put it down in Rome. Measures of grim severity were employed, and the Roman people, overburdened with the taxes laid upon them by the Pope's nephews, were exasperated beyond endurance by the religious zeal of the Dominicans, in whose hands the inquisitorial power was placed.


Nor were they appeased by the fall of the two Carafa, which was ultimately brought about by the ambassador of Tuscany. The Pope enquired of him one day why he so rarely asked an audience, and he frankly replied that the Carafa would not admit him to the Pope's presence unless he would previously give a full account of his intentions, and reveal all the secrets of the Grand Duke's policy. Then some one wrote out an account of the Carafa's misdeeds and laid it in the Pope's own Breviary. The result was sudden and violent, like most of Paul's decisions and actions. He called a Consistory of cardinals, made open apology for his nephews' doings, deprived them publicly of all their offices and honours, and exiled them, in opposite directions and with their families, beyond the confines of the Papal States.

But the people were not satisfied; they accused the Pope of treating his nephews as scapegoats for his own sins, and the immediate repeal of many taxes was no compensation for the terrors of the Inquisition. There were spies everywhere. No one was safe from secret accusers. The decisions of the tribunal were slow, mysterious and deadly. The Romans became the victims of a secret reign of terror such as the less brave Neapolitans had more bravely fought against and had actually destroyed a dozen years earlier, when Paul the Fourth, then only a cardinal, had persuaded their Viceroy to try his favourite method of reducing heresy. Yet such was the fear of the Dominicans and of the Pope himself that no one dared to raise his voice against the 'monks of the Minerva.'

The general dissatisfaction was fomented by the nobles, and principally by the Colonna, who had been at open war with the Pope during his whole reign. Moreover, the severities of his government had produced between Colonna and Orsini one of those occasional alliances for their common safety, which vary their history without adorning it. The Pope seized the Colonna estates and conferred them upon his nephews, but was in turn often repulsed as the fighting ebbed and flowed during the four years of his Pontificate, for the Colonna as usual had powerful allies in the Emperor and in his kingdom of Naples. Changeable as the Roman people always were, they had more often espoused the cause of Colonna than that of the Pope and Orsini. Paul the Fourth fell ill in the summer, when the heat makes a southern rabble dangerous, and the certain news of his approaching end was a message of near deliverance. He lingered and died hard, though he was eighty-four years old and afflicted with dropsy. But the exasperated Romans were impatient for the end, and the nobles were willing to take vengeance upon their oppressor before he breathed his last. As the news that the Pope was dying ran through the city, the spell of terror was broken, secret murmuring turned to open complaint, complaint to clamour, clamour to riot. A vast and angry multitude gathered together in the streets and open places, and hour by hour, as the eager hope for news of death was ever disappointed, and the hard old man lived on, the great concourse gathered strength within itself, seething, waiting, listening for the solemn tolling of the great bell in the Capitol to tell them that Paul the Fourth had passed away. Still it came not. And in the streets and everywhere there were retainers and men-at-arms of the great houses, ready of tongue and hand, but friendly with the people, listening to tales of suffering and telling of their lords' angry temper against the dying Pope. A word here, a word there, like sparks amid sun-dried stubble, till the hot stuff was touched with fire and all broke out in flame.

Then words were no longer exchanged between man and man, but a great cry of rage went up from all the throng, and the people began to move, some knowing what they meant to do and some not knowing, nor caring, but moving with the rest, faster and faster, till many were trampled down in the press, and they came to the prisons, to Corte Savella and Tor di Nona, and even to Sant' Angelo, and as they battered at the great doors from without, the prisoners shouted for freedom from within, and their gaolers began to loose their chains, fearing for their own lives, and drew back the bolts to let the stream of riot in. So on that day four hundred condemned men were taken out and let loose, before the Pope was dead.

From a print of the last century

Yet the people had not enough, and they surged and roared in the streets, quivering with rage not yet half spent. And again words ran along, as fire through dry grass, and suddenly all men thought of the Inquisition, down by the Tiber at the Ripetta. Thought was motion, motion was action, action was to set men free and burn the hated prison to the ground. The prisoners of the Holy Roman Office were seventy-two, and many had lain there long unheard, for the trial of unbelief was cumbrous in argument and slow of issue, and though the Pope could believe no one innocent who was in prison, and though he was violent in his judgments, the saintly Ghislieri was wise and cautious, and would condemn no man hastily to please his master. When he in turn was Pope, the people loved him, though at first they feared him for Pope Paul's sake.

When they had burned the Inquisition on that day and set free the accused persons, and it was not yet night, they turned back from the Tiber, still unsatisfied, for they had shed little blood, or none at all, perhaps, and the people of Rome always thirsted for that when their anger was hot. Through the winding streets they went, dividing where the ways were narrow and meeting again where there was room, always towards Pigna, and the Minerva, and the dwelling of the learned black and white robed fathers into whose hands the Inquisition had been given and from whose monastery the good Ghislieri had been chosen to be cardinal. For the rabble knew no difference of thought or act between him and the dying Pope. They bore torches and weapons, and beams for battering down the doors, and they reached the place, a raging horde of madmen.

Suddenly before them there were five men on horseback, who were just and did not fear them. These men were Marcantonio Colonna and his kinsman Giuliano Cesarini, and a Salviati, and a Torres and Gianbattista Bernardi, who had all suffered much at the hands of the Pope and had come swiftly to Rome when they heard that he was near death. And at the sight of those calm knights, sitting there on their horses without armour and with sheathed swords, the people drew back a moment, while Colonna spoke. Presently, as he went on, they grew silent and understood his words. And when they had understood, they saw that he was right and their anger was quieted, and they went away to their homes, satisfied with having set free those who had been long in prison. So the great monastery was saved from fire and the monks from death. But the Pope was not yet dead, and while he lived the people were restless and angry by day and night, and ready for new deeds of violence; but Marcantonio Colonna rode through the city continually, entreating them to wait patiently for the end, and because he also had suffered much at Paul's hands, they listened to him and did nothing more.


The rest is a history which all men know: how the next Pope was just, and put the Carafa to their trial for many deeds of bloodshed; how the judgment was long delayed that it might be without flaw; how it took eight hours at last to read the judges' summing up; and how Cardinal Carafa was strangled by night in Sant' Angelo, while at the same hour his brother and the two who had murdered his wife were beheaded in Tor di Nona, just opposite the Castle, across the Tiber—a grim tragedy, but the tragedy of justice.

Southward a few steps from the Church of the Minerva is the little Piazza della Pigna, with a street of the same name leading out of it. And at the corner of the place is a small church, dedicated to 'Saint John of the Pine-cone,' that is, of the Region. Within lies one of the noble Porcari in a curious tomb, and their stronghold was close by, perhaps built in one block with the church itself.

The name Porcari calls up another tale of devotion, of betrayal, and of death, with the last struggle for a Roman Republic at the end of the Middle Age. It was a hopeless attempt, made by a brave man of simple and true heart, a man better and nobler than Rienzi in every way, but who judged the times ill and gave his soul and body for the dream of a liberty which already existed in another shape, but which for its name's sake he would not acknowledge. Stephen Porcari failed where Rienzi partially succeeded, because the people were not with him; they were no longer oppressed, and they desired no liberator; they had freedom in fact and they cared nothing for the name of liberty; they had a ruler with whom they were well pleased, and they did not long for one of whom they knew nothing. But Stephen, brave, pure and devoted, was a man of dreams, and he died for them, as many others have died for the name of Rome and the phantom of an impossible Republic; for Rome has many times been fatal to those who loved her best.

In the year 1447 Pope Eugenius the Fourth died, after a long and just reign, disturbed far more by matters spiritual than by any worldly troubles. And then, says the chronicler, a meeting of the Romans was called at Aracœli, to determine what should be asked of the Conclave that was to elect a new Pope. And there, with many other citizens, Stephen Porcari spoke to the Council, saying some things useful to the Republic; and he declared that Rome should govern itself and pay a feudal tribute to the Pope, as many others of the Papal States did. And the Archbishop of Benevento forbade that he should say more; but the Council and the citizens wished him to go on; and there was disorder, and the meeting broke up, the Archbishop being gravely displeased, and the people afraid to support Stephen against him, because the King of Spain was at Tivoli, very near Rome.

Then the Cardinals elected Pope Nicholas the Fifth, a good man and a great builder, and of gentle and merciful temper, and there was much feasting and rejoicing in Rome. But Stephen Porcari pondered the inspired verses of Petrarch and the strange history of Rienzi, and waited for an opportunity to rouse the people, while his brother, or his kinsman, was the Senator of Rome, appointed by the Pope. At last, after a long time, when there was racing, with games in the Piazza Navona, certain youths having fallen to quarrelling, and Stephen being there, and a great concourse of people, he tried by eloquent words to stir the quarrel to a riot, and a rebellion against the Pope. The people cared nothing for Petrarch's verses nor Rienzi's memory, and Nicholas was kind to them, so that Stephen Porcari failed again, and his failure was high treason, for which he would have lost his head in any other state of Europe. Yet the Pope was merciful, and when the case had been tried, the rebel was sent to Bologna, to live there in peace, provided that he should present himself daily before the Cardinal Legate of the City. But still he dreamed, and would have made action of dreams, and he planned a terrible conspiracy, and escaped from Bologna, and came back to Rome secretly.

His plan was this. On the feast of the Epiphany he and his kinsmen and retainers would seize upon the Pope and the Cardinals as prisoners, when they were on their way to High Mass at Saint Peter's, and then by threatening to murder them the conspirators would force the keepers of Sant'Angelo to give up the Castle, which meant the power to hold Rome in subjection. Once there, they would call upon the people to acclaim the return of the ancient Republic, the Pope should be set free to fulfil the offices of religion, while deprived of all temporal power, and the vision of freedom would become a glorious reality.

But Rome was not with Porcari, and he paid the terrible price of unpopular fanaticism and useless conspiracy. He was betrayed by the folly of his nephew, who, with a few followers, killed the Pope's equerry in a street brawl, and then, perhaps to save himself, fired the train too soon. Stephen shut the great gates of his house and defended himself as well as he could against the men-at-arms who were sent to take him. The doors were closed, says the chronicler, and within there were many armed men, and they fought at the gate, while those in the upper story threw the tables from the windows upon the heads of the besiegers. Seeing that they were lost, Stephen's men went out by the postern behind the house, and his nephew, Battista Sciarra, with four companions, fought his way through, only one of them being taken, because the points of his hose were cut through, so that the hose slipped down and he could not move freely. Those who had not cut their way out were taken within by the governor's men, and Stephen was dragged with ignominy from a chest in which he had taken refuge.

The trial was short and sure, for even the Pope's patience was exhausted. Three days later, Stephen Infessura, the chronicler, saw the body of Stephen Porcari hanging by the neck from the crenellations of the tower that used to stand on the right-hand side of Sant' Angelo, as you go towards the Castle from the bridge; and it was dressed in a black doublet and black hose—the body of that 'honourable man who loved the right and the liberty of Rome, who, because he looked upon his banishment as without good cause, meant to give his life, and gave his body, to free his country from slavery.'

Infessura was a retainer of the Colonna and no friend of any Pope's, of course; yet he does not call the execution of Porcari an act of injustice. He speaks, rather, with a sort of gentle pity of the man who gave so much so freely, and paid bodily death and shame for his belief in a lofty vision. Rienzi dreamed as high, rose far higher, and fell to the depths of his miserable end by his vanity and his weaknesses. Stephen Porcari accomplished nothing in his life, nor by his death; had he succeeded, no one can tell how his nature might have changed; but in failure he left after him the clean memory of an honest purpose, which was perhaps mistaken, but was honourable, patriotic and unselfish.

It is strange, unless it be an accident, that the great opponents, the Dominicans and the Jesuits, should have established themselves on opposite sides of the same street, and it is characteristic that the latter should have occupied more land and built more showy buildings than the former, extending their possessions in more than one direction and in a tentative way, while the rigid Dominicans remained rooted to the spot they had chosen, throughout many centuries. Both are gone, in an official and literal sense. The Dominican Monastery is filled with public offices, and though the magnificent library is still kept in order by Dominican friars, it is theirs no longer, but confiscated to the State, and connected with the Victor Emmanuel Library, in what was the Jesuit Roman College, by a bridge that crosses the street of Saint Ignatius. And the Jesuit College, on its side, is the property of the State and a public school; the Jesuits' library is taken from them altogether, and their dwelling is occupied by other public offices. But the vitality which had survived ages was not to be destroyed by such a trifle as confiscation. Officially both are gone; in actual fact both are more alive than ever. When the Jesuits were finally expelled from their College, they merely moved to the other side of the Dominican Monastery, across the Via del Seminario, and established themselves in the Borromeo palace, still within sight of their rivals' walls, and they called their college the Gregorian University. The Dominicans, driven from the ancient stronghold at last, after occupying it exactly five hundred years, have taken refuge in other parts of Rome under the security of title-deeds held by foreigners, and consequently beyond the reach of Italian confiscation. Yet still, in fact, the two great orders face each other.

It was the prayer of Ignatius Loyola that his order should be persecuted, and his desire has been most literally fulfilled, for the Jesuits have suffered almost uninterrupted persecution, not at the hands of Protestants only, but of the Roman Catholic Church itself in successive ages. Popes have condemned them, and Papal edicts have expelled their order from Rome; Catholic countries, with Catholic Spain at their head, have driven them out and hunted them down with a determination hardly equalled, and certainly not surpassed at any time, by Protestant Prussia or Puritan England. Non-Catholics are very apt to associate Catholics and Jesuits in their disapproval, dislike, or hatred, as the case may be; but neither Englishman nor German could speak of the order of Ignatius more bitterly than many a most devout Catholic.

To give an idea of the feeling which has always been common in Rome against the Jesuits, it is enough to quote the often told popular legend about the windy Piazza del Gesù, where their principal church stands, adjoining what was once their convent, or monastery, as people say nowadays, though Doctor Johnson admits no distinction between the words, and Dryden called a nunnery by the latter name. The story is this. One day the Devil and the Wind were walking together in the streets of Rome, conversing pleasantly according to their habit. When they came to the Piazza del Gesù, the Devil stopped. 'I have an errand in there,' he said, pointing to the Jesuits' house. 'Would you kindly wait for me a moment?' 'Certainly,' answered the Wind. The Devil went in, but never came out again, and the Wind is waiting for him still.

When one considers what the Jesuits have done for mankind, as educators, missionaries and civilizers, it seems amazing that they should be so judged by the Romans themselves. Their devotion to the cause of Christianity against paganism has led many of them to martyrdom in past centuries, and may again so long as Asia and Africa are non-Christian. Their marvellous insight into the nature and requirements of education in the highest sense has earned them the gratitude of thousands of living laymen. They have taught all over the world. Their courage, their tenacity, their wonderful organization, deserve the admiration of mankind. Neither their faults nor their mistakes seem adequate to explain the deadly hatred which they have so often roused against themselves among Christians of all denominations. All organized bodies make mistakes, all have faults; few indeed can boast of such a catalogue of truly good deeds as the followers of Saint Ignatius; yet none have been so despised, so hated, so persecuted, not only by men who might be suspected of partisan prejudice, but by the wise, the just and the good.

F. Marion Crawford