Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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round the chapel of the Santa Croce. ... In the centre of the nave, multitudes of gay, gaudy, noisy persons, the petty shopkeepers, laquais, and popolaccio of the city, strolled and laughed, and talked loud." About three o'clock the service began, with a choral swell, blazing torches, and a crowded procession of priests of every rank and order. It lasted for two hours ; then began the procession to the cell where the cradle lay, enshrined in a blaze of tapers and guarded by groups of devotees. Thence it was borne with solemn chants to the chapel of Santa Croce. A musical Mass followed, and the culla being at last deposited on the High Altar, the wearied spectators issued forth just as the dome of St. Peter's caught the first light of the morning.68
Still to-day the scene in the church at the five o'clock High Mass on Christmas morning is extraordinarily impressive, with the crowds of poor people, the countless lights at which the children gaze in open-eyed wonder, the many low Masses said in the side chapels, the imposing procession and the setting of the silver casket on the High Altar. The history of the relics of the culla—five long narrow pieces of wood—is obscure, but it is admitted even by some orthodox Roman Catholics that there is no sufficient evidence to connect them with Bethlehem.69
The famous Ba?nbino at the Franciscan church of Ara Coeli on the citadel of Rome is " a fresh-coloured doll, tightly swathed in gold and silver tissue, crowned, and sparkling with jewels," no thing of beauty, but believed to have miraculous powers. An inscription in the sacristy of the church states that it was made by a devout Minorite of wood from the Mount of Olives, and given flesh-colour by the interposition of God Himself. It has its own servants and its own carriage in which it drives out to visit the sick. There is a strange story of a theft of the wonder-working image by a woman who feigned sickness, obtained permission to have the Bambino left with her, and then sent back to the friars another image dressed in its clothes. That night the Franciscans heard great ringing of bells and knockings at the church door, and found outside the true Bambino, naked in the wind and rain. Since then it has never been allowed out alone.7Q
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