The Complete Writings of Charles Dudley Warner— Volume 2

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Author: Charles Dudley Warner

Saint Antonino

The most serviceable saint whom I know is St. Antonino. He is the patron saint of the good town of Sorrento; he is the good genius of all sailors and fishermen; and he has a humbler office,—that of protector of the pigs. On his day the pigs are brought into the public square to be blessed; and this is one reason why the pork of Sorrento is reputed so sweet and wholesome. The saint is the friend, and, so to say, companion of the common people. They seem to be all fond of him, and there is little of fear in their confiding relation. His humble origin and plebeian appearance have something to do with his popularity, no doubt. There is nothing awe-inspiring in the brown stone figure, battered and cracked, that stands at one corner of the bridge, over the chasm at the entrance of the city. He holds a crosier in one hand, and raises the other, with fingers uplifted, in act of benediction. If his face is an indication of his character, he had in him a mixture of robust good-nature with a touch of vulgarity, and could rough it in a jolly manner with fishermen and peasants. He may have appeared to better advantage when he stood on top of the massive old city gate, which the present government, with the impulse of a vandal, took down a few years ago. The demolition had to be accomplished in the night, under a guard of soldiers, so indignant were the populace. At that time the homely saint was deposed; and he wears now, I think, a snubbed and cast-aside aspect. Perhaps he is dearer to the people than ever; and I confess that I like him much better than many grander saints, in stone, I have seen in more conspicuous places. If ever I am in rough water and foul weather, I hope he will not take amiss anything I have here written about him.

Sunday, and it happened to be St. Valentine’s also, was the great fete-day of St. Antonino. Early in the morning there was a great clanging of bells; and the ceremony of the blessing of the pigs took place,—I heard, but I was not abroad early enough to see it,—a laziness for which I fancy I need not apologize, as the Catholic is known to be an earlier religion than the Protestant. When I did go out, the streets were thronged with people, the countryfolk having come in for miles around. The church of the patron saint was the great center of attraction. The blank walls of the little square in front, and of the narrow streets near, were hung with cheap and highly-colored lithographs of sacred subjects, for sale; tables and booths were set up in every available space for the traffic in pre-Raphaelite gingerbread, molasses candy, strings of dried nuts, pinecone and pumpkin seeds, scarfs, boots and shoes, and all sorts of trumpery. One dealer had preempted a large space on the pavement, where he had spread out an assortment of bits of old iron, nails, pieces of steel traps, and various fragments which might be useful to the peasants. The press was so great, that it was difficult to get through it; but the crowd was a picturesque one, and in the highest good humor. The occasion was a sort of Fourth of July, but without its worry and powder and flowing bars.

The spectacle of the day was the procession bearing the silver image of the saint through the streets. I think there could never be anything finer or more impressive; at least, I like these little fussy provincial displays,—these tag-rags and ends of grandeur, in which all the populace devoutly believe, and at which they are lost in wonder,—better than those imposing ceremonies at the capital, in which nobody believes. There was first a band of musicians, walking in more or less disorder, but blowing away with great zeal, so that they could be heard amid the clangor of bells the peals of which reverberate so deafeningly between the high houses of these narrow streets. Then follow boys in white, and citizens in black and white robes, carrying huge silken banners, triangular like sea-pennants, and splendid silver crucifixes which flash in the sun. Then come ecclesiastics, walking with stately step, and chanting in loud and pleasant unison. These are followed by nobles, among whom I recognize, with a certain satisfaction, two descendants of Tasso, whose glowing and bigoted soul may rejoice in the devotion of his posterity, who help to bear today the gilded platform upon which is the solid silver image of the saint. The good old bishop walks humbly in the rear, in full canonical rig, with crosier and miter, his rich robes upborne by priestly attendants, his splendid footman at a respectful distance, and his roomy carriage not far behind.

The procession is well spread out and long; all its members carry lighted tapers, a good many of which are not lighted, having gone out in the wind. As I squeeze into a shallow doorway to let the cort6ge pass, I am sorry to say that several of the young fellows in white gowns tip me the wink, and even smile in a knowing fashion, as if it were a mere lark, after all, and that the saint must know it. But not so thinks the paternal bishop, who waves a blessing, which I catch in the flash of the enormous emerald on his right hand. The procession ends, where it started, in the patron’s church; and there his image is set up under a gorgeous canopy of crimson and gold, to hear high mass, and some of the choicest solos, choruses, and bravuras from the operas.

In the public square I find a gaping and wondering crowd of rustics collected about one of the mountebanks whose trade is not peculiar to any country. This one might be a clock-peddler from Connecticut. He is mounted in a one-seat vettura,, and his horse is quietly eating his dinner out of a bag tied to his nose. There is nothing unusual in the fellow’s dress; he wears a shiny silk hat, and has one of those grave faces which would be merry if their owner were not conscious of serious business on hand. On the driver’s perch before him are arranged his attractions,—a box of notions, a grinning skull, with full teeth and jaws that work on hinges, some vials of red liquid, and a closed jar containing a most disagreeable anatomical preparation. This latter he holds up and displays, turning it about occasionally in an admiring manner. He is discoursing, all the time, in the most voluble Italian. He has an ointment, wonderfully efficacious for rheumatism and every sort of bruise: he pulls up his sleeve, and anoints his arm with it, binding it up with a strip of paper; for the simplest operation must be explained to these grown children. He also pulls teeth, with an ease and expedition hitherto unknown, and is in no want of patients among this open-mouthed crowd. One sufferer after another climbs up into the wagon, and goes through the operation in the public gaze. A stolid, good-natured hind mounts the seat. The dentist examines his mouth, and finds the offending tooth. He then turns to the crowd and explains the case. He takes a little instrument that is neither forceps nor turnkey, stands upon the seat, seizes the man’s nose, and jerks his head round between his knees, pulling his mouth open (there is nothing that opens the mouth quicker than a sharp upward jerk of the nose) with a rude jollity that sets the spectators in a roar. Down he goes into the cavern, and digs away for a quarter of a minute, the man the while as immovable as a stone image, when he holds up the bloody tooth. The patient still persists in sitting with his mouth stretched open to its widest limit, waiting for the operation to begin, and will only close the orifice when he is well shaken and shown the tooth. The dentist gives him some yellow liquid to hold in his mouth, which the man insists on swallowing, wets a handkerchief and washes his face, roughly rubbing his nose the wrong way, and lets him go. Every step of the process is eagerly watched by the delighted spectators.

He is succeeded by a woman, who is put through the same heroic treatment, and exhibits like fortitude. And so they come; and the dentist after every operation waves the extracted trophy high in air, and jubilates as if he had won another victory, pointing to the stone statue yonder, and reminding them that this is the glorious day of St. Antonino. But this is not all that this man of science does. He has the genuine elixir d’amour, love-philters and powders which never fail in their effects. I see the bashful girls and the sheepish swains come slyly up to the side of the wagon, and exchange their hard-earned francs for the hopeful preparation. O my brown beauty, with those soft eyes and cheeks of smothered fire, you have no need of that red philter! What a simple, childlike folk! The shrewd fellow in the wagon is one of a race as old as Thebes and as new as Porkopolis; his brazen face is older than the invention of bronze, but I think he never had to do with a more credulous crowd than this. The very cunning in the face of the peasants is that of the fox; it is a sort of instinct, and not an intelligent suspicion.

This is Sunday in Sorrento, under the blue sky. These peasants, who are fooled by the mountebank and attracted by the piles of adamantine gingerbread, do not forget to crowd the church of the saint at vespers, and kneel there in humble faith, while the choir sings the Agnus Dei, and the priests drone the service. Are they so different, then, from other people? They have an idea on Capri that England is such another island, only not so pleasant; that all Englishmen are rich and constantly travel to escape the dreariness at home; and that, if they are not absolutely mad, they are all a little queer. It was a fancy prevalent in Hamlet’s day. We had the English service in the Villa Nardi in the evening. There are some Englishmen staying here, of the class one finds in all the sunny spots of Europe, ennuye and growling, in search of some elixir that shall bring back youth and enjoyment. They seem divided in mind between the attractions of the equable climate of this region and the fear of the gout which lurks in the unfermented wine. One cannot be too grateful to the sturdy islanders for carrying their prayers, like their drumbeat, all round the globe; and I was much edified that night, as the reading went on, by a row of rather battered men of the world, who stood in line on one side of the room, and took their prayers with a certain British fortitude, as if they were conscious of performing a constitutional duty, and helping by the act to uphold the majesty of English institutions.

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Chicago: Charles Dudley Warner, "Saint Antonino," The Complete Writings of Charles Dudley Warner— Volume 2, ed. Paine, Albert Bigelow, 1861-1937 and trans. Townsend, R.S. in The Complete Writings of Charles Dudley Warner—Volume 2 (New York: A. L. Burt Company, 1916), Original Sources, accessed April 24, 2018, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CJTG2JRHCZH36S6.

MLA: Warner, Charles Dudley. "Saint Antonino." The Complete Writings of Charles Dudley Warner— Volume 2, edited by Paine, Albert Bigelow, 1861-1937, and translated by Townsend, R.S., in The Complete Writings of Charles Dudley Warner—Volume 2, Vol. 22, New York, A. L. Burt Company, 1916, Original Sources. 24 Apr. 2018. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CJTG2JRHCZH36S6.

Harvard: Warner, CD, 'Saint Antonino' in The Complete Writings of Charles Dudley Warner— Volume 2, ed. and trans. . cited in 1916, The Complete Writings of Charles Dudley Warner—Volume 2, A. L. Burt Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 24 April 2018, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CJTG2JRHCZH36S6.