Ceremonies of Passion Week
Leaving this disagreeable subject, which several circumstances which came under my own notice induced me to mention, I think you will be better pleased, if I tell you how they spend the season of Easter or Passion Week in this country. From the disturbed state of the country, the solemnities and festivities which usually take place were either in part omitted or much shorn of their splendour – but enough remained to enable me to give you some idea of how matters are managed.
Proceedings on Holy Thursday
On Holy Thursday 31st in the afternoon the services of religion commenced. Then it is customary for the Emperor & people to visit seven churches – but this year he went only to the Imperial Chapel. I was there when he came and had a full view both of him and the Empress. He presented much the same appearance as when I [first?] saw him nearly three years ago – The Empress, attracted more particularly my attention. Her countenance was remarkably pleasing but at first sight I thought her far from being beautiful, as to me, the length and smallness of her chin contrasted very unfavourably with the breadth of the upper part of her face. Her figure and manner could hardly be termed dignified – altho’ father above the ordinary standard, her walk was quick, not slow and stately as you might expect it to be on a public and solemn occasion. Her smile, when she graciously acknowledged the homage of those, who knelt to kiss her hand, had something in it very pleasing and attractive. Having had, however, several opportunities of seeing her afterwards, I came to alter my opinion of her beauty considerably – and the last time I saw I thought she was very handsome – but you know the old saying “de gustibus non disputandum.”
Interior of the Palace
The devotions of the Imperial pair occupied but a short space of time – and when they left the Chapel, it was soon also deserted by the crowds who had perhaps gone there more the see the Emperor and the show, that to worship the Almighty or any of his saints. From the Church I for my part adjourned to the Coffee House adjoining and there learned that some thing more was to be seen – which was the Interior of the Palace, which it was custom to open to the public indiscriminately . About 7 or 8 oClock the whole extent of one side of the palace was lighted up, and crowds of people were to be seen thronging to the entrance. I joined the mob and never in all my life have I enjoyed such a squeeze. Enjoyed did I say – I should rather have said suffered – for suffering it was. Tis very well at home, in a little cold winter’s night to get into a comfortable warmth in a large crowd, who are collected to attend for the benefit of some celebrated actor – then all the squeezing in the world can scarcely produce a degree of heat which you would call excessive. But oh - in a country where you always perspire without exertion, how can I express the jugs and torrents mined of the squeeze in the palace. Altho’ the staircase was none of the narrowest, it was choke full, and there many unfortunate wretches were struggling like persons in the last agonies of death.
Before entering upon this ocean of human bodies, which were so closely empacted together, than the motion of one person in any part was communicated to the dense mass, as one wave puts another in motion, I carefully prepared myself. I buttoned my coat, lest it should unluckily become wedged in and be torn – I looked to my elbows and pointed them out to be the best greatest advantage to me, a measure of precaution which subsequently saved my ribs from being stove in. Thus prepared I plunged into the centre of the vortex – and allowed myself to be carried to and fro, seizing every advantage.
The heat was intolerable – the perspiration was so plentiful, as to have washed a shirt, or a pair of trousers of the foulest description, and I sincerely pitied those unfortunate females, who had succeeded in gaining a dangerous eminence, and could get no farther, but stood screaming, panting and fainting without remeed. After much exertion and suffering, I reached the landing place, but was not permitted to go farther, until a reasonable time had elapsed after the last party had passed. Soldiers were stationed to prevent too great a crush – but they were civil, and did not keep you waiting too long.
At last my turn among others came – the soldiers opened, and we ran helter skelter up a second flight of steps, at the top of which you entered an anteroom, which conducted you to the different state rooms. I followed whither the rest led, and found myself in a long room, along one side of which was a sideboard covered with the Imperial plate. With the advantage of a profusion of lights the spectacle was a fine one – but the quantity of plate displayed was far below what I had expected – and I am sure one of the finest Jewellers in London could make as great a show. The Emperor perhaps was right in his precautions to insure the safety of his gold and his silver and not to trust his most loyal subjects to fat. Touch not, handle not was as intelligibly indicated by the crowds of servants in the Imperial livery, who guarded this garden of Hesperides, as ever it was when painted in large letters on a board at the entrance to a flower garden, or of some public walks. But in truth the company was very decent and orderly – and paraded about as politely as if they had lived all their life at Court.
Having satisfied myself with a view of this grand sight, I followed the stream of the people thro’ a long suite of apartments – but in each of these I stopped some time to examine it. The whole were elegantly adorned but were by no means superb – suited to a wealthy individual but unworthy the splendid condition of an Emperor. The objects most worthy of attention were some fine paintings by the first masters brought from Portugal. Of their merit I am you are aware no judge, and all I can say is that the subjects were scriptural chiefly, and that they gave me much pleasure, which pleasure would have been encreased had the light by which they were seen, been netter disposed – the arrangement of the light was miserably bad. When I had seen every part that was to be seen, I retired pleased yet disappointed in some measure, by a door at the opposite extremity of the palace to that by which I had entered, none being permitted to go back by the same way.
Good Friday at Rio
Next day being Good Friday is observed as a high day in Catholic countries as being the anniversary of that most afflicting period, when our saviour completed the design of his mission on earth by a painful and lingering death on the cross. The flags of the different catholic vessels were hoisted half way up, and all their yards were crossed in token of sorrow. At intervals during the day the bells tolled mournfully – and in every church religious services suitable to the occasion were celebrated. Owing to some business, which occupied my time, I did not get ashore until the afternoon, and did not go farther than the palace square where we always land. In front of the Imperial Chapel a very large crowd was collected, all dressed to the best advantage but without finery. It is usual at this season to dress with great plainness, and if possible in black. The feeling which prompts this is a most admirable and religious one, as if it were an act of impiety to deck your person with ornaments of gold and jewels, or even of flowers and ribbons, when the Saviour of Mankind was executed on the cross. Not even the Emperor and Empress themselves were indulged with an exemption from this self denying and anti-vanity custom – their dress being remarkably plain.
About 4 oClock, great crowds having assembled, all eyes were turned towards the church doors when the great bell began to give forth its solemn mournful sound. From thence issued out a numerous and long procession, commemorative of the way in which our Lord was conducted to Calvary. I cannot pretend to give you the details of the procession, as they were so various and complicated. We had guards of soldiers, with their musquets reversed and their band playing a solemn dirge – we had persons dressed up as Jews, executioners and assistants, and Roman soldiers with coats of Mail. We had also angels, represented by little girls, each of whom bore a diminutive copy of various articles used in the crucifixion. Some bore a small ladder – others a mallet – several carried spungles – and others nails. These little angels were among the most attractive of the whole. They were all mere children, and had been drilled some time beforehand to act their part in the drama of the day. Their hair was curiously curled & highly powdered, and their cheeks resembled roses from the quantity of rouge, which had been laid on. Their dress was very gaudy, all covered with spangles and ribbons – bracelets encircled their arms, and rings sparkled on their tiny fingers. The shortness and stiffness of their frock permitted you to see that their legs were cased in light coloured boots over white silk stockings. The only part of their dress, which remains to be mentioned was that part which pointed them out as angels, viz their wings. These wings were made of fine gauze, which was extended on wire forming a hoop of large circumference rising obliquely from above the head. Every step they advanced this moved to and fro, and required some skill in the management of it – and in this they were all perfect. Indeed it was most laughable to see children so young act the part of puppets so demurely in this show – and I did not see a single one who forgot herself for an instant.
It is not a little curious that these, as well as the rest of the fancy characters are furnished by contract by persons who gain much by the hire of them. Competition of course is kept up, and the who can supply the greatest number of angels at the cheapest rate is engaged by the director of this religious spectacle – and the contractor has to instruct them and to find them in everything. Those children in general are chosen, who are of good appearance and handsome – and I must say in the present procession, a most excellent collection in reference to personal accomplishments had been made.
Some of these terrestrial angels proceeded, and followed a Canopy borne by four priests containing the body of Christ, and immediately behind the Image of the Virgin Mary. These were the great objects of adoration. When they passed all uncovered, and many knelt, uttering at the same time a prayer to themselves. Intermixed with the procession were many persons carrying large tapers 5 or 6 feet in height and I suppose that it is accounted a meritorious act of religion to be a candle bearer.
I do not know more of the particulars of the procession, and all that I can add is that the pantomime proceeded in front of the palace – that there the Emperor & Empress bent their knees, when the sacred images passed before them – and that after traversing several of the public streets the holy mummery returned at last to the Imperial Chapel, amidst a blaze of torches and candles.
Birthday of Donna Maria
The day after Good Friday is usually a day of great bustle and enjoyment. Fireworks are displayed, and on many occasions large sums are expended in this way. As in England we used to burn Guy Fawkes with every mark of contempt, so in Catholic countries it is the custom to burn, hang, or drown Judas Iscariot. This year, as I have already mentioned all these practices were expressly forbidden – for which I was sorry, s I was told that I should miss a sight of much amusement and interest.
Today (if I forget not) was the birthday of the young Queen of Portugal. A levee was held in the palace but very few attended. On this occasion I saw Donna Maria Sequnde, in the form of a stout, blowsy young girl, without dignity and without grace. She had her own carriage, and was attended by several officers of state. She appeared very timid and alarmed; she scarcely looked upon those few of her subjects, who ventured to pay her homage by kissing her hands. As soon as she was huddled into her carriage, it drove off in haste, without a single viva, or God bless you.
Sunday 3 April, Monday and Tuesday were great holidays, and would have been spent in mirth and festivity had times been quiet. Presents are frequently given and received – chiefly bonbons and sweetmeats. The different curious, fanciful and often elegant cases containing these “sweeties” drew my attention very much. Among the negroes, who are the Chief manufacturers of these for the lower classes, there were displayed to view cones of coloured pasteboard, sheathed with cut paper – crowns of various dimensions also ornamented similarly, and having the centre filled with bonbons – also churches, human figures and a variety of other designs all tastefully conceived and executed. These were purchased to a great extent, and among the buyers, I saw many of an age which reminded me of the time when I too used to have my fairings in sweeties. For people of higher rank who can afford it, the ornaments and design are far superior – some are even splendid. In the Coffee House or Hotel du Nord, they had a most elegant assortment from 3 milrees to 50 milrees (i.e. from 5s/3d to £4. 7. 6.). For auld langsyne I purchased some of the sweeties, but whether it be prejudice or the fact, I did not like them half so well as our “din” – and would at anytime have preferred half a pound of lick-jib or tablet to half a dozen pounds of such stuff.
Curious Scene at Rio
I have now only one more circumstance to mention and then shall finish my remarks on passion Week.
You must know that I love to traverse the streets and look out for myself. In this way, when I light upon any thing novel or amusing, I am more pleased than if I had been directed to the place for the express purpose of seeing what was to be seen. On Monday 4th April, in the course of my rambling, I heard a loud noise proceeding from a large church – and it was neither like the noise of preaching, praying, nor psalmody, but a confused hubbub, entirely out of character with the sacred building. Curiosity strongly prompted me and I privately reconnoitred before I attempted an entrée. Then I perceived that the sound had been sent forth by a parcel of black people, who were assembled not in the large church, but in a small chapel adjoining. I made no scruple, but along with the Master joined the throng. I could not conceive what was going on or why so many had met together. That there was some design was evident, from almost all of them having small & large jugs, cups, pieces of linen, and large bunches of aromatic and excellent herbs. Such a merry set I had never yet seen in such a sacred place – laughter and jesting were general – and by all the powers, the clack, clack was tremendous. Their conduct was perfectly inexplicable to me – sometimes they ran out at a back door, and looking upwards with their [mites?] &.cc raised to catch whatever was to fall, they seemed the very personification of intense eagerness and anxiety – at another time again, with disappointed countenances they returned into the church after a young man had said something to them.
At last in waddled a jolly mulatto priest, with a dirty white surplice. All crowded round him – he laughing and talking all the time. One of the Church Servants threw a small silver vessel of water, and the priest, finding the weather likely to be wet, so as to prevent the ceremony from being performed outside, after some deliberation, mounted up on one of the small tables and altars, along with a young man who was probably a servitor. He then pull out a book, and in a clear, distinct voice proceeded to read the service for blessing the herbs and plants, which was to be done by converting ordinary into Holy water and besprinkling the persons and herbs before him. His enunciation tho’ extremely rapid was so very distinct, that all he said was perfectly intelligible to me, much to my surprise and delight. As soon as the necessary part of the book had been concluded, he dipped his had repeatedly into the vessel containing the water, and threw it liberally on the anxious expectants. Then all the utensils, herbs & cloths were held up to catch the Holy shower – uproar shouting and laughter prevailed, loud enough to wake the dead. The Padre enjoyed the scene. He loved to see them scrambling, shoving & pushing and when the din had somewhat subsided, he easily renewed it by additional showers of water. We also got a little on us – but alas for the weakness of our faith, we have never perceived that it had any particular efficacy. It is difficult for us to conceive the transport of those, who had received only a moderate quantium of the holy water. I dare say that the herbs which we saw would either be religiously kept, or sold to wealthy persons for a high price. I never enjoyed a scene so much in my life – certainly I never laughed so much in a church or chapel before. My sides were sire with ‘cahinning’ and I was at last glad to get away from the religious farce – being able to stand it no longer.
Our time in Rio was fixed to expire on Saturday the 2 April, and we received on board all our passengers for England on that day. We left behind at Rio only one Gentleman, whom we had brought from Buenos Ayres. His name and title was D.r Domingo Vila, and his degree was I believe that of LLD. During the War in the Peninsular, he had been a lieutenant-Colonel of the Guerrillas, so famous for their defence of Spain – and to this day he still enjoys a pension from our Government for that rank. His appearance was much that of a gentleman his manners were agreeable and pleasing – and the range of his information was very accurate and yet considerable. In the course of conversation I learned that he had resided three or four years in Edinburgh and was on intimate terms with all our professors, particularly with Professor Pillans, of whom he expressed himself in very high terms. He spoke English very well and also French. I for my part was glad of his company, for I could then recall old scenes and old acquaintances – but I know nothing of his own history and pursuits.