Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/A few vacancies

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2987998Once a Week, Series 1, Volume VII — A few vacancies
1862Michael Terry


There were, till lately, and probably may still be, “a few vacancies” in what is called by competent authorities the most splendid establishment of its kind in the world. It contains dwellings for its inmates of goodly architecture, ranged in pairs, at intervals, round a quadrangle of singular beauty, where the figures of those who enjoy its shady walks are seen through arches of the finest moulded brick, decorated with the most exquisite reliefs in terra-cotta. Every tenement has its rooms complete, and its separate garden and vineyard, while the library close by is of the noblest and fullest for a private institution. The sacristies are full of curiosities, the lavatory is rich in gold and ultramarine, while the church, with all its splendid ornaments, is as chaste in its general effect as the most fastidious criticism could desire. There are frescoes by Luini, pictures by Guercino, Perugino, and Borgognone, and specimens of pietra-dura work, in which the most costly materials are employed, with the rarer stones so disposed as to look like gems of unprecedented size. The stalls are fitted with elaborate intarsiatura of choice woods; the nave is enclosed by fine, lofty bronze rails, and imposing monuments, candelabra, and other artistic chefs-d’œuvre contribute to make the edifice so interesting, that certain enterprising booksellers have thought it worth their while to publish no less than seventy plates of its façade and details. Into such an establishment, with such a church, we believe that those who wish to be admitted can be received without any payment; and, when once there, they will find themselves connected with a society of men who come from different parts of the world, and are able to devote themselves to uninterrupted study, or to take a share in still further beautifying the curious and accumulated treasures around them. To be sure, they must assume a flannel costume, such as is not familiar to our eyes, and they must give up the prospect of ever eating meat again, or of seeing the gentler sex, except through the bronze railing we spoke of, which keeps the bonnets from choir, chapels, and domestic department; that is, unless the inmates make good or bad use of their eyes, when, upon rare occasions, they are taken out two and two for a walk with the prior in the surrounding fields or lanes. They must only think of entering into conversation once or twice a week, reserving the use of their voices for the numerous services at which they will have to be present. They must always convince the brother who thunders at the big knocker of their door at midnight, that they are awake, if not profitably employed, and they must take what sleep they can get on something that is not very luxurious. They must wait to have their dish of hermit’s fare put through the bars of their lower room, they must then let down from the wall the ledge on which they are to eat it, and forthwith turn the same up again when the frugal repast is over. Their chief indulgence must be a gathering on festivals, to interchange solemn thought in some garden a little larger than their own slip of ground; but, otherwise, they must take the usual recipe for dulness, plenty of work and no play. Some try the place and system only for awhile; others, who have tested it for a quarter of a century, thrive under it, and like it. Applicants for “vacancies” must become Carthusian Monks of St. Bruno’s rule, and then they will find what we have been speaking of in the “Certosa della Beata Vergine delle Grazie,” some five miles out of the city of Pavia, in Northern Italy.