Before I quit the hermits, however, I must tell you, that the hardships and fatigues which some of them voluntarily inflict upon themselves, are almost incredible: they cannot, like the monks in Russia, sit in water to their chins till they are froze up, but they undergo some penances almost as severe.
Pere Pascal having invited me to high mass, and to hear a Spanish sermon preached by one of their best orators, we attended; and though I did not understand the language sufficiently to know all I heard, I understood enough to be entertained, if not edified. The decency of the whole congregation too, was truly characteristic of their profession. There sat just before us a number of lay-brothers, bare-headed, with their eyes fixed the whole time upon the ground; and tho’ they knew we were strangers, and probably as singular in their eyes as they could be in ours, I never perceived one of them, either at or after the service was over, to look, or even glance an eye at us. The chapel, or church of this convent, is a very noble building; and high over the great altar is fixed the image of the Virgin, which was found eight hundred years ago in a deep cave on the side of the mountain: they say the figure is the work of St. Luke; if that be true, St. Luke was a better carver than a painter, for this figure is the work of no contemptible artist; it is of wood, and of a dark-brown it is of wood, and of a dark-brown or rather black colour, about the size of a girl of twelve years of age; her garments are very costly, and she had on a crown richly adorned with real jewels of great value; and I believe, except our Lady of Loretto, the paraphernalia of her person is superior to all the saints or crowned heads in Europe. She holds on her knees a little Jesus, of the same complexion, and the work of the same artist. The high altar is a most magnificent and costly structure, and there constantly burn before it upwards of fourscore large silver lamps. The balustrades before the altar were given by King Philip the Third, and cost seven thousand crowns; and it cost fourteen thousand more to cut away the rock to lay the foundation of this new church, the old one being so small, and often so crowded by pilgrims and strangers, that many of the monks lost their lives in it every year. The whole expence of building the new one, exclusive of the inward ornaments, is computed at a million of crowns; and the seats of the choir, six and thirty thousand livres. The old church has nothing very remarkable in it but some good ancient monuments, one of which is of Bernard Villomarin, Admiral of Naples; a man (as the inscription says) illustrious in peace and war. There is another of Don John d’Arragon, Dux Lunae, who died in 1528; he was nephew to King Ferdinand. But the most singular inscription in this old church is one engraven on a pillar, under which St. Ignatius spent a whole night in prayer before he took the resolution of renouncing the world, which was in the year 1522.