S. MARK’S. II: THE INTERIOR
Vandal guides—Emperor and Pope—The Bible in mosaic—The Creation of the world—Cain and Abel—Noah—The story of Joseph—The golden horses—A horseless city—A fiction gross and palpable—A populous church—The French pilgrims—Rain in Venice—S. Mark’s Day—The procession—New Testament mosaics—S. Isidoro’s chapel—The chapel of the Males—A coign of vantage—The Pala d’oro—Sansovino—S. Mark’s treasures—The Baptistery—The good Andrea Dandolo—The vision of Bishop Magnus—The parasites.
Let us now enter the atrium. When I first did so, in 1889, I fell at once into the hands of a guide, who, having completed his other services, offered for sale a few pieces of mosaic which he had casually chipped off the wall with his knife somewhere in the gallery. Being young and simple I supposed this the correct thing for guides to do, and was justified in that belief when at the Acropolis, a few weeks later, the terrible Greek who had me in tow ran lightly up a workman’s ladder, produced a hammer from his pocket and knocked a beautiful carved leaf from a capital. But S. Mark’s has no such vandals to-day. There are guides in plenty, who detach themselves from its portals or appear suddenly between the flagstaffs with promises of assistance; but they are easily repulsed and the mosaics are safe.
Entering the atrium by the central door we come upon history at once. For just inside on the pavement whose tesselations are not less lovely than the ceiling mosaics—indeed I often think more lovely—are the porphyry slabs on which the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa asked pardon of Pope Alexander III, whom he had driven from Rome into an exile which had now brought him to Venice. The story has it that the great Emperor divested himself of his cloak of power and lay full length on these very stones; the Pope placed his foot on his neck, saying, “I will tread on the asp and the basilisk.” The Emperor ventured the remark that he was submitting not to the Pope but to S. Peter. “To both of us,” said Alexander. That was on July 24, 1177, and on the walls of the Doges’ Palace we shall see pictures of the Pope’s sojourn in Venice and subsequent triumph.