Yet there is an oasis of smiling cleanliness, and that is the chief sight of the place—the Scuola Merletti, under the patronage of Queen Margherita, the centre of the lace-making industry. This building, which is by the church, is, outside, merely one more decayed habitation. You pass within, past the little glass box of the custodian, whose small daughter is steering four inactive snails over the open page of a ledger, and ascend a flight of stairs, and behold you are in the midst of what seem to be thousands of girls in rows, each nursing her baby. On closer inspection the babies are revealed to be pillows held much as babies are held, and every hand is busy with a bobbin (or whatever it is), and every mouth seems to be munching. Passing on, you enter another room—if the first has not abashed you—and here are thousands more. Pretty girls too, some of them, with their black massed hair and olive skins, and all so neat and happy. Specimens of their work, some of it of miraculous delicacy, may be bought and kept as a souvenir of a most delightful experience.
For the rest, the interest of Burano is in Burano itself in the aggregate; for the church is a poor gaudy thing and there is no architecture of mark. And so, fighting one’s way through small boys who turn indifferent somersaults, and little girls whose accomplishment is to rattle clogged feet and who equally were born with an extended hand, you rejoin the steamer.
Torcello is of a different quality. Burano is intensely and rather shockingly living; Torcello is nobly dead. It is in fact nothing but market gardens, a few houses where Venetian sportsmen stay when they shoot duck and are royally fed by kitcheners whose brass and copper make the mouth water, and a great forlorn solitary cathedral.
History tells us that in the sixth century, a hundred and more years after the flight of the mainlanders to Rialto and Malamocco, another exodus occurred, under fear of Alboin and the invading Lombards, this time to Torcello. The way was led by the clergy, and quickly a church was built to hearten the emigrants. Of this church there remain the deserted buildings before us, springing from the weeds, but on a scale which makes simple realization of the populousness of the ancient colony.
The charming octagonal little building on the right with its encircling arcade is the church of S. Fosca, now undergoing very thorough repair: in fact everything that a church can ask is being restored to it, save religion. No sea cave could be less human than these deserted temples, given over now to sightseers and to custodians who demand admittance money. The pit railed in on the left before the cathedral’s west wall is in the ancient baptistery, where complete immersion was practised. The cathedral within is remarkable chiefly for its marble throne high up in the apse, where the bishop sat with his clergy about him on semi-circular seats gained by steps. Above them are mosaics, the Virgin again, as at S. Donato, in the place of honour, but here she is given her Son and instantly becomes more tender. The twelve apostles attend. On the opposite wall is a quaint mosaic of the Last Judgment with the usual sharp division of parties. The floor is very beautiful in places, and I have a mental picture of an ancient and attractive carved marble pulpit.