Lighting St. Peters in 1854

stpetersSnippets 137.  In 1854 the American Rev. George Foxcroft Haskins went on a tour of Europe and one of the highlights of his trip was an extended stay in Rome.  One of the many things that fascinated him about St Peter’s was the lighting of the external lamps.  In those day this involved a little more effort than flicking a switch!  The following quote is taken from Travels in England, France, Italy and Ireland, published in 1856.

In the evening we had a fine view of St. Peter’s illuminated. We went early, in order to see the men — about three hundred — who were setting the lamps in their places. For the illumination is always on the outside of the building. It made my blood curdle to see them like flies, or grasshoppers rather, running along and leaping over friezes, cornices, and huge mouldings, only secured from falling to the pavement by ropes fastened to their bodies, which were lowered, or hoisted, or carried to the right or to the left by those above, according as the workmen wished to place a lamp here or there, a signal being given by themselves as they desired to change their position.

Sometimes they would encounter a vast projecting cornice, or the capital of a column, in the way of their ascent or descent. Nothing daunted, they press both feet, drawn up, against the side of the building, and, by a vigorous push, swing themselves eight or ten feet off into the air, over the heads of the horrified spectators, (the rope meanwhile being paid out or hauled in from above,) and then find themselves at or near the place they were seeking.

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About Windows into History

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