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It is pretty singular, that they are still distinguished by the same name.
The fate of Catania has been very remarkable, and will ever appear fabulous. It is situated immediately at the foot of this great volcano, and has been several times destroyed by it. That indeed is not extraordinary ; it would have been much more so had it escaped ; but what I am going to relate, is a singularity that probably never happened to any city but itself. It was always in great want of a port, till by an eruption in the sixteenth century, and no doubt, by the interposition of St. Agatha, what was denied them by nature, they received from the generosity of the mountain. A stream of lava, running into the sea, formed a mole which no expense could have furnished them. This lasted for some time a safe and commodious harbour, till at last, by a subsequent eruption, it was entirely filled up and demolished; so that probably the poor saint had sunk much in her credit; for, at this unfortunate period, her miraculous veil, looked upon as the greatest treasure of Catania, and esteemed an infallible remedy against earthquakes and volcanoes, seems to have lost its virtue. The torrent burst over the walls, sweeping away the images of every
saint that were placed there to oppose it ; and laying waste great part of this beautiful city, poured into the sea. However, the people say, , that at that time they had given their saint very just provocation, but that she has long ago been reconciled to them ; and has promised never to suffer the mountain to get the better of them for the future. Many of them are so thoroughly convinced of this (for they are extremely superstitious) that I really believe if the laya were at their walls, they would not be at the pains to remove their effects. Neither is it the veil of St. Agatha alone, that they think possessed of this wonderful dominion over the mountain ; but every thing that has touched that piece of sacred attire, they suppose is impregnated in a lesser degree with the same miraculous properties. Thus there are a number of little bits of cotton and linen fixed to the veil ; which, after being blessed by the bishop, are supposed to acquire power enough to save any person's house or garden ; and wherever this expedient has failed, it is always ascribed to the want of faith of the person, not any want of efficacy in the veil. However, they tell you many stories of these bits of cotton being fixed to the walls of houses and vineyards,
and preserving them entirely from the conflagration.
On our arrival at Catania, we were amazed to find that in so noble and beautiful a city there was no such thing as an inn. Our guides, ind ed, conducted us to a house they called such ; but it was so wretchedly mean and dirty, that we were obliged to look out for other lodgings; and by the assistance of the Canonico Recupero, for whom we had letters, we soon found ourselves comfortably lodged in a convent. The prince of Biscaris (the governor of the place) a person of very great merit and distinction, returned our visit this forenoon, and made us the most obliging offers.
Signior Recupero, who obligingly engages to be our Cicerone, has shown us some curious rea mains of antiquity ; but they have been all so shaken and shattered by the mountain, that hardly any thing is to be found entire.
Near to a vault, which is now thirty feet below ground, and has probably been a burial-place, there is a draw-well, where there are several. strata of lavas,with earth to a considerable thickness over the surface of each stratum. Recupero has made use of this as an argument to prove the great antiquity of the eruptions of his mountain.
For as it requires two thousand years or upwards to form a scanty soil on the surface of a lava, there must have been more than that space of time betwixt each of the eruptions which have formed these strata. But what shall we say of a pit they sunk near to Jaci, of a great depth? They pierced through seven distinct lavas one under the other, the surfaces of which were parallel, and most of them covered with a thick bed of rich earth. Now, says "he," the eruption which formed the lowest of these lavas, if we may be allowed to reason from analogy, must have flowed from the mountain at least 14,000 years ago.
Recupero tells me he is exceedingly embarrassed by these discoveries in writing the history of the mountain. That Moses hangs like a dead weight upon him, and blunts all his zeal for inquiry; for that really he has not the conscience to make his mountain so young as that prophet makes the world. What do
think of these sentiments from a Roman Catholic divine ?- The bishop, who is strenuously orthodox-for it is an excellent see
e-has already warned him to be upon his guard, and not to pretend to be a better natural historian than Moses ; nor to presume to urge any thing that
may in the smallest degree be deemed contradictory to his sacred authority. Adieu.
Catania, May 26.
THIS morning we went to see the house and museum of the prince of Biscaris; which, in antiques, is inferior to none I have ever seen, except that of the king of Naples at Portici. What adds greatly to the value of these is, that the prince himself has had the satisfaction of seeing the most of them brought to light. He has dug them out of the ruins of the ancient theatre of Catania, at an incredible expense ; but happily his pains have been amply repaid by the number and variety of curious objects he has discovered. It would be endless to enter into an enumeration of them ; even during our short stay, we had the satisfaction of seeing part of a rich Corinthian cornice, and several pieces of statues, produced again to the