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give of it, I should like much to have seen: the celebration of the feast of the Vara. It appears, indeed, to be a very singular exhibition, and I am heartily sorry it does not happen at this season. In order to the more dignified appearance of the Virgin Mary on this occasion, they have invented a very curious chine, which I am told represents heaven, or at least a part of it. It is of a huge size, and moves through the street with vast pomp
In the centre is the principal figure, which represents the Virgin ; and a little higher, there are three others to denote the Trinity. Round these there are a number of wheels, said to be of a very curious construction. Every wheel contains a legion of angels, according to their different degrees of precedency: seraphims, cherubims, and powers. These are represented by a great number of beautiful little children, all glittering in clothes of gold and silver tissue, with wings of painted feathers fixed to their shoulders. When the machine is set in motion, all these wheels move round, and the different choirs of angels continue in a constant flutter, singing Hallelujahs round the Trinity and the Virgin during the whole of the procession, and are said to
make a most beautiful appearance. This is all I could learn of this singular show, neither were we admitted to see the machine; conscious, I suppose, of the ridicule of which it is susceptible, they did not choose to unveil so sacred an object to the eyes of heretics.—This island has ever been famous for the celebration of its feasts, even in ancient as well as modern times. They spare no expense; and as they have a large share both of superstition and invention, they never fail to produce something either very fine or very ridiculous. The feast of St. Rosolia at Palermo is said to be the finest show in Europe, and costs that city every year a large sum. They assure us there is more taste and magnificence displayed in it, than in any thing of the kind in Italy; and advise us by all means to attend it, as it happens some time near the middle of summer, when we shall probably be in that end of the island.
If you please we shall now take leave of Messina ;-—I did not expect to make so much out of it. But it would not be fair neither, without at least putting you in mind of the great veneration it has ever been held in by the rest of Sicily, for the assistance it gave to
Count Rugiero in freeing the island from the yoke of the Saracens; in consideration of which, great privileges were granted it by the succeeding kings; some of which are said still to remain. It was here that the Normans landed; and this city, by the policy of some of its own inhabitants, was the first conquest they made ; after which their victorious arms were soon extended over the whole island ; and a final period put to the Saracen tyranny. Count Rugiero fixed the seat of government at Palermo ; and put the political system of the island upon'a solid basis ; of which the form (and the form alone) still remains to this day. He divided the whole island into three parts; one he gave to his officers, another to the church, and a third he reserved for himself. Of these three branches he composed his parliament, that respectable body, of which the skeleton only now exists; for it has long ago lost all its blood, nerves, and animal spirits ; and for many ages past has been reduced to a perfect caput mortuum. The superstitious tyranny of Spain has not only destroyed the national spirit of its own inhabitants, but likewise that of every other country which has fallen under its power. Adieu.
P.S. Apropos ! There is one thing I had almost forgot, and I never should have forgiven myself. Do you know the most extraordinary phenomenon in the world is often observed near to this place ? I laughed at it at first as you will do; but I am now convinced of its reality; and I am persuaded too, that if ever it had been thoroughly examined by a philosophical eye, the natural cause must long ago have been assigned.
It has often been remarked, both by the ancients and moderns, that in the heat of summer, after the sea and air have been much agitated by the winds, and a perfect calm succeeds, there appears, about the time of dawn, in that part of the heavens over the Straits, a great variety of singular forms, some at rest and some moving about with great velocity. These forms, in proportion as the light increases, seem to become more aerial, till at last, some time before sun-rise, they entirely disappear.
The Sicilians represent this as the most beautiful sight in nature: Leanti, one of their latest and best writers, came here on purpose to see it: He says the heavens appeared crowded with a variety of objects: he mentions
palaces, woods, gardens, &c. besides the figures of men, and other animals, that appear in motion amongst them. No doubt, the imagination must be greatly aiding, in forming this aerial creation ; but as
so many of their authors, both ancient and modern, agree in the fact, and give an account of it from their own observation, there certainly must be some foundation for the story. There is one Giardini, a Jesuit, who has lately written a treatise on this phenomenon, but I have not been able to find it: the celebrated Messinese Gallo has likewise published something on this singular subject ; if I can procure
either of them in the island, you shall have a more perfect account of it. The common people, according to custom, give the whole merit to the devil; and indeed it is by much the shortest and easiest way of accounting for it. Those who pretend to be philosophers, and refuse him this honour, are greatly puzzled what to make of it. They think it may be owing to some uncommon refraction or reflection of the rays, from the water of the Straits ; which, as it is at that time caried about in a variety of eddies and vortexes, must consequently, say they, make a variety of appearances on any medium where.