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by [?]

Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo and Botticelli were doing their splendid work–work palpitating with the joy of life, and yet upon it was the tinge of sorrow, the scars of battles fought, the tear- stains that told of troubles gone. Yet the general atmosphere was one of blitheness, joyous life and gratitude for existence. Men seemed to have gotten rid of a great burden; they stood erect, they breathed deeply, and looking around them, were surprised to perceive that life was really beautiful, and God was good.

In such an attitude of mind they reached out friendly hands toward each other. Poets sang; musicians played; painters painted, and sculptors carved. Universities sprang into being–schools were everywhere. The gloom was dispelled even from the monasteries. The monks ate three meals a day–sometimes four or five. They went a- visiting. Wine flowed, and music was heard where music was never heard before. Instead of the solemn processional, there were Barnabee steps seen on stone floors–steps that looked like ecclesiastical fandango. The rope girdles were let out a trifle, flagellations ceased, vigils relaxed, and in many instances the coarse horsehair garments were replaced with soft, flowing robes, tied with red, blue or yellow sashes of silk and satin. The earth was beautiful, men were kind, women were gracious, God was good, and His children should be happy–these were the things preached from many pulpits.

Paganism had got grafted on to Christianity, and the only branches that were bearing fruit were the pagan branches. The old spirit of Greece had come back, romping, laughing in the glorious Italian sunshine. Everything had an Attic flavor. The sky was never so blue, the yellow moonlight never before cast such soft, mysterious shadows, the air was full of perfume, and you had but to stop and listen any time and anywhere to hear the pipes o’ Pan.

When Time turned the corner into the Sixteenth Century, the tide of the Renaissance was at its full. The mortification of the monasteries, as we have seen, had given place to a spirit of feasting–good things were for use. The thought was contagious, and although the Paulian idea of women keeping silence in all due subjection has ever been a favorite one with masculine man, yet the fact is that in the matter of manners and morals men and women are never far apart–there is a constant transference of thought, feeling and action. I do not know why this is. I merely know that it is so. Some have counted sex a mistake on the part of God; but the safer view is for us to conclude that whatever is, is good; some things are better than others, but all are good. That is what they thought during the Renaissance. So convent life lost its austerity, and as the Council of Trent had not yet issued its stern orders commanding asceticism, prayers were occasionally offered accompanied by syncopated music.

The blooming daughters of great houses were consigned to convents on slight excuse. “To a nunnery go, and quickly, too,” was an order often given and followed with alacrity. Married women, worn with many cares, often went into “retreat”; girls tired of society’s whirl; those wrung with hopeless passion; unmanageable wives; all who had fed on the husks of satiety; those who had incurred the displeasure of parents or kinsmen, or were deserted, forlorn and undone, all these found rest in the convents–provided they had the money to pay. Those without money or influential friends simply labored as servants and scullions. Rich women contracted the “Convent Habit”; this was about the same thing as our present dalliance known as the “Sanitarium Bacillus”–which only those with a goodly bank-balance can afford to indulge. The poor, then as now, had a sufficient panacea for trouble: they kept their nerves beneath their clothes by work; they had to grin and bear it–at least they had to bear it.

In almost every town that lined the great Emilian Highway, that splendid road laid out by the Consul Marcus Emilius, 83 B. C., from Rimini and Piacenza, there were convents of high and low degree– some fashionable, some plain, and some veritable palaces, rich in art and full of all that makes for luxury. These convents were at once a prison, a hospital, a sanitarium, a workshop, a school and a religious retreat. The day was divided up into periods for devotion, work and recreation, and the discipline was on a sliding scale matching the mood of the Abbess in charge, all modified by the prevailing spirit of the inmates. But the thought that life was good was rife, and this thought got over every convent-wall, stole through the garden-walks, crept softly in at every grated window, and filled each suppliant’s cell with its sweet, amorous presence.