Those of you who have never been out of a Protestant country, can form no idea of the foolish superstitions and idolatries practised by Roman Catholics in those lands, where their false religion has long prevailed. You cannot, for instance, fancy such a scene taking place where you live, as that which is represented in our picture, and about which you will like to learn something.
Many of you, no doubt, are very fond of dolls, and love to dress and undress them, and carry them about and talk to them as if they were real live babies. But you would never think of being either so silly or so wicked as to set up one of your dolls, and call it Jesus Christ, and then kneel down and say prayers to it. But this is a very common thing among the Roman Catholics; not among the little children, only playing at it, but among the people generally, who are taught to do it by their priests; while splendid bishops and other great men take part in solemnly bowing down to worship dolls, pictures, and images.
Our picture was sketched from a well-known scene at Borne itself [Copied by kind permission, from the Illustrated London News.], taking place once a year in the Church of S. Maria di Ara Cooli, or Saint Mary of the Altar of Heaven. This church stands on one of the seven hills, where formerly was the famous Capitol, and is reached by a marble stair of a hundred and twenty-four steps. A sort of chamber or chapel in this great church is its great attraction, and is opened only at Christmas time. In this chapel are figures, like wax-works, as large as life, representing the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus on her lap, and the shepherds standing by, and even a stuffed donkey and a stuffed cow to make the group complete. Above these are canvass clouds painted with angels, blowing trumpets, and playing fiddles and other musical instruments; while, over all, and most shocking of all, is a figure to represent God Almighty. The exhibition of this chapel is kept open until Epiphany, the day kept in memory of the visit of the wise men to Bethlehem. This is the great day of the show; and three more figures, dressed up as eastern kings, are added, with a star fixed over them. Pieces are recited, day by day, and little religious plays are acted, chiefly by children, on a sort of stage in the church. When Epiphany comes, all the performance is closed by a grand profession, which is witnessed by vast crowds of people. Priests and monks form the procession; but the principal object in it is the Bambino, or doll to represent the Baby Jesus. This doll is taken from the lap of the Virgin in the chapel, and is regarded as very sacred. The people are taught that it was carved by a pilgrim out of a piece of wood from the Mount of Olives; that he fell asleep, and that Saint Luke came and finished his work; so that, when he woke up, he found his wooden doll beautifully painted! This wonderful doll is dressed in the most costly things, being quite covered with precious jewels, all of which have been given as offerings. For you must know that this Bambino has the fame of being able to cure all manner of diseases, and is carried to visit sick persons who are supposed to get great benefit from its visit.
Well, on the great day of the show, this fine doll is carried at the head of a procession of priests and monks, who sing and hold lighted candles. The principal priest, in splendid dress, holds the sacred doll by a strap—no doubt nailed into its little wooden back,—and, coming out to the front of the Church, lifts it up to bless the people, who go down on their knees, and pay worship to this wretched little toy!
And this is the sort of thing which popery would bring back into our own land, if it could. For things as wicked and as stupid were once commonly done and believed in amongst us, and many brave, good men and women, before Britain got rid of the great evil, suffered many cruelties, and laid down their lives for the sake of an open Bible, and liberty to worship God according to His own Word.
Now, for the first time for many years, Rome is open to the preaching of the Gospel—the Gospel which the Roman people have not heard for ages, but have had given to them, instead of it, all these follies of doll-worship, and many other such sinful superstitions.
Already our missions are at work, taking advantage of the great opportunity, to do something to teach the word of Life in Rome. And whatever they accomplish, remember that you Missionary Collectors are helping them to do it. So be diligent, for the work is very great; and be thankful that you are taught a better religion than many thousands of Roman children; and that you have a far better use for dolls than to kneel down to them and worship them.
~Wesleyan Methodist missionary society, The Wesleyan juvenile offering, pp. 54-57