In this dramatic journey through religious and artistic history, R. A. Scotti traces the defining event of a glorious epoch: the building of St. Peter?s Basilica. Begun by the ferociously ambitious Pope Julius II in 1506, the endeavor would span two tumultuous centuries, challenge the greatest Renaissance masters - Michelangelo, Raphael, and Bramante - and enrage Martin Luther. By the time it was completed, Shakespeare had written all of his plays, the Mayflower had reached Plymouth and Rome had risen with its astounding basilica to become Europe´s holy metropolis. A dazzling portrait of human achievement and excess, Basilica is a triumph of historical writing.
Publishing date: May 2007 (the latest paperback edition available at Amazon). I've read the Portuguese translation of the book, printed in 2010.
Offensive content: this book is deeply imbued with the history of the Catholic church from the onset of the 16th century until the end of the construction of St. Peter's basilica in Vatican City, almost 200 years later, a history that did not always follow the teachings of Christ, or that used them in a very liberal way.
I'm a huge fan of historical books, so I may be a little partial here, but I loved it. I've visited Vatican City and I've been to St. Peter's, but I no idea of the true history of the basilica until I read this book.
Not to bore you with the details, I'll just give you a summarized version of the story. The roman emperor Constantine, the first Christian emperor of history, ordered a church built over the tomb of the St. Peter, the first Pope. For over a thousand year said church was one of the holiest places of Christendom until, in 1506 Pope Julius II decided to tear down the original church to build what stands today as St. Peter's basilica.
It's construction spanned over several centuries, twenty-two Popes, plan changes, the not always consensual contributions of architects and some of the artistic masters of the Renaissance, a lot of intrigue, treasons, shady deals and scandals. Though it is today one of the most spectacular monuments of Catholic church, and a one of a kind building in architectural terms, it's history is not free of glitches. As it is not the life of the Popes that brought it to light. They were rich and ofter very much concerned in becoming richer, they brought their mistresses and their children to the church's official events and one even had frescoes painted in the papal quarters with his mistress posing as Virgin Mary.
There are shocking details, but oddly this made me like the book even more. It is a reminder that no matter what lessons Christ tried to teach us, the Catholic church, or any church for that matter, is still made of humans and humans are sinners by nature.
Reality is often harsher and colder than fiction, but looking back and reflecting into the past is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to learn. So, if you like history, if you want to find out more about St. Peter's and you're not easily shocked by the controversial past of the Catholic church, this book is perfect for you!
Have a wonderful weekend and happy readings!