26 June 2006

Summer Reading: Basilica


I've seen several positive notices for R. A. Scotti's Basilica, among which is the following:

"Basilica takes a modern glance back into Church history, but it is neither a Gospel of Judas nor a DaVinci Code. Instead, it is a fair and fascinating examination of the splendorous and scandalous events that occurred from 1505 to 1667, during the building of St. Peter’s Basilica — an edifice of paradox, Scotti argues, that sparked the Protestant Reformation and, later, became a focus of unity for the Roman Catholic Church.

Though a dramatic storyteller — her experience as a novelist clearly influences the narrative — Scotti understands that the story of the Church needs no excessive dramatization: no cast of sinners and saints to create, no comic or tragic moments to force. The true story of St. Peter’s and the colorful lives of the people who shaped it — such as Pope Julius II, Michelangelo, Bramante, Raphael, Pope Sixtus V, and Bernini — are sufficiently captivating.

Scotti does, however, sate our baser appetite for scandal. The reader discovers that one cardinal and patron of Leonardo da Vinci “paid one hundred ducats, three times the average yearly salary, for a parrot that could recite the Apostle's Creed,” and that Pope Alexander VI had a mistress by whom he fathered several illegitimate children. In a chapter Scotti titles “Salvation for Sale,” she describes how the Medici pope Leo X kept his promise to “enjoy the papacy” by funding lavish parties with the Vatican treasury—which he emptied in only two years. In order to remedy this financial crisis he instituted the sale of indulgences; this abuse was one of the major grievances that sparked Martin Luther’s revolution...

 

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