Monday, January 31, 2005

Digging Around at the Vatican

THE BONES OF ST. PETER: A 1st Full Account of the Search for the Apostle's Body by John Walsh
This book was a chance recommendation by an acquaintance when I was at our church's St. Jude library. I'm really grateful as I never would have picked up this page-turner otherwise.

Workmen lowering a floor led to the discovery of tombs beneath the basilica. This began an archaeological search for the fabled bones of the apostle St. Peter which tradition held lay beneath the altar. Pope Pius XII had a natural interest in "modern science" and gave the four Vatican archaeologists permission to search as long as the altar itself wasn't disturbed and they said nothing to anyone about it. Once the grave was discovered the mystery continues with the search for St. Peter's bones. The series of circumstances that occur to hide them and then uncover them are like something fictional. Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.

The author has a real talent for communicating archaeological information in laymen's terms. It read like a first class detective story and I often found myself staying up way too late at night to see what was discovered next. Also fascinating was the wealth of information about Christian worship in Rome during the early centuries. This book may be difficult to find as the person who recommended it told me it is no longer being published in this country. That may account for the high price of used books I saw at the Amazon listing. Nevertheless, it is well worth seeking out.

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