Monday, December 30, 2013

Book Review: St Peter's Bones by Thomas J. Craughwell

net galley disclosure

If you didn't hear the news, last month Pope Francis unveiled to the world a box holding bone fragments, that he said were in fact from St Peter, the founder of the Christian church. 

Pope Francis at ST peters Bones unveiling

The bones were fragments were found in the necropolis (pictured below) under St. Peter's Basilica during excavations in the 1940s, but were not examined until the 1960's. 
pope francis in Necropolis under st peters basilica

>1968,Pope Paul VI said the bones had been "identified in a way that we can consider convincing", but stopped short of saying they WERE his. So for Pope Francis to say they 'were' was a huge step!

So I was interested in reading this book, so see the story behind their discovery!

st peters bones book cover

An exciting and fascinating account of the search for the remains of the world's first pope, none other than Peter, the apostle of Jesus.

In 1448 a team of architects and engineers brought Pope Nicholas V unhappy news: the 1100-year-old Basilica of St. Peter suffered from so many structural defects that it was beyond repair. The only solution was to pull down the old church-one of the most venerable churches in Christendom-and erect a new basilica on the site. Incredibly, one of the tombs the builders paved over was the resting place of St. Peter.

Then in 1939, while working underground in the Vatican, one workman's shovel struck not dirt or rock but open air. The diggers shone a flashlight through the opening and saw a portion of an ancient Christian mausoleum. An archaeologist was summoned at once, and after inspecting what could be seen through the hole the diggers had made in the mausoleum's roof, he authorized a full-scale excavation. What lay beneath? The answer and the adventure await.

This book is subtitled: How the Relics of the First Pope Were Lost and Found . . . and Then Lost and Found Again , which is pretty apt to their story. In our modern age, it seems unthinkable that if ancient bones were found, that may belong to St Peter, that the find would not have been announced to the world, and the bones tested (beyond belief), to verify it. But the bones were found in a different age, when testing was rudiment at best, and accuracy was only to 100 years (so not very accurate at all). Some could argue that it was God's plan for them not to be 'discovered' again until the times were right.This book attempts to explain the whys and hows, of what led to the recent announcement.

This book alternates between being a page turner, as you wait to see what will happen next, and a compact tale of how the bones were found (it can be read in one sitting). My only contention was that I wished there had been pictures of all the steps of excavation, as it would have made the tale more amazing! If you are a biblical or history scholar, the story of what was found under St Peter's Basilica is truly amazing. For there were many crypts belonging to Saints that even the Catholic church was unaware of, that went back to Roman times. Can you imagine? Seeing the church at it's beginning literally- the first believers and the martyrs for the faith! It is amazing to me, that even during all the horrors of WW II, the excavations kept on, until the tomb believed to be Peter's was found, where tradition had long held it was, directly under the altar.

The author does a great job in putting all the pieces of the puzzle, including the historical context, and ancient traditions, together, so that the reader comes away with the whole picture and is amazed at the tale! 

Are these St Peter's bones?
st peter's bones in usuary
Courtesy of AP

Perhaps we may never know without a shred of doubt, but faith is always mirrored with doubt, so for the faithful, the evidence we have was enough for Pope Francis to assert that they are.

This is a great book and I recommend it for all who love history, archaeology and christian history.

About the Author:
Thomas J. Craughwell is the author of Saints Behaving BadlySaints Preserved, This Saint Will Change Your Life, and Pope Francis: The Pope from the End of the Earth. Every month he writes a column on patron saints for Catholic diocesan newspapers. He has also written about saints for the Wall Street JournalSt. Anthony Messenger, and Catholic Digest and has discussed saints on CNN and EWTN. His book, Stealing Lincoln's Body, was made into a two-hour documentary on the History Channel.

If you're a member of GoodReads, you can enter to win a copy of this book on it's Goodreads page, courtesy of Crown Publishing!

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