What do you get when you combine an Indiana Jones type adventure with Church history? You get an incredible quest to find the bones of the Prince of the Apostles, our first Pope, St. Peter. Thomas Craughwell presents all the details in his wonderful book St. Peter’s Bones: How the Relics of the First Pope Were Lost and Found . . . and Then Lost and Found Again.
Thomas does an excellent job making the book extremely engaging and frankly, a page turner. You will learn a lot about the catacombs beneath St. Peter’s. Thomas writes about how Emporer Constantine had the original Basilica built directly over the grave of St. Peter. In fact the gravesite was so well known Constantine made sure the altar of the church was directly over the spot where St. Peter was buried.
1,100 years later it was determined that the Basilica was in need of great repair. Time had taken its toll. It was decided to build a larger Basilica around the existing one and tear down the original a piece at atime. Tradition held fast and the new altar was once more placed over the spot believed to be the grave of St. Peter.
Where the story really takes off is in 1939 when Pope Pius XII secretly ordered what would eventually become a full-scale excavation of the catacombs under St. Peter’s Basilica. The work was hard and laborious. Careful digging led to the first discovery of many. The excavators had opened a hole into the roof of a mausoleum. This finding prompted Pope Pius XII to order a larger scale excavation of the catacombs.
The work took decades, much was done in secret, out of site of visitors, and much was found. Burial sites of both Christians and pagans, numerous artifacts and a surprising discovery that required further debate and expert analysis. The most exciting discovery was the finding of the remains of St. Peter. What is truly amazing is the entire story behind the finding of the bones themselves. I won’t ruin the book for you with any further details about that, suffice it to say, you really should read this book.
Thomas makes this story more than bland history. He has written it in a manner that you almost feel as if you are reading a fictional story. This book is that much of a page turner. It is a relatively short read but a very well researched and information packed resource. In addition to the telling of how our first Pope’s relics were found Thomas weaves in the historical story of Peter within his telling of this modern day excavation.
If you have any interest in obscure Church history this should be near the top of your reading list. Part mystery, part suspense, part intrigue and part history. A wonderful mix that makes one great book. I really enjoyed it and have a feeling you will to.
I received a copy of the book for this review from the publisher Image Catholic Books.