In the Footsteps of Popes: A Spirited Guide to the Treasures of the Vatican

In the Footsteps of Popes: A Spirited Guide to the Treasures of the Vatican

by Enrico Bruschini

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061853685
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/05/2009
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 272
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Named art historian of the American embassy in Rome and official Guide of Rome, Enrico Bruschini is an Italian historian, art expert, professor, author, and passionate storyteller. Until his retirement from the embassy in 1998, he served as its fine art curator. He is the author, most recently, of The Vatican: Masterpieces, the official guidebook of the Vatican. He lives in Rome.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Genesis of the Vatican

The story of the Vatican started in Rome about two thousand years ago, during the cruel reign of the Emperor Nero.

In the year A.D. 64 a terrible fire devastated the city. The Romans were quick to accuse their emperor of having deliberately set the fire in order to acquire more land to build his new, immense palace, the Domus Aurea (Golden House). Today we know that this accusation was almost certainly untrue.

Rome was already renowned for its splendid edifices in marble thanks in great part to Emperor Augustus, although the poorest part of the city, the suburra (slums), was comprised mainly of wooden abodes. It was therefore common for a spark, especially during the preparation of meals, to set afire any nearby furnishings, often engulfing entire structures. The narrowness of the roads, as well as the closeness of the houses to one another, most likely contributed to the rapid spread of "Nero's Fire."

Nero, however, could not afford the harsh criticism of the populace, because his extravagances had already greatly irritated the Romans. Another mistake would have made his survival even more precarious. As a result, the emperor was quick to find a scapegoat for the fire: the Christians! With this accusation, he initiated one of the most absurd and cruel persecutions in history.

During the same period the Apostles Peter and Paul were both in Rome.

Saul, or Paul as he was subsequently called after the Latin word paulus or "small," was born atTarsus in Anatolia, today's Turkey, between 15 B.C. and 5 B.C. His father, who had acquired Roman citizenship, was able to pass it on to his son.

Paul, at the beginning, did not share the beliefs of the early Christians. He was a witness in Jerusalem at the stoning of Saint Stephen (called the "protomartyr" because he was the first martyr in the name of Jesus).

As written in the Acts of the Apostles (9:3- 19), Paul was on his way to Damascus to participate in the persecution of the local Christian community when a supernatural force flung him from his horse and Jesus appeared, addressing him with the famous words: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Struck by divine grace, Paul embraced the Christian faith and dedicated himself to the conversion of pagans, traveling to Cyprus, Asia Minor, and Greece.

On his return to Jerusalem he was arrested and brought to Caesarea, in Palestine, to face Felix, the Roman prosecutor. He was imprisoned for two years, until he appealed to the Roman emperor with the famous phrase: "Civis Romanus sum" (I am a Roman citizen) and thus was released.

In the year A.D. 60 he arrived in Rome, where he was kept under the surveillance of Roman authorities. According to tradition, Paul made a trip to Spain as well as a trip to the Orient, and in the year A.D. 66 was again arrested and, most likely in the year A.D. 67, was condemned to death.

As a Roman citizen, however, he did not undergo the disgraceful penalty of crucifixion and was, instead, sentenced to be decapitated. His body was placed in a sepulcher on the Via Ostiense, south of Rome.

In the fourth century A.D., the emperor Constantine built a basilica over his tomb. Part of this magnificent church still exists today, and is called Saint Paul Outside the Walls.

Simon, as we know, was born in Galilee. The symbolic nickname of Kephas ("rock" in Hebrew), or petrus in Latin, was given to him directly by Jesus with the noted words: "You are 'Peter' and on this Rock I will build my Church." He lived in Capernaum and was a fisherman, as was his brother Andrew. Christ chose both of them as apostles. After Jesus' death, Peter was arrested and according to tradition, an angel sent by God set him free. Peter left Jerusalem and journeyed to Antioch. He then went to Rome, where he stayed for about twenty-five years and became the first pope of the Christians.

When the first accusations were made by Nero against the Roman Christians, the community prevailed on Peter to leave the city to save himself. According to tradition we know that just outside the city Peter encountered Christ. In astonishment, he asked, "Quo Vadis, Domine?" — "Where are you going, O Lord?" and Jesus replied, "I am going to Rome to be crucified again." At this point, the old apostle understood that his duty was to give evidence of his faith by returning to Rome, and thus not escape his destiny.

On the Via Appia Antica it is still possible to visit the small church of the "Quo Vadis" which recalls the place of the encounter.

Nero's anger immediately fell upon the leader of the Christians. Peter, not being a Roman citizen, was condemned to be crucified.

The capital punishment of the leader of the Christians was to be a public spectacle. The Christians were considered by the Romans to be strange and dangerous, as they insisted on worshipping only one God, and in the name of that God were even ready and willing to die.

It was probably in the year A.D. 67 that Nero ordered Peter's death to be carried out in the imposing Circus that he had just completed beyond the Tiber River in the Ager Vaticanus (Vatican Plain). This name most likely came from the Latin word vaticinium (prophecy), because it had been, for a time, the place used by the Etruscans, the populace which preceded the Romans, to gather vaticinations, or prophecies.

On being notified of his impending execution, the old apostle said: "I am not worthy of dying like Our Lord," and at his own request was crucified upside-down.

The Roman officer who accompanied Peter to martyrdom on that day could never have imagined that he would be helping to make history by laying the foundation stone for a...

In the Footsteps of Popes. Copyright © by Enrico Bruschini. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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