Do you like history? How about medieval history? How about medieval history of the Roman Catholic Church? Do you like mysteries? And mild thrillers? OK. You will surely like this tale of secret papers, invisible writing, and priests who aren’t what they seem.
Have you ever read about Pope Joan? She is most likely a legend, but the story is that she disguised herself as a man in order to further her education, and managed to rise in the church hierarchy to the position of pope some time in the middle ages.. What gave her away was the rather telling event of giving birth while on horseback.
Well, the myth arose that all Popes when elected must sit on the Sedes Stercoraria, a chair with a hole in the center of the seat, without underwear on, in order to have their genitals touched, to prove that they are a man. This arose after Pope Joan ruled to make sure that the same mistake would not occur again. There are actually a couple of these chairs in museums, but they date back to well before the Pope Joan legend, so it is highly unlikely they were used for this purpose. More likely they were bidets or even birthing chairs. Wanna see one? OK.
Aren’t they a hoot! Imagine having to go through this. Well, apparently their purpose is just as much a legend as Pope Joan.
So why am I babbling on about Pope Joan? Ahhhh, you will see when you read the book.
It starts out in modern day Rome when a priest, an American, working in the Vatican’s Secret Archives, discovers a palimpsest. Oh, come on. You know what a palimpsest is. Back in the very ancient day of parchment, which was a bit hard to come by and expensive, the scribes would scrape off the writing and write over it. Sometimes there is a bit of the original writing still visible. Like this:
So anyway, this book or codex, seems like it might have something important under the ordinary prayer book writing, and not just somebody’s grocery list. It looks Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Could it be? That would date it back to about 50 AD. And what does it say? Something heretical?
And it seems like a lot of people want a peek at this document. Hmmm.
Then we flip to 843 AD and the infighting in the Vatican, which was actually at that time a little city outside of Rome. And the pope wasn’t really the kind of pope we have today. He was really only the Bishop of Rome, not of the whole world. That came after the forged Decretals of Isidore Mercator.
And from this point, the story goes back and forth between the 843 characters and the modern day happenings. Really good.
OK, it’s kind of a Dan Brown DaVinci Code kind of book, without the frantic pace or totally improbable ending. Fewer bodies, less blood. My kind of thriller. Plus you get to learn stuff.
Mr. Galen seamlessly weaves fact and fiction here to make a great story. And you all know how much I like a great story. I eagerly await a new book.