Keith Miller - St. Peter's

In 2005, I had the chance to visit St. Peter's. After reading this book, I want to see it again. Miller's writing style here is rather unconventional. It isn't linear; nor is it all academic as you may expect with something coming out of Harvard University Press. Humorous thoughts (at least to me) are sprinkled throughout. A devout Catholic may not find them so humorous, but they should still enjoy this book. Miller doesn't tell the reader that this format is his writing plan at the outset. I noticed it on my own, and quite enjoyed it. Then, at the end, he describes it aptly with
I have deliberately tried to make this book a sort of Frankenstein's monster in which elements of cultural and political history, architectural criticism, travel writing, etc. combine and lurch into life. (p. 213)
I learned lots from reading St. Peter's even though I spent the aforementioned day in 2005 on a guided tour. On that tour, our guide talked about how Bernini effaced much of what Michelangelo had done on St. Peter's, including the massive facade which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to see Michelangelo's dome from ground level when you are near the entrance. Miller, intentionally or not--I don't know, pulls a Bernini on the cover and effaces much of what Bernini did with the facade so the reader only sees the dome. The cover is clipped; something I have never seen before. The clipped piece is Bernini's facade for the most part. The only remaining piece of Bernini's facade is then covered with Keith Miller's name. Touché. Another example of Miller's sense of humor? Perhaps.

My biggest disappointment when I saw St. Peter's was that I didn't get to go on the roof tour. The line was too long in the morning, and it closed just before we were ready to line up in the late afternoon. Miller confirmed that this is something not to be missed.

Perhaps the most interesting portion of this book is the discussion of Peter's supposed remains being "discovered" underneath the basilica in the 20th century. The pope says they are Peter's. Miller is a bit skeptical and rightfully so.

A word of advice for anyone planning a visit... If you go in summer, plan to visit St. Peter's in the afternoon. The crowds in the morning are out of control and the lighting (assuming it is a sunny day) in St. Peter's is incredible in late afternoon.

from the publisher:
Built by the decree of Constantine, rebuilt by some of the most distinguished architects in Renaissance Italy, emulated by Hitler's architect in his vision for Germania, immortalized on film by Fellini, and fictionalized by a modern American bestseller, St. Peter's is the most easily recognizable church in the world. This book is a cultural history of one of the most significant structures in the West. It bears the imprint of Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo, Bernini, and Canova. For Grand Tourists of the eighteenth century, St. Peter's exemplified the sublime. It continues to fascinate visitors today and appears globally as a familiar symbol of the papacy and of the Catholic Church itself.

The church was first built in the fourth century on what is thought to be the tomb of Peter--the rock upon which Christ decreed his church shall be built. After twelve hundred years, the church was largely demolished and rebuilt in the sixteenth century when it came to acquire its present-day form. St. Peter's awes the visitor by its gigantic proportions, creating a city within itself. It is the mother church, the womb from which churches around the world have taken inspiration. This book covers the social, political, and architectural history of the church from the fourth century to the present. From the threshold, to the subterranean Roman necropolis, to the dizzying heights of the dome, this book provides rare perspectives and contexts for understanding the shape and significance of the most illustrious church in the world.