Jessica Wärnberg has a background in religious history and the history of art; she certainly brings an artistic touch to this magnificent book. Painting word pictures using shades, colour and contrast, Wärnberg demonstrates rigorous research and a deft touch in handling complex historical material. This is a majestic piece of writing that both resonates with and reflects the magnificence of Rome (its historic buildings and architecture), its popes and its people.
Starting with Peter and Paul, who were both ‘Christian influencers’ in the prestigious centre of the then-mighty Roman Empire and who were both martyred there, Wärnberg guides us from the beginnings of Christianity’s relationship with Rome on through the popes who followed.
In the book’s 442 pages, she tracks the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of papal leadership in a candid and considered manner. The rise of the power of the Vatican, papal encyclicals, power plays, excommunications, the cruelty of the Inquisitors, the schisms, decline and renaissance of the papacy are all given scholarly attention.
Pope Francis, speaking in St Peter’s Square during the pandemic, talked of a “defeaning silence and a distressing void”. Wärnberg reflects that, “At first glance, the quiet, empty square over which the Pontiff presided might have seemed a damning metaphor for the gulf between the Church and the modern West.”
However, Wärnberg sees this as a powerful paradigm of the remarkable endurance of the papacy in a “fluctuating and uncertain world”. For the author, this event shows that the ‘City of Echoes’ is still rooted in the ground where St Peter once walked.
City of Echoes will fill in the gaps of your knowledge and understanding of the history of Rome and the papacy.It will give you a fresh and better informed view of how religion can impact a city and, thereby, the world.