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Basilica: The Splendor and the Scandal: Building St. Peter's

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  2,214 ratings  ·  204 reviews
In this dramatic journey through religious and artistic history, R. A. Scotti traces the defining event of a glorious epoch: the building of St. Peter's Basilica. Begun by the ferociously ambitious Pope Julius II in 1506, the endeavor would span two tumultuous centuries, challenge the greatest Renaissance masters--Michelangelo, Raphael, and Bramante--and enrage Martin Luth ...more
Paperback, 315 pages
Published June 1st 2007 by Plume Books (first published June 21st 2006)
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Average rating 3.97  · 
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 ·  2,214 ratings  ·  204 reviews

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Debbie Zapata
Aug 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: saturdaymx
From the back cover:

In 1506, the ferociously ambitious Pope Julius II shocked Christendom by razing the original St. Peter's, which had stood for over a millennium, to make way for a magnificent new church. Scandalous from its inception, the construction of the new St. Peter's would take two tumultuous centuries to complete, challenge the greatest visionaries of the Renaissance ~~ Michelangelo, Raphael, and Bramante ~~ and provoke
the Reformation. In this fascinating book, R. A. Scotti traces th
May 30, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2013-reads, religion
This book was left at our rental apartment in Rome. So I read it before heading over to tour the Vatican. Scotti hits the highlights of the construction and covers the same information as the tour guides. So I was able to ruin most of the tour guide's jokes to the annoyance of everybody else in the group. The writing is not very good. Too much attempt at dramatic flair and cliff hangers that cut against a flowing narrative. I give the book 2 stars and St. Peter's Basilica a solid 5 stars. ...more
Charlie Close
Nov 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
A highly interesting and entertaining history of the building of St. Peter's basilica in Rome. Great for anyone interested in Renaissance history. ...more
Grace Cohen
Aug 24, 2015 rated it did not like it
I really should know better then to read a historical nonfiction book with the word "scandal" in the title.

Patrick Gibson
Jun 05, 2009 rated it it was ok
Very similar to ‘Brunelleschi’s Dome’ this is an account of building St. Peter’s. Broader is scope (the whole building not just the dome—and it is much bigger—thus more complicated, right?) but not as interesting, for some reason, this covers the centuries it took to assemble the building we have today. (I used the word ‘assemble’ like it came in a kit!) A building so magnificent and mysterious deserves the same in its telling. All the back stories are there—in-fighting amongst the pious, religi ...more
Jason Golomb
Apr 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
R.A. Scotti's "Basilica: The Splendor and the Scandal: Building St. Peter's" is more than just a biography of one of the world's great architectural wonder's. “Basilica” is a wonderfully readable historical narrative of the mid and late Renaissance in a plot-thick story of warrior-popes, international intrigue, angst-riddled artistes all intersecting, orbiting and colliding at this historical inflection point.

The building itself was constructed under the leadership of thirty different popes. Sco
Sep 26, 2011 rated it it was ok
Okay... So did I ACTUALLY finish this for AP Euro? That's open for debate... But seriously, it's not going to be on any test or final so I figured I'd rather spend my time on more sophisticated reading like Charlie Brown. ...more
Jennifer King
Mar 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A fantastic history of not only Rome and the Basilica, but also of the incredible artwork, architecture, and engineering during the construction that changed the world. Highly recommend.
Apr 06, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction-read
I enjoyed this book very much because I love architecture and Rome and St. Peter's and Michelangelo and Bernini. But the whole time I was reading this book, I was thinking, have I read this before? I've kept a list of all the books I've read since I was 10, and this wasn't on the list, so either I read it and didn't record it (which seems unlikely), or I've learned all this information from other books, art history classes, documentaries & trips to the Vatican. Either way, though not feeling lik ...more
Sep 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
On the one hand, part of me is sad we no longer consider architecture an art and that buildings seem temporary instead of eternal. On the other hand, schisiming the church for a building was probably not great, even if it is a lovely building.
Father Nick
Scotti's book is no scholarly review of Renaissance history but a page-turner: you'd know this from the review by Entertainment Weekly on the back cover. But it takes someone with her eye and ear to sift the historical record for the personalities and events that characterize Renaissance Rome, and do so in a way that not only teaches but delights. It was an age left an abiding testament to its religious and artistic fervor, written in the very buildings and streets that stand to the present day ...more
May 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is an outstanding book that chronicles the building of the Vatican Basilica. The cast of real life major hitters in this book are simply amazing. And, the personalities that merge from this author's work are worth the read!

With the lack of technology and the lack of tools available today, it is amazing at the high degree of workmanship and beauty that was created. Obviously missing, are the numbers of workers who died creating such a structure as St. Peter's!

However, the book makes up for s
Mar 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I didn't want to, but I finally finished this book. It tells the story of the building of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and gives illustrative accounts of the Popes, artists and the politics that contributed to the massive structure. I'd recommend this book for anyone who likes religious history or art history. The author speaks frankly about the role of building such an edifice to solidify the authority and grandeur of the One true church.

As he lay dying, Pope Nicholas V (who commissioned the bu
Oct 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Scott has digested 150+ years into 250+ pages. Considering the outsized ambition of the Basilica project and the stature of the participants, her summarization is a major feat. If you are knowledgeable about this project and/or this time in history, this book is not for you. This book is for general readers (like me) who have little background in this project and its place in time.

With the construction of St. Peter's Basilica as a focus we get a feel for papal history, this time in the City of R
Jan 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: art
A wonderful read for Rome and renaissance geeks like me. This book describes the building of St. Peter through the ages, the artists and the surrounding conditions and it’s written great.

If you visit Rome, this book is wonderful and will enrich your knowledge and your trip. To maximize the experience I’d also recommend similar books about the Sistine Chapel, Caravaggio, Bernini is Borromini, and more... I won’t write the name of the books but you can find them in the Goodreads lists along with
Florence Millo
Apr 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
An excellent book! It tells the story of the saints and scoundrels whose vision and talent built the magnificent Basilica of St, Peter. The author weaves the history of the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Counter-Reformation through the building of the Basilica just as she weaves the personalities of the saints and scoundrels through it. The book is clear and readable without being simplistic. Well done!
Rita Graham
Apr 24, 2017 rated it liked it
This book was well written for the most part and I learned much about the various historical figures who had a hand in creating the Basilica. However, I often felt overwhelmed by details especially regarding the sizes of the different structures. And it was only sheer stubbornness that got me past the opening 50 or so pages where the author skipped around so many unrelated topics that I didn't know where the story was headed. ...more
Mar 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The late R.A. Scotti adequately covers over 100 years of history and popes, artisits and egos to present an informative picture of the construction of the new St. Peter's Basilica. A bit uneven at times but still manages to bring to life the splendor and beauty of a truly incredible building. My only wish is that I get to see St. Peter's with my own eyes one day. ...more
Jan 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
A brilliant read on the history surrounding the building of St Peter's basilica. Infuses a great symmetry between the history of the popes, the architects and architecture. The feuds, politics and superstition kept me compelled to the pages.

This was a friends recommendation; he himself is an architectural enthusiast and was worried I would find it boring. Not. At. All.

This short book does a surprisingly good job of covering the various facets of St. Peter's construction. Scotti discusses the various personalities involved, the effects on the overall Church, as well as the Vatican's financing, politics, arts, and architecture. The author's writing is uninspired, but the story is so interesting and fast paced one hardly notices. ...more
Tattered Cover Book Store
Bonnie says that this "is a wonderfully easy to read art history book! Learn how much of a brat Michelangelo was, how looney the popes were, and how this all helped create the most amazing Renaissance art!"

Tomas Riklius
Oct 19, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
An interesting account and well chosen facts. Sadly, they are undermined by the lack of sources and "juicy" digressions, making this book more of an action novel than a historical account of the building of St Peter's Basilica. ...more
Feb 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Having been to St. Peter’s twice by the age of 30, I thought I knew the basilica’s history. This book enlightened me to the saga of constructing the cathedral and why things were done (or not) the way they were.

Faith, finance, technology, art, ego, leadership, legacy – these variables ebbed and flowed to create a complex seemingly living ecosystem ultimately resulting in the spectacular structure we know today. Started with an early Renaissance vision, the building of St. Peter’s sparked the re
Feb 12, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition

I picked this up due to a peaked interest in architecture. I'm far from a religious person myself, but I do think that churches and cathedrals are one amazing thing that has come from the controversial background of Christianity. They are a monolithic beauty that acts as a mask for the dark history. As St. Paul's is in the center of Rome, I felt it appropriate to learn about this particular structure and the 'scandal' involved.

The writer seemed more to enjoy the 'scandal' - I myself wou
May 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
I think that anyone approaching this book with the right attitude will enjoy it a great deal. This book falls clearly in the category of "popular history" and seems very obviously intended to be read on a beach or a long plane right or during a morning spent on a café's terrace to the tune of a couple of espressi.

This book is not an exhaustive and in-depth history of the construction of the basilica; it's 25¢ bicycle tour of the highlights. Any one of the chapters of this book could have been it
Matt McCormick
Sep 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I very much enjoyed Scotti's history of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. She combined threads of history, art, architecture and religion into a concise narrative. Technical descriptions of the architecture and engineering where understandable to a lay reader. The chapter that described the movement of the Obelisk to the center of the piazza by Domenico Fontana in 1856 was fascinating. I never knew it acted as a sundial - :)
It was clear that the personalities who took part in this 200 year adventur
Mar 13, 2018 rated it liked it
While it was interesting to learn the backstory about the building of St. Peter's Basilica, I found it hard at times to really absorb what was being written about. The author did include a lot of details, but seemed to skip around between popes, artists/sculptors/architects, etc. while describing the events that I often got lost and didn't really see how everything fit together. I was surprised to learn that the whole process spanned two centuries (!) and many popes, and included many famous and ...more
Lori Maranville
Feb 13, 2021 rated it really liked it
This book was a masterful retelling of one of the greatest architectural masterpieces of our time. Reading Pillars of the earth actually sparked my interest in this book as I wanted to know more about the why and how of buildings like Rome’s Basilica. The religion and politics, money, power, art all play into the building. After I finished the book, I did a virtual tour of Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. I visited in 2013 and I remember visiting but now I want to go back and look at the ...more
Jul 12, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: audio-2000
This was an interesting topic, but there was a lot of bias in the writing. You knew exactly which popes and artists/architects were the author's favorite. She glossed over the popes she didn't like and focused on the poor choices they made. The author gave a quick overview of the entire history of the time period, so not too much of the reader's time is wasted. I might have enjoyed it more if I had read the paper copy instead of listening to the audio version. ...more
Concise Reader
Jan 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A thoroughly enjoyable read. Never a dull page. Scotti masterfully takes the reader on a two hundred year journey dedicated to the construction of a building that involves many famous figures and unexpected repercussions (Reformation). The author never gets lost in minutia of detail or nuance but keeps moving to the next step of the story, usually conflict between artists and popes. Popular history done right.
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“My group had a papal audience at four. I couldn’t miss it, not only because no one stands up the pope but also because he and my father had been friends for years. They had met when my father was studying medicine at the University of Rome and Paul VI, then the young Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini, was chaplain of an anti-Fascist student group. In his pre-pontiff days, he would visit us whenever church business brought him to the States. Somewhere I still have the photograph of his cat, taken on the balcony of his Vatican apartment, that he sent to me when I was nine or ten. He had to give the cat away when he was elected pope, and I had written to say how sad it was that the pope could not keep a pet.” 2 likes
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