The Bones of St. PeterJohn Evangelist Walsh (Garden City Doubleday, 1982) 195 pp., $15.95
“You may undertake the excavations,” Pope Pius XI told the archaeologists, “but you may not do any harm to any part of the church above nor interfere with its public rituals. Further, all work is to be carried on in private and without public notice; only a full and official report is to announce the discoveries to the world.” Thus began in 1940 one of the most intrepid archaeological investigations of the modern era, the search for the tomb of the Apostle Peter under the high altar of the church on the Vatican Hill in Rome that bears his name, the mother church of the world-wide Roman Catholic community.
Now John Evangelist Walsh, a senior editor for Reader’s Digest and author of several books, including The Shroud, a volume on the Shroud of Turin, has given us a very lively and readable account of the course of those archaeological investigations in all their moments of frustration and high drama. He and his publisher have provided over 50 photographs and line drawings to help clarify the report of this very complex excavation. Unfortunately the value of the line drawings is decreased by the absence of directional and dimensional indicators.