Giving playful cover to a considerable bit of academic research, Hutchinson wanders with Yankee curiosity and determination through the Vatican and Rome in this guided tour of what he calls the “spiritual and political center of [a] vast international network,” the “visible civic arm of the Holy See.”
Hutchinson, a longtime journalistic Vatican observer, has previously written on gambling and vice, which equips him perfectly for his mission. With irony and humor, he prefaces short chapters with quotes from previous literary commentators on all that is awe-inspiring and inspirational about the Vatican and Rome, and explores the history and present of the Vatican in rich and formal detail. Yet he humanizes the historical aspects of the papacy and reveals centuries of struggle for sanctity and power. He describes the opulence within the sacred walls of St. Peter’s and walks out wondering, “Who dusts all of this stuff?” Or provides an encyclopedic explanation of the various garments worn by bishops and priests of different sects the world over, at the same time noting the abyss that hangs between “smug churchy professionals . . . and . . .the buoyant faith of the hapless pilgrims”—the young believers who flock to this site year after year for a glimpse and a snapshot. The Vatican emerges as a crazy mosaic that has withstood the equally crazy maze of history that brought us here. At last, a richer guidebook lies herein for its deep reverence for the role of religion in history, as expressed by this singular city both in anecdote and document. So Hutchinson walks out of an interview with a papal accountant-type “. . . with the green Consolidated Financial Statement and five black rosaries--not a bad metaphor, I thought, of what the Vatican is like.”
Always informative, slightly irreverent, deeply interested, Hutchinson sometimes finds life en famille in Rome tedious but shares his excitement at discovering the extraordinary world of the Vatican with captivating enthusiasm.