The vendettas, bribery, ecclesiastical feuds, political intrigue and bloodshed that are part of the story of how popes have been chosen down the centuries, make for a colourful and highly entertaining account of the Conclave, the gathering of cardinals that follows the death of a pope to elect his successor.
Among the many tales in the book, includes that of the rivalry between cardinals and important Roman families, which saw one twelfth century Pope seriously wounded with a sword while being invested with the red capes of the Pope. Rather wisely he decided it was best to resign.
Walsh recounts another occasion where the cardinals were imprisoned for seventy days with the coffin of the late pontiff, and were not released until a new Pope had been appointed. Unfortunately the weather was so hot that many collapsed and some even died! And then there was the story of an 85 year old hermit who was elected Pope, simply on the basis that he wrote to the cardinals at the request of the king, berating them for taking so long to elect another pontiff.
As Abigail Wild in The Herald writes Walsh digs every iota of scandal and controversial twist to the elections.
Given the influence at stake, it is perhaps little wonder that the process by which popes are chosen has such an eventful and dramatic history. Amid the power struggles, there emerges a serious and fascinating picture of the way that both the papacy and Vatican politics have developed, and how a pattern of choosing often surprising candidates for the job can be detected. What will influence the choice of the next Conclave? Who will succeed John Paul II?
Michael J. Walsh, Michael Walsh has written or edited over a dozen works on the history of the Church, both ancient and contemporary. He was until recently, Librarian at Heythrop College, University of London, UK.