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Rome in the year 590 a.d. A plague is tearing
through the city. Pope Pelagius II is dead. Outside
the walls, Lombard soldiers are raising their swords.
What can save the Eternal City? All eyes, and all
hopes, are on the next Pope.
Veteran writer Sigrid Grabner tells the dramatic
story of Pope Gregory I—a poor monk known now
to history as St. Gregory the Great. Born to a noble
family and trained in Roman law, Gregory had been
prefect of the city of Rome as a young man, but
gave up his power to walk in the footsteps of Saint
Benedict. Everything changed in a flash when, in
590, he was raised, against his will, to the highest
office in Christendom and found himself, as he wrote
to one friend, “in the eye of a storm”, at the helm of
an “old and rotten ship”, with the waves groaning
around him. He thought he was not up to the job.
But he was wrong.
Gregory’s political savvy, spiritual energy, generosity, and gift for peacemaking not only steered Rome
clear of a shipwreck, but laid the foundations for the
future of Europe. In fourteen years as pope, he instituted sweeping financial reforms, ensured legal protection for the poor, developed a system of musical
notation, wrote influential works of theology, quieted
the Byzantines and the warring Lombards, and led a
citywide pilgrimage to the church of Saint Mary Major
that, tradition says, brought an end to the plague.
Grabner’s vivid narrative of the life of Gregory the
Great reads more like a novel, evoking the landscape of early medieval Italy with humanity and realism. It brings us face to face with a man who, for all
his weakness, became an instrument in the hand of
God and let himself be made great.