The Donation of Constantine
The famous Donation of Constantine, an 8th-century document allegedly giving great swaths of temporal authority and ownership to the Catholic Church, is perhaps most famous today for having been spectacularly exposed (through linguistic and historical methods) in 1440 by Renaissance humanist Lorenzo Valla as a fraud. But the Donation has a complex and fascinating history of its own, which forms the backdrop of LeVay’s fast-paced and chatty novel set in the reign of Pope Stephen II and primarily featuring the Pope’s brother Paul and an English nun named Leoba in a surprisingly thrill-filled story about the intense political and personal dramas that gave rise to the creation of the Donation in the first place. The story travels over great chunks of the landscape of 8th-century Europe and involves a good deal of dramatic tension arising from the looming threat of Lombard war-making. LeVay invests all of this with great energy and historical precision, and the result is a fascinating novel of religion’s very real-world wheelings and dealings.