Synopsis by Mike Cummings
Jovial Peter Ustinov escorts viewers on a journey through the Vatican and its history in this 1995 documentary. Although the production reveals nothing new or startling about the Roman Catholic Church, it makes it easy to understand the origin, growth, power, and tradition of an institution that helped to mother western civilization. Besides narrating the history of the church from 1 A.D. to the Renaissance, Ustinov--primed with intriguing questions and his ready wit--steps into the past to interview such personages as Pope Gregory the Great, Charlemagne, Savanarola, and Francis of Assisi. Excellent camera work supports Ustinov with images of the Middle Eastern and European locales where Christianity developed and flourished. The 200-minute production consists of four episodes encapsulating church history: "Upon This Rock" (1 to 600 A.D.), "Holy Roman Empire" (600 to 1250 A.D), "Power in Decline" (1300 to 1500 A.D.), and "Renaissance" (1500 to 1600 A.D.). Viewers get to see secret and sacred places, including the putative tomb of St. Peter, the ghostly grottoes immuring the dead popes, the Vatican archives, and the Roman catacombs. They also see the monumental art of Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and Raphael and weigh the revolutionary ideas of Luther and Galileo.