Napoleon & The Christ

Napoleon and The Christ-2

‘An inspiring book about a primal force of history and faith.’

 

“Almost since the beginning of time, armies had marched into war bearing symbols of protection from higher powers. Plutarch wrote that in leading his troops Alexander the Great would shift “his lance into his left hand, and with his right appealed to the gods… praying (to) them, if he was really sprung from Zeus, to defend and strengthen the Greeks.” In Biblical times, the high priest Aaron served as a religious figure who traveled together with the military. In feudal Europe, armies carried papal flags to show that their campaigns had the blessing of the church. So, too, Napoleon in his first presiding military assignment to Italy had ignored orders from the French Revolution’s ruling Directory to dethrone Pope Pius VI and shutter the church. Instead Napoleon outfitted each of his regiments with imperial standards that had been blessed by the pope.”

From Napoleon and The Christ, due out in 2019 in the U.S. and France, commemorating the 250th anniversary of Napoleon Bonaparte’s birth.

 

DID NAPOLEON UNVEIL an astonishing truth concealed for centuries? When Napoleon came to power he had the Musée du Louvre, located on Paris’ Right Bank, renamed in his honor — and soon the Musée Napoleon was overflowing with the artistic spoils of war as Bonaparte’s Grand Army swept across the continent. Among the cultural artifacts that made their way to Paris were hundreds of paintings and sculptures, including every image Napoleon could find of Jesus Christ,as well as the sacred relics from the crucifixion. Why? Why this obsession from the conqueror who had fought endlessly with Pope Pius VII who ultimately excommunicated him? What did Napoleon know that had eluded everyone else for over seventeen centuries?

 

NAPOLEON & THE CHRIST

 

By TONY CASTRO

 

“I owe no account of my administration

to the pope — only to God and Jesus Christ.”

                                    Napoleon Bonaparte

 

In Napoleon and The Christ, Napoleon Bonaparte is on a quest perhaps even more mystically enchanting than that for the Holy Grail as he conquers Europe and amasses troves of art treasures looking for the mysterious, possibly even magical religious relic of Jesus Christ that he believes holds the key to his ultimate destiny.

Napoleon Bonaparte wasn’t an emperor — he was a Christ in his own mind. This eccentricity was the product of his ambition and his faith, and Napoleon and The Christ is the story of arguably the two most remarkable figures of world history — and how their lives intersect in the French Revolution era: the greatest military general searching for answers in the believed-to-be-miraculous burial shroud of Christendom’s prince of peace.

The new French ruler had all of France and much of Europe under his thumb, but what obsessed and drove him mad were the relics of the Passion of Jesus Christ: a piece of the cross, a nail from the crucifixion, the crown of thorns, and, most of all — the Shroud of Turin, the linen cloth bearing the image of a crucified man believed to be the historical Jesus of Nazareth. He rescued many of these relics from the leaders of the French Revolution who wanted them destroyed and then had them protected under guard at Notre Dame Cathedral.

Ah, but the shroud. Napoleon and The Christ unveils how Napoleon finally came to possess the burial cloth, which wasn’t seen at Turin from shortly before Bonaparte took power until after his defeat.

The relationship between Napoleon and the Roman Catholic Church was an important aspect of his rule, as well as his life… and one long misunderstood by the world outside Catholicism. Napoleon was born on August 15, 1769, the Feast of the Assumption, one of the major feast day celebrated by the Church. He was, if not religious, deeply spiritual and superstitious to a fault. He also greatly understood the power of a religious majority in Europe.

Scholars in the fields of history and religion have historically explored the subject of Napoleon’s complicated relationship with the church. However, none of these works have addressed the specific topic of Napoleon and the single religious icon that numerous popes, before and since, have proclaimed to be the Catholic faith’s “most splendid relic of the passion and the resurrection… a powerful symbol of Christ’s suffering” — the Shroud of Turin, the linen cloth bearing the image of a crucified man who is believed to be the historical Jesus of Nazareth.

 

TONY CASTRO is a Harvard and Baylor University-educated historian, Napoleon Bonaparte scholar and author of several books, including the landmark civil rights history Chicano Power: The Emergence of Mexican America, which Publishers Weekly acclaimed as “brilliant… a valuable contribution to the understanding of our time.”

He is also the author of critically recognized biographies of Ernest Hemingway and baseball legends Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio, with a forthcoming dual biography of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig (Triumph Books) in April 2018.

He is currently working on a biography of Napoleon Bonaparte.

As a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, Tony studied under Homeric scholar and translator Robert Fitzgerald, Mexican Nobel laureate Octavio Paz, and French history scholars Laurence Wylie and Stanley and Inge Hoffman.

 

The dust jacket photo for Napoleon and The Christ is from a painting at Versailles known as Bonaparte au Pont d’Arcole, 1796, by Antoine-Jean Gros, showing Napoleon leading his troops in storming the bridge.