A pocket-sized guide, which packs quite a punch…
By David Lown
For centuries Rome has been a magnet for pilgrims. They first arrived by foot or on horseback; they now arrive, more often than not, by train or aeroplane. Their means of transport might have changed, but their reasons for travelling hasn’t. As a place of pilgrimage, Rome is second only to Jerusalem in terms of importance. It was the site of some of the first Christian communities. It is the burial place of countless saints and martyrs. It is home to more than 900 churches and is, of course, the residence of the Bishop of Rome, also known as the Vicar of Christ and the Pope, which we learn are just a few of the Holy Father’s many titles. The first two chapters are devoted to Peter and Paul (Rome’s patron saints) and the sites associated with them. The author then moves on to the seven Patriarchal basilicas and the Catacombs. Much of the rest of the book is devoted to churches in general. There will always be quibbles in a book of this size over why some churches were selected, while others were omitted (why, for instance, Sant’Alfonso and not Santa Maria della Pace?), but that is inevitable. The book ends with a series of short entries on subjects such as Papal Indulgences and Stational Churches, which I found particularly interesting.
In writing a guidebook for Christian travellers to Rome, Ms Barber has become part of a long and venerable tradition, which dates back to the fourth century. However, unlike many of her predecessors, this author wears her knowledge lightly and is not above enlivening the text with the occasional anecdote. Believers and non-believers, first time visitors and veterans, all should slip this book into their pockets the next time they visit the Eternal City.