I devour travel literature, but find guide books rather hard going. So often they are laid out with lists of buildings and sites to visit in a disjointed way. But Michael Rear, a retired priest of our diocese has given us a book which is a joy to read from beginning to end – which I did in almost one sitting – so enthralled was I by every aspect.
At the beginning and end of the book there are some wonderfully helpful tips on getting around – and Michael’s knowledge of the Roman buses and Metro system doesn’t leave a stone unturned.
He divides Rome largely into time zones, advising the pilgrim to try and cover particular eras in a single day – the book is designed for a week’s pilgrimage, and among his helpful advice is a caution to try to cover as much as possible within a single area, rather than hopping from one place to another and wasting time.
The British dimension is very thoroughly referred to throughout the book, with great background on the Stuarts connection with the city. It’s clearly a book for pilgrims – peppered throughout with appropriate and simple prayers – and texts connected with particular places and people.
One of the most endearing features of the book is what I call the italic paragraphs – the links between getting from A to B with little asides about particularly good coffee stops, restaurants and ice-cream parlours, with the wonderful piece of advice ‘Beware of being tempted into Sorello Adamoli, the marvellous house and kitchen shop across the road.’ His observation on St Peter’s is that when it is busy it can feel like ‘King’s Cross in the rush hour.’
People and places come to life in a way that the reader will find snippets to treasure. He tells us about Napoleon’s annexation of the Papal States and of the imprisonment of the sick Pius VII for six years in Savona, near the French border. But it was the forgiving Pius VII who pleaded with the British Government to alleviate the harsh conditions under which Napoleon lived in exile on St Helena, sent a priest to be his chaplain and offered a refuge in Rome for members of the Bonaparte family.
This is what makes Michael Rear’s book so special and so endearing. He clearly cares for the welfare of the pilgrim in Rome, with handy hints about where bags can be left, security issues, accessible places and difficulties for people with mobility problems, travel passes and charges for entry. This is a book which I hope will find its way to the suitcases of all future pilgrims to the Eternal City. If you don’t cover all the places he invites us to visit, there is always another occasion to do more.
The price is reasonable, the text inspiring, uplifting and very humorous, and the beautiful illustrations by Hilary Griffiths, who are found in abundance throughout, evocative. Michael is clearly a man who knows his Rome inside out, and loves it. A thoroughly good read!
Rome: A Pilgrim’s Guide by Michael Rear (Gracewing, 2019, £14.99)
Pictured top is St Peter’s Square in Rome. © Mazur/cbcew.org.uk
You can listen to Fr Michael speaks to BBC Radio Suffolk about his book (until 16/01/20), by clicking below. Start listening at 40.30 mins.