For pilgrims and seekers Over the centuries Christians have considered Rome almost as sacred as Jerusalem. Nothing proves this better than a stunning new book entitled Pilgrimage: A Chronicle of Christianity Through the Churches of Rome (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, $40, 0297825178). The book unites a respectful but nicely gossipy text by June Hager, who has been writing about the churches of Rome for 15 years, with hundreds of beautiful photos by Grzegorz Galazka, who is one of the official papal photographers. All of the requisite stops on the tour are here, of course the Sistine ceiling, the towering dome of Saint Peter's. But you encounter more than the top ten tourist sights. From Filippino Lippi's amazing frescoes in Rome's only Gothic church, S. Maria Sopra Minerva, to the S. Andrea della Valle's Barberini Chapel, where Puccini set the first act of Tosca, the tour rambles engagingly from one unexpected stop to the next.
Pilgrimage will make you yearn to go to Rome, and you will need a guidebook worthy of your new ambition. Fortunately Fodor's has anticipated your every wish with a new full-color guide in their Thematic Itineraries series, Holy Rome: Exploring the Eternal City: A Millennium Guide to the Christian Sights ($21, 0679004548).
Handy cross-referencing allows you to move easily between essays and site maps. Sidebars provide useful historical and cultural information. Calendars give schedules of millennial celebrations. More than 200 photos show an up-to-date Rome, after the current restorations of many monuments. Where is the only evidence of an Arian cult in the whole of Rome? Which church claims to have the chalice from which St. John drank poison? What are the best times to visit the most popular sites? The answers are all here.
Before you go, you may want to read up on Christianity and other beliefs in the newest contribution to Merriam-Webster's lineup of world-class reference books the fat, gorgeous Encyclopedia of World Religions. These 1,181 pages literally range from the African Methodist Episcopal Church to Zen, with stopovers in between for Halloween and the Qabbalah. You will find the dietary restrictions of the Jains and the Sermon on the Mount, Joan of Arc and the apocryphal Pope Joan, the concept of Limbo and a biography of spiritualist Madame Blavatsky. Whether you seek information on the Twelve Tribes of Israel or the Five Pillars of Islam, on Odin or Billy Graham, this impressive, exhaustive work will provide the answer.