A photo of an ancient Roman catacomb.

A Book Review of The Catacombs of Rome by Fabrizio Mancinelli

The cover of The Catacombs of Rome and the Origins of Christianity.

The Catacombs of Rome by Fabrizio Mancinelli is an exploration of a number of burial sites around the city of Rome. It features a large number of photos of artwork from the third through fifth centuries that depict a wide variety of Biblical events. Even though the book is only 64 pages in length, it contains an impressive 120 images. Many of these are from the walls of burial sites that were built to house the bodies of those who died for their Roman Catholic beliefs.

Although the book’s title only mentions catacombs, it also describes a number of basilicas and a few mausoleums. Typically, a page or two is allotted for each site, and their general location, layout, and notable architectural features are discussed. The author regularly lists the length and width of various places, the number of rows and columns in a room, and so on. These descriptions require the use of various terms, such as apse, narthex, and others, that may be confusing to some readers. I am one of them. About a third of the way through the book I took a few minutes to look up some of the words that I was seeing so often. It helped quite a bit, and I recommend others do the same as needed. The author seems to assume that his readers have a certain knowledge of these specialized terms. It is common to see words used in the text that are not clearly defined. There is a glossary in the back, but it is so brief that it is not very useful. On the inside cover, there is a map that shows the location of each structure. This aids in understanding the geography of the city, and where each site is located in relation to each other.

Outside of the architectural details, the most interesting aspect of the book is its multitude of photos. Mr. Mancinelli uses a significant amount of text to explain the layout of each place, and how the artwork is arranged. He often provides two photos (or more) from each location, and thankfully describes many artistic works that do not have an image to go along with them. This is appreciated, and encourages further examination of such works on one’s own. He shares images of rooms, pathways, and damaged structures that may be interesting to those who enjoy architecture. For me, the most intriguing aspect of this book was seeing various Biblical scenes expressed through art. There are many representations of Jesus’ miracles, some of which include the feeding of the five thousand and the raising of Lazarus. Jesus speaking with the Samaritan woman from John 4 is also shown, as are various events from the Old Testament. I was surprised to discover that many of the images of Jesus showed Him without a beard.

Although the above was valuable, I was generally let down by the book. The complete name for this work is The Catacombs of Rome and the Origins of Christianity. Although it says much about various burial sites, most of the artwork is from the fourth century. There are images of events from the gospels, but I don’t see how the book actually discusses the origins of Christianity. As such, I can recommend it for students of architecture or religious artwork, but I think that most other people would find it boring or hard to follow. Some descriptions of the structures are very difficult to understand if one does not comprehend the terms being used.

My Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Image Used

An Ancient Roman Catacomb by georgesyrios from Pixabay.

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