The Pantheon of Rome

While in Rome I visited the Pantheon.  I was really impressed by it.  When you consider its size, age, and structure it truly is an engineering marvel.  For starters I expected it to be out more in the open like the Colosseum for all the world to see, but instead it is sandwiched into a neighborhood.

As you are walking through the narrow streets of Rome and enter the Piazza della Rotunda, the Pantheon suddenly looms before your eyes … a huge monument of architectural triumph … having survived the test of time.  It is likely the best preserved of all the buildings of ancient Rome.

It was oringinally built in 27 B.C. as a temple to all (pan) gods.  It was damaged later by a couple of fires and was rebuilt by the emperor  Hadrian circa A.D. 120 and is perhaps the most influential building in art history.

The ancient portico columns are an impressive 40 feet high and are made of single pieces of red-gray granite taken from an Egyptian temple.  The holes in the triangular pediment once held a huge bronze Roman Eagle.

The porch ceiling was originally covered in bronze plating, but this was removed in the 17th century by the scavenging pope from the Barberini family.

The dome was the largest made until the Renaissance and is a testament to Roman engineering.  It became a model for the Florence cathedral, Michelangelo’s dome of the St. Peter’s, and even Washington D.C.’s capitol building.

The dome is set on a circular base and is as high (142 feet from the floor tho the rooftop) as it is wide.  It is made from concrete which was a Roman invention.  It gets lighter and thinner as it reaches the top.  The base is 23 feet thick and made from a heavier concrete mixed with travertine, but the top is less than five feet thick and is mixed with lighter volcanic rock.  The indentions or ‘coffered’ ceiling reduces the weight of the dome without losing strength.  The oculus, or eye-in-the-sky, is the only light source and measures nearly 30 feet across.  The floor is 1800 years old.  It has holes and slants toward the edges to let the rainwater drain off.    (Notes taken from Rick Steve’s excellent travel book on Rome)

The Pantheon survived the Dark Ages primarily due to being transformed into a church.  Centuries after Hadrian finished the rebuilding project the Roman Empire had been nearly completely evangelized and Emperor Phocas gave it to the church.  Then in the year 609  Pope Boniface IV transformed it into the church of Sancta Maria ad Martyres.  From that time on it has become a great reliquary, because the Pope wished it to be the final resting-place of the mortal remains of thousands of Christians, many of them martyrs, which until then had been buried in the Catacombs.

It was almost at the dawn of the Middle Ages that the dedication of the former Pantheon to the Christian Martyrs showed how deeply indebted the Church felt to those who had borne witness to Christ to the extreme of giving their lives for their faith.  Tarcisius, Agnes, Cecillia, Perpetua, and Polycarp are examples of Christian faith in Christ being stronger than all the legions of Rome.  “They had triumphed, like their Master, in the madness of the Cross, and so merited to be hymned and venerated down the centuries.”   (Notes from Opus Dei)

Giovanni or Francesco?

Assisi is apparently one of the oldest cities of Italy.  It was called Aisision in the books of Ptolemy and the Latin poet Propertius was born there.  Christianity was brought there by St. Crispoldo.  Legend has it that Bishop of Spoleto, a disciple of St. Peter, consecrated St. Crispoldo as bishop of Bettona.  He had charge over Foligno in the south to Nocera in the north.  During the reign of Domitian St. Crispoldo suffered martyrdom.  Later three bishops from Umbria were also martyred–one of whom was St. Rufinus who was the apostle of Assisi.

In his honor during the 12th century a beautiful romanesque basilica of San Rufino was erected in Assisi (designed by John of Gubbio).

In this church is a romanesque baptismal font in which the first-born of Ser Pietro and Madonna Pica, Francesco, received the water of holy baptism (c. September 26th, 1182).

The spiritual struggles of Francis may actually have begun before his birth.  His mother, Pica, was a delicate, spiritual French woman, while Pietro Bernadone  was a cloth merchant whose every thought was toward his business and social status.  He was away on business when the child was born and Pica named the child Giovanni in honor of John the Baptist.  She sensed there was something different about this child.

Legend has it that near Christmas a beggar came and delivered a prophesy while holding the infant in his arms proclaiming that he would be “the best of all earthly sons of God.”

Pietro thought all spiritual talk to be “worthless delirium” and upon returning home refused to name his son after some ancient lunatic holy man.  Thus the boy was named Francesco, or Francis.  Interestingly the name was rare at that time but was the name of a road near Assisi, via Fransesca , which ran along the west side of the town ending at S. Damiano.

And so begins the struggle that would “rage around Francis all his life–the fight between love of God and love of Mammon.  From childhood on, Francis was grossly indulged and spoiled.”  (David Hazard)