On our last morning in Rome, we stopped into the Pantheon –that building with the enormous free-standing concrete dome, and a hole (or oculus, if you like) at the top to let the rain in. It was a compromise between history and engineering. We both had plenty of material to goggle at.
The Pantheon was built somewhere in the third decade CE as a general purposes temple – with room for all of the gods in the roman pantheon (hence the name!) Since the seventh century it is been a catholic church, and it is a very catholic church, with statues of catholic saints standing in niches all around the perimeter and an altar opposite the doorway, with six enormous gold candlesticks and a bronze remonstrance, and a pulpit with a microphone for Sunday services –
And a round American woman who advanced into the middle of the floor and threw her arms up into this most catholic of catholic spaces and cried out:
“And do you know what is the most wonderful thing about the Pantheon? The way the Rome City Council has so very kindly turned this into a completely non-denominational spiritual space!”
And then she eyed the wide sun-filled oculus above her head, and the two very small bronze drain-holes beneath her feet, and she screwed up her nose dubiously.
“The Romans mustn’t have expected it to rain very much. How do they drain this place? In a good storm, you’d be up to your ankles while you worshiped!”
There, at least, she had a point.