Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Tourist Meets the Pantheon

Mr Tabubil and I have just returned from three weeks holiday – a week in Holland, so that I might see a bit of his country and meet his family, and two weeks together after that in Italy.  Right now, we're in Rome.

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.

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