Ancient Rome was only the beginning of the Pantheon’s existence and its survival and continued restoration must owe something to its continued and transformed purpose through time, even after the Emperors were no more.
We know that after the fall of Rome, the Emperor Phocas, now residing in Constantinople (Istanbul) donated the Pantheon to the Pope Boniface IV (608-15). The Pope duly “cleansed” the Pantheon of its pagan past and converted it into the church of “S. Maria ad Martyres” now better known as “S. Maria della Rotonda”. The donation is commemorated by the last addition to the Roman Forum: a column in honour of Phocas which is still there to be seen.
So the great transformation had begun: The great dome of the Pantheon, symbol of earthly power and once viewed as the “seat of all the gods, which are the daemons” succumbs to the power of the church. It’s ironic: What was an earthly temple used by the Emperor-Gods who persecuted the Christians was being purged of its pagan sins by a church which was itself becoming both an earthly as well as heavenly power.
Now think of St. Peter’s basilica, which in many ways was also associated with earthly power: It was here that Pope Leo used a little slight of hand and publicly crowned the great Charlemagne “Holy Roman Emperor”. At the time, the Lateran was the seat of the Pope, but St. Peter’s was the perfect place to show everyone who held the divine right to crown earthly princes. As an aside, Napoleon avoided the mistake and personally crowned himself.
The parallel between the Pantheon and St.Peter’s as earthly seats of divine power is remarkable.
St. Peter’s like the Pantheon made a point about heavenly vs. earthly power. St. Peter’s, like the Pantheon, was crowned with a record-breaking dome (at great earthly expense). Much like the Pope at St. Peter’s, the Pantheon was one of the only places in Rome at which the population might see the Emperor at work.
Not even Pope Urban Viii (Barberini) managed to outdo the Pantheon by pillaging its remaining 200 tons of bronze in order to make cannons.
“Quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini”: What the Barbarians failed to do, the Barberini did.
So what of the Pantheon’s purpose nowadays?
The Pantheon is a unique example of the best in Roman engineering. It is also an ancient Roman monument, a church, a memorial which sometimes doubles up as a concert hall. The Pantheon is a unique work of art and architecture and last but not least it is still a place where a person can come into contact with enormous size and perfection of the heavens and ages, especially on a sunny day.
The Pantheon: Ancient Roman Pantheon | pantheon | Purpose of the Roman Pantheon | architecture of the pantheon |
Buildings of Ancient Rome:
Ancient Roman amphitheaters | Structure of the Colosseum | arch of constantine | circus maximus | basilica | roman forum | hadrians wall |