The Pantheon is noteworthy, among all surviving Roman temples, for its remarkably fine state of preservation. It is now almost as it was two thousand years ago. This is so because it was converted into a church in the sixth century and has since been repaired and restored whenever necessary. Furthermore, although it has frequently suffered the ravages of the elements: floods, lightning, etc., as well as the depredations of men, who stripped it of art-objects and bronze and even turned it into a fortress, nevertheless its sacred character in some degree preserved it from complete destruction.
The Popes for more than twelve centuries have expended large sums of money to preserve this church which represented for all Christians the most important trophy of the Faith over pagan tyranny. Pope Boniface IV, at the beginning of the seventh century, acquired it from the Eastern Emperor Phocas for use as a church. It was consecrated by him to Our Lady, Oueen of Martyrs. The anniversary of the consecration, May 13, was celebrated each year as a feast of all the martyrs, that is, of all saints. This feast was later transferred to November 1, as the Feast of All Saints.
A Model Frequently Copied: London, Washington
The Pantheon is glorious, not only from the viewpoint of art and history, but even more because of its religious history. It has, of course, been the object of study as a pagan edifice, by reason of its marvelous architecture, which is justly considered superb. It has served as a model for many public buildings in various parts of the world.
Michelangelo intended to raise the Pantheon up to Heaven with the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. It was the model, too, for St. Paul’s in London, as well as of the Capitol in Washington. That is why every visitor to Rome, no matter how limited his stay, never fails to visit this monument and to be deeply impressed by it. The following pages will guide him and direct his attention to those points which merit particular explanation and attention.
Who Built the Pantheon?
Agrippa? The building was planned and erected by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, famous son-in-law of Augustus, to improve the new quarter of the city, known as the Campus Martius, with its splendid baths. As the inscription on the gable of the temple indicates, it dates from the years 27-25 B.C. But it is not certain, and in fact denied by many modern authorities, that even the portico is the one built by Agrippa. The temple proper, the rotunda, is certainly not the original one, because it was built in the period of the Emperor Hadrian, 120-125 A.D., as is clearly proved by the marks in the bricks, which date exactly from that period.
Or Hadrian? It would appear that the builder was really the Emperor Hadrian, who had a veritable passion for constructing imposing edificies; for example, his own mausoleum, now Castel S. Angelo;-the temple of Venus and Rome, the most magnificent of imperial times; the temple of Olympian Jove in Athens, which rivals the Parthenon, and the famous Villa of Hadrian near Tivoli. But, with his known modesty, he preferred to leave Agrippa’s inscription on the tympanum.
An inscription at the front entrance speaks of its dedication by Marcus Agrippa. The inscription is still legible, despite the damage that has ravaged the rest of the building. The inscription reads: M AGRIPPA L F COS TERTIUM FECIT. Translated, this can be read as “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, having been consul three times made it.”
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