On Sunday we took a taxi to the Pantheon in the morning, having lost our fear of taking taxis some days ago. (Being a pedestrian faced with an oncoming taxi is another matter entirely.) For a building with such an important reputation, we were surprised.
It’s a massive building with huge columns squeezed into a small space. There’s no open area around it, or at least one commensurate with the building’s importance, and it’s difficult to see the dome with any perspective.
The dome is an engineering marvel. Built in the first century, it is still the largest free-standing, concrete dome in the world. (Yes, you can praise or blame the Romans for concrete.)
Light enters the building through the oculus at the top. Rain does enter, but holes in the marble floor allow the water to drain through to a cistern below.
The Pantheon was the Roman Temple dedicated to the gods. In the seventh century it became a church dedicated to Mary and the Martyrs, likely ensuring that it survived so well preserved to this day.
Beautiful marble interior and engineering aside, there’s not a lot to see: a few paintings and statues of martyrs. But I noticed that Mass would be said in 40 minutes and decided to attend while the girls shopped.
On this trip, one day blended into the next and I had yet to attend Mass in this highly Catholic country. The closest I got was in Riomaggiore, after asking several people when Mass was. No one knew! Almost all Italians are baptized but few practice. Finally a young boy told me 9 am. I was at the local church on Sunday at 9, but no Mass. An old gent outside said it had already taken place.
So this seemed like the perfect chance and place to go. Ten minutes before the service, the attendants cleared the building, except for those attending Mass.
I was sitting in the first row, curious about how much of the Italian service I would understand. An Italian Lector came up to me with a Missile. Would I be willing to read the Second Reading that is said in English? Wow! Yes! She gave me the missile and I had a few minutes to prepare.
Then the organist began playing. The music of my youth filled the acoustically perfect space, reverberating back to us from the huge dome. Sacred music always gives me a lump in the throat.
Now the Monsignor came out in his hat with the puffball on top, attended by one server, who was also the cantor, and led the attendees in song. The Monsignor look remarkably like my dad – a bit portly, hooked nose, ruddy complexion, slack jowls. I could not stop looking at him.
I needn’t have worried about understanding the Mass. The Italian was close enough to Latin that I could feel my way through the service. And most of the music was sung in Latin. I was back in the church of my youngest memories. Even the Monsignor’s sermon, while said in Italian, was accompanied by such powerfully evocative emotions on his face and gesturing hands, that his meaning came through. His eyes raised to heaven, voice filling the space, he never once looked at his notes.
And even though this was the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Times, the server got out the incense burner not once, but twice, to fill the space with thick smoke and scents we normally enjoy only a couple of times a year in the US.
The rich visuals of the old ceremony, the incense, the soaring music, the chance to hear my own voice fill the Pantheon during my reading, the strong reminder of my dad, all of it finally brought me to tears after communion.
After the service, a number of English speakers came up to me to comment on my reading. One said I was very powerful in my delivery. For me, this 15th Sunday in Ordinary Times was no ordinary Sunday. And then the icing on the cake – I remembered it was my Dad’s birthday. He would have been 94. Happy Birthday Dad!
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Other essays on the Trip to Italy:
Rules for buying veggies in Venice
Clinging to the best of the past – the Cinque Terre
Falling Asleep with Galileo – Pisa
What is art anyway? Musing from Florence
The passionate Italian lives in Siena
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What a sweet and powerful story! I’ve enjoyed seeing Italy thru your eyes!
And the stories aren’t done yet. Just broke through my writer’s block. See you Saturday.
You brought tears to my eyes. How wonderful you chose to do this…
Yes it’s been amazing. Looking forward to hearing about your adventure.
Much better than shopping! The Pantheon has always been one of my favorite spots in Rome. Mitch and I love to sit outside and just marvel at it. Thx for taking me along on your holiday …Great place for a Spiritual Experience.
Next time I ditch the girls and we mature ladies go!
You would be that one they find to read! How beautiful. The area around the Pantheon is one of our favorite places to stay at when in Rome – perfect location for exploration and to be in the center of everything. In case you’re still in Rome, try one of my favorite restaurant – Trattoria Antonio at via del Pastini- right around the Pantheon. This restaurant is one of those gems that we loved so much we had dinner two nights in a row. Try the fried artichoke, yes, fried artichoke (I’ve never had it fried until Rome). Try also the tripe dish Roman style and many, many other choices. Can’t go wrong and the price is right! The family is amazing too. There’s a Coffee shop (literally say Coffee Shop) around the corner on one end and Gellato shop on the other (sounds like any other Italian street) – that’s where you’d want to go for post-dinner coffee/desserts. Bon Appetit!
Thanks for all the good tips. We were looking forward to seeing the Trevi Fountain in that area too but it was CLOSED for renovation.
Dad would have loved it. He was there with you, and here with me and Carol. We all felt it. So special.
Can you imagine what might happen on his 100th BD? We should all plan to be together that day!
Yes! Maybe on the Big Island, he loved Hawaii. He loved Boulder Junction too. Hmm, so many possibilities. Wherever it is, he’ll find us. He was never one to miss a good party!
Was there with family about 5 yrs ago. Remembered the light coming from the top…very spiritual. So happy that you were able to honor your father ! Safe and blessed travels to you and the girls.
Esther, yes I think the lighting added much to the whole experience. It would certainly have been different if it had been raining. So nice to hear from you.
Love reading about your experience here in Rome.
Dear Barbara, I was thinking about you as I wrote this essay. I remember you commented on my first essay about my dad – “a hamburger and a bus ticket home.” So glad to hear from you. And “prego.”
Wonderful Diane! I got such a clear magnificent visit through your sharing!!! Mahalo & XO
Judy, So glad you enjoyed it. I have tons of pictures. Maybe we could have a photo party – you show me Alaska and I’ll show you Italy.
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Your heart will never forget these times with your daughters
Yes you are right, the memories are imprinted on my heart. And if my mind forgets some of it, I have these essays to go back to.