Earlier today, we were enjoying the fountain at the foot of the Spanish Steps. I searched for nearby places for a Sunday vigil mass. The Pantheon, or Sancta Maria ad Martyres, stood out as the best option, so we walked over for 5pm mass.
It turned out to be a very special, memorable experience; certainly the most remarkable place I’ve ever celebrated mass. A line of at least 200 visitors stretched well into the piazza on our arrival. I went to the head to a security guard just as a family was allowed in on condition that they were only there for mass and not tourist reasons, and confirmed that they would stay for the whole mass. We were able to get in the same way. On entering a few minutes before mass began, the entire interior was empty except for maybe the 100 or so already seated in the moveable pews. As mass began, the “international character” of the Pantheon’s mass was evident: one reading in Italian, one in English, etc. A few more joined us as mass began, totaling probably no more than 150 people.
The chanting of the Kyrie Eleison was incredible; graceful and sacramental and heartfelt. Our priest had an incredible voice, and in this way the entire liturgy felt like it was sung as a melody of praise. Incense rose over the course of the mass more than a hundred feet to the Roman dome, occasion for remembering prayers worthy of God’s ear as much as an occasion for marveling at the Roman temple built to “all the gods” being for centuries and millennia now a place of worship for the God of revelation.
I took some brief shots outside the Pantheon, then inside immediately at the conclusion of the mass and then shortly afterwards once tourists were allowed back in:
The Pantheon has represented the greatest expression of the glory of Rome for more than two thousand years. The story of the Pantheon is inseparably tied to the Eternal City. and been its image through the centuries. Built by Agrippa between 25 and 27 BC the Pantheon was a temple dedicated to the twelve Gods and to the living Sovran. Traditionally it is believed that the present building is result of the radical reconstruction by Hadrian between 118 and 125 AD.
It is the only ancient Roman building that has remained practically intact through the centuries. In 608 Pope Boniface IV had the remains of many martyrs removed from the Christian catacombs and placed in the Pantheon. Thereafter the temple was officially converted to Christianity and named Saint Maria ad Martyres.
It does rain in the Pantheon through the dome’s skylight. I wondered about this while inside, and looked it up later. I didn’t notice this at the time, but the floor is designed at a slight angle that allows drainage through subtle grates.