I was in Rome last month and saw evidence of pagan temples converted into Christian churches – either being converted for new use or rebuilt using materials from the old temple. One of the most magnificent Roman buildings in Rome is the Pantheon – it’s a survivor because it went from being a pagan temple to a Christian basilica.
When I go to Rome, I have to visit the Pantheon at least twice. It’s one of the most intact ancient Roman buildings in the world with its original concrete dome that was a triumph of ancient engineering.
When the Roman emperor Constantine embraced Christianity, he set in train a process that would last centuries – of pagan temples being systematically demolished, plundered or converted to use as churches. The most dramatic example is the Pantheon – a huge rotunda with a still existing dome made of concrete, completed in CE126 under the Emperor Hadrian.
Originally, the Pantheon was a temple to all the gods but after Constantine the clock was ticking against the images of deities like Mars and Venus.
Under the Byzantine emperor Phocas – who held sway over Rome and the papacy – the Pantheon was donated by the emperor in 609AD to the Roman Catholic church.
The Pantheon was consecrated as a place of worship to Mary and the Martyrs. This probably saved the building from demolition though as late as the 17th century, pope Urban VIII stripped a large amount of bronze from the portico.