This page continues the Pantheon doors and their origins discussion with further insights and points of argument.
Below is another quote that, like the Wikipedia Pantheon quote shown earlier, supports the belief that the Pantheon's immense bronze doors are indeed the original ones dating from when it was built.
And below this humble ceiling is the only door in the rotunda, the great double bronze door which was long thought to be a later replacement for the original, mainly because of the frame on either side and the grille above, which caused archaeologists to comment that it was too small for the opening.
In fact, when at last the bronze was carefully studied, these were found to be original Roman doors, one of the rare survivals of monumental bronze. They had been cleaned in the course of the centuries, Christian motifs applied, but analysis of the fusion technique left no doubt that they date from the empire.
- The Pantheon Unexplained, Chapter 4 - The Campus Martius
The quote below, from a scholarly Paper by two University professors, also supports the concept that the Pantheon's doors are both ancient and original.
Of the original embellishments the building should have had, the coffered ceiling, part of the marble interiors, the bronze grille over the entrance and the great bronze doors have survived.
"The Role of the Sun in the Pantheon's design and meaning"
- Giulio Magli, Faculty of Civil Architecture, Politecnico di Milano
- Robert Hannah, Department of Classics, University of Otago
In my understanding of the Professors' statement above, they are saying that the only parts of the Pantheon that are original, dating from 128 AD, are parts of the inner wall surfaces, the ceiling, the doors, and the grille above the doors. Often, you will read that the Pantheon floor is original but the doors are not - which is the opposite of what the reality is.
And I have placed one more quote below, from the Encyclopedia Britannica Pantheon Discussion:
Beneath the porch are huge bronze double doors, 24 feet (7 metres) high, the earliest known large examples of this type.
Notice how Britannica does not say the doors are replacements - they state clearly that the doors are the earliest known examples of huge bronze double doors. I interpret that as meaning the Pantheon's doors are very ancient, the oldest known Roman bronze doors of immense size.
Therefore, based on the research and statements of numerous scholars and University Professors, and, given our new understanding of the doors' true age, the Pantheon's doors are indeed the orignal ones dating from 128 AD. Statements saying the doors are replacements dating from the 1500s are, without question, incorrect - the doors are 2,000 years old, not 500.
Below are five more points to ponder regarding whether or not the Pantheon's huge bronze doors are replacements or the original ones. When you consider the immense size and weight of the doors, in addition to their pure bronze construction and strong resemblance to other Roman bronze doors that have survived, it becomes increasingly obvious they are the original doors created over 19 centuries ago.
1. These doors are extremely heavy and not easily removed. For example, in 1757, an attempt was made to replace the pins that attach the doors to floor and ceiling and also allow for door rotation. The result: one of the doors fell and killed the master mason Corsini. After that event, they gave up working on the door and it remained stuck for almost 250 years.
The Pantheon doors were not repaired until 1998. It actually took over 240 years to figure out how to fix them (and the solution was ... soap!). See the image below from 1976. That was how the doors were for 241 years - one stuck shut and the other had only limited movement.
Pantheon doors stuck from 1757 to 1998
Image courtesy of Paula Chabot - VRoma Project
2. Throughout the Dark Ages and the early Middle Ages, bronze was hard to find and manufacture because it is made up of 90% copper and 10% tin, which were not readily available. So if the original doors had been removed - no easy task due to their huge size and weight (see image below) - then where did they later find 40 tons of copper to make solid bronze replacements? Each door weighs 22 tons, thus requiring 40 tons of copper and 4 tons of tin for both doors in order to make enough bronze which is composed of 90% copper and 10% tin.
And if they had indeed manufactured new doors to the Pantheon, wouldn't they have made them mostly out of wood rather than solid bronze - just like they did when they replaced the solid bronze portico roof trusses with wooden ones in the 1600s? Wouldn't that have been far easier and financially practical? But we don't have wooden doors - we have 24 feet of thick solid bronze weighing over 40 tons .. because they are probably are the original doors that have been cosmetically altered.
These immense doors are very thick and heavy
Image courtesy of Anthony Majanlahti @ Flickr
3. If the original doors were removed - when was this act done? We know the Pantheon was converted into a church in 609 AD, about 130 years after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD. And surely, to be acceptable as a church, the Pantheon must have had doors in 609 AD.
And then one would assume that after the Pantheon became a Christian church, would it not be necessary for the church to keep having doors? Thus, I ask again: If the Pantheon doors are not original, meaning they were removed - then when did this happen? And, of course, it begs the question: Why would they ever have removed them and disposed of them in the first place?
A young woman's height compared to the Pantheon's height
4. The Pantheon doors are very ancient and obviously date back to Imperial Rome. They closely resemble the two other sets of imperial Roman bronze doors which have survived, shown in the photos below.
The first set of doors was once part of the Curia Julia Roman Senate building but are now being used in the Basilica of St. John Lateran. The other set of doors formed the entrance of the Temple of Romulus, which was converted to the Basilica of Cosmas and Damian in the Roman Forum.
Compare the photo on the right to the photo above, and you can see the obvious similarity. Notice the same panel construction and patterns of rectangle within a rectangle, and the bolts around each panel. The doors are nearly identical.
The Pantheon doors have more of a brownish colour or patina instead of a "blue/green" hue because, when the 90% copper content in bronze oxidizes, the resultant patina can vary in colour, becoming either blue, green, brown, black, or even reddish. For example, very old copper pennies are often brown and are occasionally green or blue. Thus, we have brown bronze doors in the Pantheon.
5. A constant refrain regarding the Pantheon doors is that "they are too small." However, since the Grille above the door is one of the few original remaining parts of the Pantheon, meaning it has always been there, one can say with certainty that the Pantheon doors we see today are the exact height they need to be in order to fit under the grille.
But then what of the grooved bronze pilasters on either side of the door which some claim are there because the Pantheon doors we see today are not wide enough? I do not quite understand this logic - and why is this even a consideration? Could the doors not be exactly the width they needed to be right from the very beginning?
Also, what proof is there, beyond conjecture, that the grooved pilasters on either side of the doors were not always there right from the beginning? If those pilasters were always there, then any statement that the doors are "too small" (meaning now wide enough, I presume), is also incorrect.
At this point, I think it is up to those who claim the doors are replacements to prove their case. I would like to see documented evidence that the doors are not original, in addition to evidence indicating when the doors were removed, and what happened to them (melted?). Furthermore, where is the evidence proving that new, replacement doors were indeed ever manufactured. It seems, in my opinion, that the cleaning, restoration and alteration of the doors' outside surface has been confused with outright replacement.
Another argument regarding the Pantheon doors states that the original doors were gold plated and the current ones are not. That argument falls apart very easily. Any gold plating (or gold paint) that may have existed on the door surface was simply removed (through pillaging) or just wore off over the ages.
In addition, any gold plating or paint that had survived would have been removed when the Pantheon doors were cleaned and cosmetically altered in 1563-65 by Pope Pius IV.
Finally, I searched the internet exhaustively and can find no detailed information about the Pantheon doors being replaced in the 1500s or any other century. What is the exact basis, beyond erroneous considerations of size and gold plating, for having supposed the doors were ever replaced? It is time to set the record straight. I remember, when I first started writing about the Pantheon doors, how even Wikipedia was still saying the doors were not original - but that has all changed, fortunately.