Temples

The pagan temples of Rome still far outnumber the churches, and typically outshine them in splendor. While churches seem to skulk within the ground, as if ashamed of themselves, the temples stand out proud, faced in white marble and raised on platforms. Christians say that this well expresses the contrast between pagan arrogance and Christian humility.

In contrast to a church, the interior of a temple is not used for most rites. Instead, the altar to the god stands in front of the temple, in the porch or in a colonnade, and sacrifices are performed there. Almost all temples are rectangular buildings with a peaked roof. Entrance is through a columned portico, and sometimes the columns run all the way around the main body of the temple.

The main room, called the cella, serves primarily to house the statue of the deity. In most cases, this statue fills one end of the cella, touching the walls and ceiling. In a larger temple, the statue may not match, but some of the divine statues of Rome impress by their sheer size as much as by their artistry. It is not uncommon for the faithful to enter the cella to make their requests directly of the god, standing in front of his statue, and small offerings and candles may be left there.

Temples are distinguished primarily by the deity they honor. The important gods of Rome include the following: Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome; Castor and Pollux, twin gods of horsemanship and seafaring; Ceres, goddess of grain and farming; Janus, god of gateways and beginnings; Jupiter, king of the gods; Juno, Jupiter’s wife; Mars, god of war; Minerva, goddess of crafts and battle; Mercury, god of messengers, traders and thieves, and also the guide of the soul to the afterlife; Roma, a personification of the city itself; Saturn, father of Jupiter and god of time; Terminus, the god of boundaries; Venus, goddess of love and the ancestress of Aeneas, founder of Rome, and Vesta, goddess of the fire of the hearth, served by the Vestal Virgins. Many temples give a god particular characteristics, to distinguish this temple from others. The main temple of Jupiter on the Capitol, for example, is the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, “Best and Greatest.” Similarly, several gods might be worshiped in a single temple; Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva are often worshiped together as the Capitoline Triad, so called because they are all enshrined in the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus.

Temples

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