Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cardea: Blessing the Doorway

When we think of a Roman house in consideration of the religio Romana we must put aside thoughts of the imperial palaces or those found at Pompeii. Instead we have to look back to the time of Numa Pompilius in the seventh century before the common era. The common house of that time was a round hut, with the door being the single opening in its walls. The roof was conical, held up by a central pole. Ritually that central pole is identified with the axis mundi, and came to be equated with the hearth in a later period.  Around 650 BCE there also began to appear the great houses, such as Numa possibly lived in. These were rectangular, with three cells, and would become the model for the temples that housed the Gods beginning with the Capitolium around one-hundred and fifty years later. The temples of Rome were not used in the same way as churches, synagogues or mosques are today. They were not places of worship and most people were never allowed to enter them. Instead they were built as houses, temporary residences for the Gods to dwell in whenever They would visit the City.

So it seemed natural to erect structures for the Gods that resembled the great houses of Rome’s leading citizens. The round huts that most Romans lived in at that time were used as a model for urns that held the ashes of honored dead. In a sense these hut urns were temples for the Lares – the deified ancestors of Rome. By no stretch of the imagination, therefore, the house of a Roman was also the temple of his family. As Cicero spoke before the pontiffs:

“What is there more holy, what is there more carefully fenced round with every description of religious respect, than the house of every individual citizen? here are his altars, here are his hearths, here are his household gods: here all his sacred rites, all his religious ceremonies are preserved (De Domo 109).”

More at Religio et Pietas