Figure 1. The Rotunda, exterior. 1924. Marywood University, Scranton, PA. Photo: author.

The Rotunda at Scranton’s Marywood University, the handsomest building on campus, owes something to the Pantheon in Rome and reflects civic and religious virtues as they were conceived in 1924.

Let’s get the whole Pantheon thing out of the way first. The Rotunda (figure 1) and the Pantheon (figure 2) both hide their rotundas from the common street view; it’s only after you enter that you see the building has a circular plan. The Pantheon has within a 142-foot dome, and Marywood’s Rotunda has a 72-foot dome: close enough to being exactly half that I suspect the architect planned it as a sort of “citation” of the Pantheon, just so we get it.

Figure 2. Pantheon, Rome, c. 126 C.E. Photo: Jordiferrer. CC-BY-SA 4.0. Wikimedia Commons.

Setting aside the rotunda itself and focusing on the public face of the building, we mustn’t expect a photorealistic copy. The emperor Hadrian had all the resources of the empire at his disposal! The Marywood Rotunda is competent and handsome, but it’s not in the same league.

The Marywood website makes a perhaps inevitable comparison to the US Capitol Dome, which comes in at 80 feet. But I think the Capitol and the Rotunda are distant great-great grandchildren of the Pantheon rather than mother and daughter.

The Pantheon has an octostyle (8-column) temple façade mated to the rotunda by an ‘intermediate block’ that effects the transition from squared-off temple front to curved rotunda wall. The Marywood Rotunda architect eschewed the temple façade with its gable (too pagan?), choosing instead to apply the façade directly to the structure which is analogous to the Pantheon’s intermediate block.

But you see the architect has slyly kept the eight columns across by insetting four columns in a loggia and having two pilasters on each side (figure 1): eight columns on a budget! Perhaps the stepped silhouette over the attic, too, is a gesture toward the Pantheon’s triangular gable.

The Marywood columns are a variant of Corinthian with tall thin smooth spearpoint-shaped leaves rising above a short ring of crinkly acanthus (figure 3).

Figure 3. Marywood University Rotunda capital. Marywood University, Scranton, PA. Photo: author.

This is called the “Tower of the Winds” Corinthian after a striking Roman-era building in ancient Athens that used them.

Figure 3a. Tobacco-leaf capital. U.S. Capitol. Photo: Architect of the Capitol. Public Domain.

Tower of the Winds capitals are quite common in American neoclassical architecture, and the Marywood examples are attractive but standard versions of the type. I therefore do not look, as we saw the Marywood website did, to the U.S. Capitol and Latrobe’s tobacco-leaf capitals (figure 3a) as a design source. The latter’s palpably wavy tobacco leaves are extraordinary, mannered versions of the ‘Tower of the Winds’ type, and we’d see it if the Marywood architect had borrowed their distinctive form.

The piece to resist on the Rotunda’s façade is a series of five panels inscribed in Latin and bracketed by two heraldic reliefs. It’s worth devoting some attention to them, because their creators expended a lot of thought on them.

Figure 4. The Rotunda. Inscribed attic panels. Marywood University, Scranton, PA. Photo: author.

Reading from left to right, we do a cross-fade from the spiritual world of the church, signified by the papal stemma (of Pius XI), to the citizen’s world of the state, signified by the Great Seal of the United States. The central position of honor and the narrowest definition of space is reserved for Marywood University, and in fact, one could also read the panels outward from this central point.

Each inscribed panel names a religious or social grouping followed by one or two mots appropriate to each. Their lapidary brevity and lack of punctuation may give the reader a moment of difficulty:

Roman Catholic Church [relief of Papal stemma of Pius XI]


Diocese. Look after yourself and your teaching. I am the good shepherd.


Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Charity is kind.


Marywood. Health – Knowledge – Holiness. I am the Light of the World.


Scranton. Agreement of citizens. Esteem brotherhood.


Pennsylvania. Excellence and freedom. Be subject to powers.

United States [relief of Great Seal of the U.S.]

Some notes on the inscriptions:

See the wonderful typography in DIOECESIS; MARIAE SILVA, Mary’s wood, a coinage for the school; SANITAS SCIENTIA SANCTITAS, admirable asyndeton; SCRANTONA, a surely-never-otherwise-used Latin coinage for (wait for it) Scranton; ESTOTE, a nifty second person plural future imperative of sum. Happily for the composer, Pennsylvania is already Latin.

attende tibi et doctrinae: 1 Tim 4:16. The diocese is reminded of a directive from one of the pastoral epistles on how to run a church. The result is a good diocese which acts like a good shepherd to its flock. The phrase ‘I am the good shepherd’ is taken from John 10:11, which is followed by prescriptions for how such a good shepherd acts.

caritas benigna est: cf. 1 Corinthians 13:4, ‘caritas patiens est, benigna est.’ As befits a teaching order (the IHM was founded in 1845), their charism is kindness in instruction.

sanitas scientia sanctitas. The school now uses the motto sanctitas, scientia et sanitas, putting holiness first (and adding an unneeded ‘and’). It’s reasonable to think that the ordinator of the inscription juggled the word order for a more attractive word arrangement. I will note that the Latin as it is written on the building, with its widely separated hard ‘c’ sounds, is more euphonic.

ego sum lux mundi. John 8:12. As the quotation goes on, those who follow Jesus will not walk in the shadows. Light commonly symbolizes knowledge or education, fitting for the panel specifically tying us to Marywood.

civium concordia. The idea, from Roman writers in antiquity on down, is that harmonious agreement among citizens is the strongest wall of defense.

fraternitatem diligite. 1 Peter 2:17. As with the other snippets, it is shorthand for the rest of the verse: omnes honorate: fraternitatem diligite: Deum timete: regem honorificate, ‘honor all; esteem the brotherhood; fear God; honor the king.’ Here, brotherhood is the fraternity of citizens, and the implied ‘king’ stands for the government.

Figure 5. Pennsylvania coat of arms. From Henry Mitchell, The State Arms of the Union (1876). Public domain. Wikimedia Commons.

virtus et libertas. Cf. the state motto of Pennsylvania (figure 5): “virtue liberty and independence.” So once again the person who wrote the inscriptions let part of a longer idea speak for the whole.

potestatibus subditi estote. Romans 13:1: ‘Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.’

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Scranton, PA

Join the Conversation


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: