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WHY CENTRAL LIBRARY LOOKS LIKE THE PANTHEON

* The Glories of Manchester Architecture: Expert Guided Tour, Tuesday 10 March 2020, 11am from the Midland Hotel.

It’s clear that Emmanuel Vincent Harris modelled Manchester Central Library (opened 1934) on Rome’s Pantheon. But why would he do this? First let us look within the library. Inside the first floor Reading Room turquoise Tuscan columns bear graceful filigree work holding a clock. This altar-like structure is a baldacchino. It is based on the epic baldachin inside St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

The Rome structure stands above the tomb of St Peter. Manchester Central Library is built above the graveyard of St Peter’s Church (1788-1907). The baldachin inside Rome St Peter’s Basilica was created out of bronze work removed from the Pantheon, a mile away, by Maffeo Barberini, Pope Urban VIII (quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini: “what the barbarians did not do, the Barberini did”) in 1634, three hundred years before this library opened.

But there are further links. In the early 1930s plans were announced, with much opposition, to demolish the Pantheon on London’s Oxford Street. This was a bazaar built in 1834, a hundred years before Manchester Central Library, from the shell of the earlier Pantheon, a grand entertainments centre. That Pantheon was one of the wonders of the age, the most beautiful edifice in England according to Robert Adam, its rotunda based on that of St Sophia in Istanbul. Architect of the 18th century London Pantheon? James Wyatt, who designed St Peter’s Church in Manchester. Incidentally, next to Oxford Street’s Pantheon stood a chemist where Thomas de Quincey, born only a few hundred yards away from where Central Library now stands, bought his first opium.

What an excellent tribute by Harris!

* The Glories of Manchester Architecture: Expert Guided Tour, Tuesday 10 March 2020, 11am from the Midland Hotel.