The Biggest Dome In The World

by Alex Barr

There was once a very fine city with a very fine Cathedral. Well, the Cathedral would have been fine, but there was just one problem. It wasn’t finished. In the middle of it a ring of walls rose high above the rest. A ring so wide two railway carriages would fit inside it end to end. An amazing round space way up
above people’s heads. But open to the blue sky, because it had no roof! The men who looked after the Cathedral stood in their long robes and looked up.‘Why was it built so wide?’ one groaned.
‘How will we make a dome for it?’ sighed another.
‘We need a good architect,’ said a third.
So they looked all over the city and found a good architect. At least, they hoped he was good.
The Architect stood under the great ring of walls and looked up at the blue sky. He had brought along his ten-year-old daughter Maria, who stood beside him and looked up as well.
‘What kind of roof do you want?’ the Architect asked the Cathedral men.
‘A dome!’ cried one.
‘The biggest dome ever seen!’ cried another.
The Architect shook his head. ‘That’s no good,’ he said. ‘Watch this.’
On a table nearby someone had left a cane basket of grapes. The Architect tipped out the grapes and turned the basket over on the table.
‘Imagine this is your dome,’ he said. ‘But if it was heavy like a real dome it would bulge. Like this.’
He picked up one the the bricks the workmen had left lying and put it on top of the basket, which bulged.
He said. ‘That bulging would push the walls out. And it would all fall down.’
‘What a mess that would make,’ thought Maria. ‘Who would clean it up?’
‘So what can we do?’ one of the Cathedral men asked.
‘Build a huge pillar right in the middle,’ said the Architect.
Maria groaned.
‘Quiet!’ snapped her father.
‘Your daughter is right to protest,’ said one of the Cathedral men.
‘A huge pillar would spoil everything,’ said another.
‘Find another answer,’ said a third.
The Architect said, ‘It’s a pity you didn’t build the walls thicker. Or build buttresses like they have on other cathedrals.’
‘What’s a buttress?’ Maria asked.
‘A short wall built at right angles to the main wall to stop it bulging.’
The Architect and the Cathedral men started arguing bad-temperedly. Maria got bored. She did what she often did when bored. She took the ribbons off her plaits
and played with them. She thought the basket might look nicer with ribbons around it, so she threaded them through the cane, one at the edge, the other halfway.
Her father, tired of arguing, looked down at her and said angrily, ‘What on earth are you . . .’
But that was all he said. He meant to say, ‘What on earth are you playing at, Maria?’ but a strange idea had seized him. He turned the basket upside down again on the table.
‘This is how we stop it bulging!’ he exclaimed.
‘With ribbons?’ asked one of the Cathedral men, frowning.
‘Not ribbons,’ said another. ‘I think he means iron hoops, like the ones round a barrel.’
‘But they would have to be huge,’ the third one objected. ‘Think of all that iron!
We can’t afford it. There’s a war on. We need iron for cannons.’
The Architect laughed and patted his daughter’s head.
‘They don’t need to be huge,’ he said. ‘Like a ribbon, they only have to be strong to keep from stretching. Chains are the answer. One round the bottom edge, more higher up. That wouldn’t take much iron.’
The Cathedral men looked at one another wide-eyed.
‘Does this mean we can have the biggest dome in the world?’ one asked.
‘Yes!’ cried the Architect.
‘Yes!’ echoed Maria.
She looked up at the blue sky. Over the years, as the dome grew, that ring of sky grew smaller. And when she was grown up and had children of her own, the dome was finished. And still stands proudly today. You can’t see the chains, hidden away inside, but there they are, keeping the dome from bulging.