"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

Egg Theory: The Secret To An Egg's Unbreakable Strength

In 2019, I came across a seemingly trivial social media news about the simple picture of an egg dubbed as "world_record_egg" becoming the most liked Instagram picture with 30 million likes beating Kylie Jenner's picture that gained 18 million likes.

This is not the only time though that this amazing egg has been catapulted into the limelight. The egg has always been there early on in human civilization.

Eggs are amazingly strong despite their reputation for being so fragile. I first learned in school that an egg can withstand nearly your entire strength as you try to put pressure on both ends right at the apex of the arch using your thumb and fingers. Try it! Do you know its secret? The unique shape of the egg is the secret to its being uncrushable.

I took a picture of a 9th-century CE structure found in Borobudur's Buddhist temple in Indonesia, the largest in the world. During the Stone Age, buildings were constructed using the post-and-lintel system in which a large horizontal piece is supported by two vertical pillars. The Stonehenge in Britain is a classic example. This engineering technique further evolved into a 3-dimensional shape (e.g. dome structure) that the Romans developed to suit their more practical needs like amphitheaters, temples, vaults, aqueducts, etc., which are not only built to last but also more functional as it can cover large spaces. The best-preserved of all ancient Roman buildings to date is the iconic Pantheon (in Greek it means "church of every god").

In 608 the emperor Phocas gave the Pantheon to Pope Boniface IV. It has been in continuous use nowadays as a church dedicated to St. Mary and the Martyrs. After almost two thousand years when it was first built for Emperor Trajan in 113-125 CE, it has maintained its record as world’s oldest and largest unreinforced concrete dome with no reinforcing structure in or around the concrete. Imagine you are inside a gigantic egg that spans 43 meters (142 feet) both in diameter of the circle and the height all the way up to the central opening to the sky called the oculusThe dome has a volume of 46,000 cubic meters (or about 676 million chicken eggs) making the Pantheon the biggest domed room to this day.

Telescopic view of the interior by monolithic.org
Michelangelo out of respect for the Pantheon deliberately designed his dome for St. Peter’s Basilica just a little smaller – about 50 centimetres. What was the key to the survival of this Roman architectural genius across two millennia? Again it is found in the egg's organic structure. Like any arch, the curve distributes pressure evenly all around the eggshell rather than concentrating it at any single weak point. Nature has given the egg its proper shape to withstand the body weight of the mother bird when it sits on it during incubation.

But it must have a vulnerable point to allow the little chick to be able to break free from the eggshell using only its tiny beak. The weakness of the egg is when uneven forces are directed at any one unsupported point.

La Sagrada Familia-Interior of cathedral
There are two more amazing structures that merit our attention. First is that of Barcelona's La Sagrada Familia cathedral, which has been under construction for more than a hundred years since 19 March 1882. It was designed by Antoni Gaudi to uniquely reflect God's engineering plan in contrast with the more common human approaches. Joan Bassegoda Nonell, a Barcelona scholar notes, "Gaudí's famous phrase, 'originality is returning to the origin,' [which] means that the origin of all things is nature, created by God."

Second is William Shakespeare's playhouse where his greatest plays were performed, which was called the Globe. With this name went a Latin motto, "Totus mundis agit historiem" and a painted sign which showed great Hercules, as a strong man, holding the round world upon his shoulders. (Source: Shakespeare and His Theatre, John Russel Brown, illustrated by David Gentleman.)

I would like to end with the Roman statesman Cicero (106 BC – 7 December 43 BC, De natura deorium, II, 53) who wrote the following about the sphere, cube and pyramid:

"You say that a cone or a cylinder or a pyramid to your eyes is more beautiful than a globe. Let’s assume that these others shapes are more beautiful, in their appearance that is, even though I contest that. Because what could be more beautiful than the shape that comprises and encompasses all others? A shape that has no imperfections, does not offend the eye, has no sharp edges and not a single angle, projection, indentation or deviation. There are, in fact, two optimal shapes: among solid bodies this is the solid globe or 'sphere' (sphaira), as it’s called in Greek, and among flat shapes this is the ring or ‘circle’ (kyklos), as the Greeks would say…Don’t you understand that such a regular movement and stable order as exists in the universe, of necessity assumes a globe? These solid (heavenly) bodies are the expression of a divine intelligence: from the square to the cube, from the circle to the cylinder and from the pyramid to the cone, all of these shapes come together in the globe." (Quoted from: Henri Stierlin, Imperium Romanum Part I, Taschen, Cologne, 1996 page 158.)

Fr. JM Manzano, SJ

A top-aerial view of the Pantheon

La Sagrada Familia-Interior of cathedral

(Source: Baby Birds and How They Grow by Jane R. McCauley)

(Source: Baby Birds and How They Grow by Jane R. McCauley)