The Papal Archbasilica of St. John Lateran (San Giovanni in Laterano) is Rome’s cathedral. It serves as the the official ecclesiastical seat of the Pope as the Bishop of Rome. Pope Benedict celebrated the Mass for the feast of Corpus Christi here and then lead a Corpus Christi procession along Rome’s Via Merulana, which links the basilicas of St. John Lateran and St. Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore).
Its magnificent interior includes six papal tombs and colossal statues of the 12 apostles, each holding their hagiographic icon, the object associated with their martyrdom. Sculpted in the first decade of the 18th century, each apostle statue was paid for by a different prince (the pope paid for St. Peter’s), and a who’s-who of top sculptors of the era were commissioned to make various statues, in a sort of open competition—see which you like best (my favorite is Giuseppe Mazzuoli’s St. Philip, shown treading on a dragon).
On the roofline, note the statues of the Doctors of the Church: Saint Ambrose, Saint Augustine, Saint Jerome, and Pope Gregory I who were the original Doctors of the Church in 1298. Doctors of the church are individuals who are recognized as having special importance, usually regarding their contributions to theology or church doctrine.
Here’s a virtual tour of St. John Lateran http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_giovanni/vr_tour/index-en.html
The archbasilica contains the papal throne (Cathedra Romana) that is located in the Aspe behind the papal altar http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_giovanni/vr_tour/Media/VR/Lateran_Nave1/index.html. The altar contains the skulls of St. Peter and St. Paul.
There are interesting sites in the complex. I love the ornate ceiling and the beautiful statues.
Take time to visit the charming cloister
Here’s a virtual tour of the cloister http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_giovanni/vr_tour/Media/VR/Lateran_Cloister/index.html.
The ancient baptistery was also built by Constantine and was converted from a Roman temple. The Lateran Baptistery is one of the oldest in Christendom. The present name is a result of the importance of the baptistry of the church, and of the presence of a Benedictine monastery dedicated to Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist.
Here’s a Virtual tour of the Baptistery: http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_giovanni/vr_tour/Media/VR/Lateran_Baptistery/index.html
San Giovanni in Laterano was the first cathedral of Rome. This was the first Constantine Basilica and is the oldest basilica in the world, founded in 311 and consecrated in 324. Emperor Constantine gave Pope Melchiades a parcel of imperial property for a church and a papal residence. It was known as “Lateran” because the property previously belonged to the family of Plautius Lateranus of the former Roman Empire. The Laterani lost their properties to Emperor Constantine who in turn gave it to the Christian Church in 311. The basilica suffered extensive damage during the earthquake of 896 and was restored by Sergius III who dedicated it to St. John the Baptist. Later, Saint John the Evangelist was added as a patron of this church by another pope.
The popes lived in the Lateran Palace adjacent to the church until Clement V (1305-14) transferred the papal seat to Avignon in France. The popes lived at Palazzo Laterano from the time of Constantine until 1304 when the Papacy moved to Avignon. When the popes returned to Rome in 1377, the papacy moved to the Vatican. Excavations beneath the basilica have uncovered pagan buildings and foundations of the 4th century Constantinian basilica.
The central bronze doors came from the Curia of the Roman Senate in the Forum. The Holy Door is on the far right. The main travertine facade is on Piazza di Porta Giovanni with five entrances that lead to the portico with five more doorways.
On the top front entrance of the basilica, Jesus Christ is carrying a cross. He is surrounded by St. John the Evangelist, St. John the Baptist and the Doctors of the Church.
In 1646, the basilica was in danger of collapsing so Pope Innocent X gave the task of restoring it to Francesco Borromini. Pope Innocent X had the interior completely remodeled by Borromini in preparation for the Jubilee (Holy Year) of 1650. It was during Borromini’s restoration that the church was given its Baroque appearance. The eastern façade was created in 1736 by Alessandro Galilei with statues of saints welcoming visitors.
In front of the north facade ( adjacent to the Lateran Palace) you can find the Lateran obelisk. It is the tallest obelisk in Rome that dates back to 1500 B.C. and weighs over 230 tons. The red granite obelisk in the square in front of the Lateran Palace was originally commissioned by Pharaoh Thuthmose III and completed by his grandson Thutmose IV and stood in the temple of Amun in Karnak. It was placed in the Circus Maximus until Pope Sixtus V had Fontana re-erect it in this square in 1588 in place of the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius that was moved to the Capitoline Hill.
The Renaissance coffered ceiling is attributed to Pirro Ligorio and was started in 1562 during the pontificate of Pius IV.
The apse mosaic was restored by friars who were commissioned by Nicholas IV (1288-1292). The apse mosaic depicts the miraculous appearance of Christ in the basilica’s apse at the time of its consecration by Pope Sylvester.
There are beautiful statues in the nave in grey marble aedicules. The statues are flanked by verde antico columns.
The archbasilica has a lavishly decorated interior. The Lancelloti Chapel was designed by Francesco da Volterra and rebuilt by Giovanni Antonio de Rossi. The “Saint Francis of Assisi receives the stigmata” painting was done by Giovanni Battista Puccetti in the altarpiece.
From the reign of Constantine the Great until the removal of the papal Court to Avignon, the Lateran palace and basilica served the bishops of Rome as residence and cathedral. During this long period the popes had occasion to convoke a number of general councils.
There are additional parts of the Lateran complex worth visiting in close proximity to the church. The Lateran Palace, formally the Apostolic Palace of the Lateran, is an ancient palace of the Roman Empire and later the main papal residence in southeast Rome. Located on St. John’s Square in Lateran on the Caelian Hill, the palace is adjacent to the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran, the cathedral church of Rome.
The Lateran Council
The Lateran Council met here for five of the ecumenical councils of the Roman Catholic Church.
From the reign of Constantine the Great until the removal of the papal Court to Avignon, the Lateran palace and basilica served the bishops of Rome as residence and cathedral. During this long period the popes had occasion to convoke a number of general councils, and for this purpose they made choice of cities so situated as to reduce as much as possible the inconveniences which the bishops called to such assemblies must necessarily experience by reason of long and costly absence from their sees. Five of these councils were held in the Lateran palace, and are known as the First, Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Lateran Councils, held respectively in 1123, 1139, 1179, 1215, and 1512-17.
In 1059, during the pontificate of Nicholas II, cardinals were given the right to elect the pope. The 3rd Lateran Council (1179) gave the right to elect the pope to the whole body of the College of Cardinals instead of exclusively to the cardinal bishops. The College of Cardinals has a Dean. On December 21, 2019, Pope Francis, when accepting the resignation of Cardinal Angelo Sodano as Dean, established that “going forward the Dean of the College of Cardinals will serve a five-year term that can be renewed once. Sodano received the title “Dean Emeritus” upon his resignation.
Prior to this edict, the Dean held the position until death or resignation; there was no mandatory age of retirement. The dean summons the conclave for the purposes of electing a new pope. The Dean presides over the daily meetings of the College of Cardinals in advance of the conclave and then presides over the conclave if his age does not prohibit his participation. Pope John Paul II’s Universi Dominici gregis of February 22,1996 modified the voting rule slightly, so that cardinals who have reached the age of 80 before the day the see becomes vacant are not eligible to vote.
The dean also has the responsibility of communicating the “news of the Pope’s death to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See and to the Heads of the respective Nations”. He is the public face of the Holy See until a new pope is elected. If he participates in the conclave, the dean asks the pope-elect if he accepts the election, and then asks the new pope what name he wishes to use. If the newly elected pope is not already a bishop, the dean ordains him a bishop.
Walk over to the Scala Sancta to see the Sancta Sanctorum and the Triclinium of Pope Leo III. The Scala Sancta (Holy Stairs) consists of twenty-eight wooden steps that encase white marble steps and are sanctified by the footsteps of Jesus Christ during his Passion. The marble stairs are visible through openings in the wooden risers.
These Holy Stairs are particularly attractive for Christian pilgrims who wish to honor the Passion of Jesus. These are the marble stairs that were brought to Rome from Jerusalem in 326 AD by Saint Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine. These are the stairs that Jesus climbed on his way to his trial with Pontius Pilate; the staircase leading once to the praetorium of Pontius Pilate at Jerusalem .
The stairs are located in a building which incorporates part of the old Lateran Palace, located opposite the Basilica of Saint John Lateran. They are located next to a church which was built on ground brought from Mount Calvary. The stairs lead to the Sancta Sanctorum ( Holy of Holies) which is the personal chapel of the early Popes in the Lateran palace, known as the chapel of St. Lawrence.
Dr. EveAnn Lovero writes Italy Travel Guides. To learn more about Rome visit www.vino-con-vista.com
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