Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano

Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano

Since the earliest times, the main focus of the Christian world has been on the St John Lateran's Basilica - the cathedral church of the Diocese of Rome and the official ecclesiastical seat of the Bishop of Rome, where the inscription above the entrance reads "Most Holy Lateran Church, of all the churches in the city and the world, the mother and head". In the Catholic hierarchy, this cathedral is titled the Basilica maior and ranks even above the St Peter's Basilica in Vatican. The St John Lateran's Basilica was built on the land of the Laterani family, seized in the time of Nero. In 324 AD, the newly built basilica was consecrated in honor of Christ the Savior by Pope Sylvester I. The basilica was decorated with precious gifts from emperors, lost in Vandal plundering in the V century, though. The Scala Sancta (Holy Stairs) was the main relic in St John Lateran's Basilica. It was brought by Saint Helena from Jerusalem. In the IV - early XIV century, the Lateran Palace was the official residence of the Pope and the site of Catholic councils; five Ecumenical councils were held there.

Over the years, the basilica and the palace fell into disrepair, and Sixtus V ordered to take them down. Reconstruction of the basilica was entrusted with Domenico Fontana. It was decided to build a temple much larger in size and rich in decoration. Reconstruction was completed in 1735, as Alessandro Galilei added a new magnificent facade to the Basilica. The current transept of the church was built by Giacomo della Porta. Above the main altar, there is the most important relic of the church — two silver reliquary busts hold heads of Saints Peter and Paul. Other relics of the basilica include remnants of the Robe of the Virgin Mother, and a part of the bloody sponge, which according to the legend was impregnated with vinegar and put to the mouth of Jesus Christ during Crucifixion.

The Basilica is also a monument to creative work of another architect — Francesco Borromini, who undertook its renovation in 1650 on the order of Pope Innocent X. According to Borromini’s project 12 chapels were decorated, where Baroque statues of Apostles were installed later. Five doors lead into the basilica, with the rightmost, the Anniversary Door, being opened only in the Jubilee year, once in 25 years. In 1586, the new Lateran Palace was built based on sketches of Domenico Fontana to be used as a summer residence. The department of Historical Museum of Vatican is situated there now. Six Popes are buried inside the Basilica: Alexander III, Sergius IV, Clement XII, Martin V, Innocent III and Leo XIII. The Baptistry is located not far from the basilica; for a long time it was the only baptistery in Rome, and it was rebuilt for many times. A font is installed in the center of the hall (in early Christian times, only Pope had a right to Christianize new believers); frescoes of XVII century depciting the scenes from the life of Constantine are on the walls. Unique mosaics remained intact in the chapels. Right in front of the Palace there is a red granite obelisk from the Egyptian temple in Karnak, erected for Thutmose III and then brought to Rome in the times of Constantius II. It is the highest obelisk in Rome and the largest standing obelisk in the world (its estimated weight is over 230 tons). Close to the basilica, there is an architectural memorial, the baptistry dated 440 AD. It is definitely worth to visit.

Address: Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano, 4
Opening hours: Basilica - Mon-Sun 7 am – 6.30 pm, Lateran Palace - Sat, 1st Sun of the month 8.45 am – 1 pm
How to reach: metro San Giovanni
Coordinates: 41.885809, 12.505337