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Basilica of St John Lateran – The Mother of all Catholic Churches

The Basilica of St John Lateran or the Arcibasilica Papale di San Giovanni in Laterano in Italian is the oldest and most significant Basilica in Rome. Being the first church of the eternal city of Rome, it holds enormous treasures of art and history which dates back to the 4th century. Aside from this, it also holds a special place in the hierarchy of Catholic Churches all over the world; it is the official ecclesiastical seat of the Bishop of Rome, more commonly known as the Pope. As such, it earned the distinction of being the “ecumenical mother church” or simply translated, it is the mother of all Catholic Churches all over the world.

The complex of the Basilica of St John holds wonderful architectural structures, making it one of the must see places in Rome. And like any other historical landmark, it is a repository of fascinating stories and works of art.

The present site the Basilica of St John Lateran used to be the home of the Lateranus family. Famous family members include Sextius Lateranus, the first plebian to become a consul and Platutius Lateranus which was accused of conspiracy against the emperor. The first century palace can be found directly below the church’s nave. By the second century, the palace was converted to a military barracks and fort by Septimius Severus. By the fourth century, the complex was occupied by Constantine and his wife Fausta, and it was subsequently given to the Bishop of Rome at the reign of Pope Miltiades. The palace witnessed the first Lateran Council which condemned the Donatist schism. And by 318, it was dedicated to the Jesus Christ the Savior. The original seven altars given by Constantine can still be seen in the Basilica. The year 324 witnessed addition of the papal throne, making it the Cathedral of the Bishop of Rome and inscription in Latin that it is the mother of all churches was also placed in the church’s front wall and main entrance.

During the Middle Ages, the church was rededicated to St. John the Baptist in the 10th century and the baptistery was also added. In the 12th century, it is also dedicated to St. John the Evangelist, making both Saints as co-patron of the Basilica. Its chief patron remains Jesus Christ the Savior and its titular feast is the Transfiguration. The Lateran Palace served as the home of Pope Miltiades until Pope Clement V, who transferred the residence to Avignon. The Palace and Basilica were reduced to ashes during the fires of 1307 and 1361. After the Avignon Papacy, the Lateran Palace was inadequate for living quarters; the Popes thereafter took residence at the Basilica of Our Lady in Trastevere, Basilica of St. Mary Major and eventually in the Vatican Place.

It was subsequently reconstructed during the time Pope Sixtus V which commissioned Domenico Fontana. The original Palace was replaced by a new building and the Lateran Obelisk was also added. Renovation was also made under the leadership of Francesco Borromini in the 18th century. The twelve niches for the twelve apostles were added during this time. You can still see these niches which include the works of baroque sculptors Rusconi and Moratti. The neo-classical façade of the Basilica as we see it today was made by Alessandro Galilei in 1735.

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By Priscila Siano (266 Posts)

Priscila Siano is the Marketing Director of Tour Italy Now, an online tour operator specializing in Italy travel. She's a respected expert on making dream Italy vacations a reality for clients.

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