San Giovannin in Laterano, the Cathedral of Rome, was founded by Constantine as the Basilica of the Saviour during the papacy of St Sylvester. It was destroyed and rebuilt several times. On the roof are 15 statues which represent Christ, St John the Baptist and the Doctors of the Church. Like San Pietro Basilica, the last bronze door on the right of the portico is the Holy Door, opened only during the holy years once in 25 years.
Inside the basilica, there are 5 naves separated by ancient columns which Borromini incorporated into gigantic pilasters. In the pilasters, he placed a series of statues of the apostles, set into niches framed by green marble columns. Above the niches are reliefs representing scenes from the Old and New Testaments.
Rome's cathedral church, la Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano is also the city's oldest. Its earliest foundation was built by Emperor Constantine in 312 AD on the site of a 1st century palace and a 2nd century barracks and dedicated to the Holy Saviour. In the following centuries, it was continually expanded and embellished, particularly after a damaging 9th century earthquake. Between the 10th and 12th centuries, Saints John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist were both added to the basilica's dedication. When the papacy was transferred to Avignon, the Basilica temporarily lost its importance and was damaged by two destructive fires. Upon the Pope's return to Rome in 1377, the papacy took up residence in the Vatican's current location where Saint Peter's was built. It was not until the 16th century, that the ruined Basilica was rebuilt under the orders of Pope Sixtus V, who also had the world's largest Egyptian obelisk placed in the piazza outside the Basilica. The 15th century BC obelisk had been brought to Rome from Karnak in 357 AD and placed in the centre of Circo Massimo. In the Basilica's reconstruction, some of the finest Baroque architects, such as Domenico Fontana, Francesco Borromini and Alessandro Galilei, worked over the following three centuries to bring it to the splendour we admire today. Although part of Rome, the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano is considered a property of the Holy See and has special extraterritorial status.
“Entrò papa, uscì cardinale” (“Entered pope and came out cardinal.”)
— said of a cardinal who was expected to be elected pope at a conclave, but was not
San Giovanni in Laterano, its church and its palazzo, were for many centuries the seat of the papacy.
The only part of the Mediaeval basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano which still survives is its 13th century cloister. It is surrounded by double rows of twisting, mosaic-inlaid marble columns. They are of a style that was dominant between the Romanesque and the Gothic periods, and are the work of the Vassalletti family in the Cosmatesque decoration style. The Vassalletto, a family of marble workers, were active in church construction and decoration in the thirteenth century.
Even in the busy 21st century, the cloister was a very peaceful area, as it was centuries ago. Sadly, the garden was off-limits.
Entrance to the cloister was by paid admission. There was no shortage of willing visitors.
It is sometimes ignored that this palace has been for about thousand years the principal residence of the popes and this from about 313 until 1309 when the French Pope Clement V transfered the official seat of the Catholic Church to Avignon. From the 10th to the 13th century was the period of its greatest magnificence.
After the departure of the popes from Rome, the Lateran Palace and the Basilica began to decline. In 1307 and in 1361 the Palace and the Basilica were ravaged by fires so that when the popes returned to Rome (1377) they resided first at Santa Maria in Trastevere, then at Santa Maria Maggiore, and lastly at the Vatican.
Pope Sixtus V then destroyed what still remained of the ancient palace of the Lateran and erected the present much smaller edifice in its place on the right side of the Basilica.
The architect was Domenico Fontana who modelled his design on that of the Palazzo Farnese at Campo dei Fiori. Thanks to the co-ordinating power of this favoured architect of the pope Sixtus V the works were finished within two years (1589).
Five Ecumenical councils were held at the Lateran Palace, the first in 1123, the last one in 1512. Here was also held in 1929 the treaty of Latran which fixed the existence of the Vatican State.
The Pontifical Museum of Christian Antiquities is now housed in the palace.
One of four major basilicas in Rome. This is the official basilica of the Roman Diocese, where on special occasions the Pope will perform mass. The facade of the church is adorned with statues of Jesus and all his apostles. In the main nave their are beautiful statues of Mary, Jesus and all his apostles. I think this is a "must see" if you are visiting Rome. Across the street is Santuario Scala Sancta where Christians from around the world climb "The Holy Steps", that Constantine's mother Helen, brought from Jerusalem. They are now covered in wood to protect them.
In the beginning of the 4th century this cathedral (formerly the Lateran Palace) was given to the Bishop of Rome by Constantine I. As you see, this bulding is a very important historical site.
Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano — is the cathedral church of Rome and the official ecclesiastical seat of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. It was officially named Archibasilica Sanctissimi Salvatoris ("Archbasilica of the Most Holy Saviour") and it is the oldest and ranks first (being the cathedral of Rome) among the four major basilicas of Rome.
The fasade was done by Alessandro Galilei (1735),and it looks more like of a palace, not of a church.
I entered the cathedral from the back left side - the Lodggia delle Benedizioni
When I was there they were preparing for the holiday service (Easter) and the central part of the cathedral was closed for walking. But still I had a chance to look around and even walked by mistake to other closed to public area.. .
After I came outside and walked around the church I saw the fasade and couldn't believe it was the same building.
Founded by Constantine in the 4th century, San Giovanni was the first Christian basilica constructed in Rome. Basilica is still Rome's cathedral and the pope's seat as Bishop of Rome. Destroyed by fire twice and rebuilt several times, the combination of styles adds up to one hugely impressive church
Also in the piazza is the Scale Santa meaning Holy stairs. As you face the church of St. John Lateran the building is on the right hand side.
These stairs are said to be from the palace of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem and that these are the steps which Christ walked up to be condemned to death. These mable stairs are covered in wood to protect them, but every so often there are little 'glass windows' to see the marble underneath and visible are dark stains which is said to be Christs blood. People do not walk up these stairs but climb them kneeling down and praying on each stair. The stairs are quite deep and it is quite hard going on your knees.
If you do not wish to ascend these steps kneeling there are steps at the side for you to walk up instead.
At the top is an altar and also the Sancta Sanctorum which was the Pope's private chapel.
April - September
6.15am to noon 3.30 - 6.45pm
October - March
6.15am to noon 3.00 - 6.15pm
10.30 - 11.30 3.00 - 4.00pm
Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday
Admission charge payable.
San Giovanni in Laterano is the cathedral of Rome, founded by Constantine during the IV century. It was destroyed and rebuilt many times. The present Basilica was built in the XII century.
Alessandro Galilei built the façade in 1735.
The Holy Door, like in St. Peter's basilica, is open only in the jubilee years.
In the cathedral we have the relics of the remains of San Pietro's and San Paolo's skulls.
Under the tabernacle there's the papal altar, in which only the Pope can celebrate the mass.
Few people realize that this is the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, containing the papal throne and it ranks above all other churches in the Roman Catholic Church, even above St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican - officially bearing the title of ecumenical mother church - mother church of the whole inhabited world among Roman Catholics.
The exterior statues that surround the top are centered by Christ with the Cross. Huge statues of the Apostles line the Center aisle inside. A side view (photo 2) of this was visible from our kitchen window when we lived in this neighborhood. The church bells did not just mark the Angeles, they rang a lovely melody.
This was the seat of the Pope.
History: The Lateran Palace fell into the hands of emperor Constantine and was eventually given to the Bishop of Rome by Constantine. The actual date of the gift is unknown but scholars believe it had to have been during the pontificate of Pope Miltiades when he hosted a synod of bishops in 313. The palace basilica was converted and extended, eventually becoming the cathedral of Rome, the seat of the popes as patriarchs of Rome.
The official dedication of the Basilica and the adjacent Lateran Palace was presided over by Pope Sylvester I in 324. The Papal Throne was placed inside. In reflection of the basilica's primacy in the world as mother church, the words Sacrosancta Lateranensis ecclesia omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput are incised in the main door, meaning "Most Holy Lateran Church, of all the churches in the city and the world, the mother and head."
The current archpriest of St. John Lateran is Camillo Cardinal Ruini, Papal Vicar General for the Diocese of Rome.
Photo 3: Concert in May 2006 at Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano
Photo 4: Sacred Steps at San Giovanni (detail on separate tip)
Omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater, et caput (Mother and Head of All the Churches of the City and the World)
— The special designation of San Giovanni in Laterano
About AD 311 the Emperor Constantine gave the magnificence ancient palace of the Laterani family to Pope St. Miltiades. For the next 1,000 years it was the center of Christian life within the city; the residence of the popes; and the basilica that was built next to it became the seat of the bishop of Rome. This is the oldest, and ranks first, among the four great patriarchal basilicas of Rome. After being sacked by Vandals, damaged by earthquakes and fires the present church dates from the mid-1300s, while the façade was completed in the early 18th century. The first Holy Year, in 1300, was proclaimed by Pope Boniface VIII in San Giovanni in Laterano.
Alessandro Galilei is responsible for the main facade which dates from 1736. It was begun on the 8th of December 1735 when the first stone was laid by Pope Clement XII. The roof line is arrayed with white marble sculptures, each one 23 feet tall, of Christ, St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, and other saints (see accompanying photo).
At one end of the Basilica’s porch stands a larger-than-life sculpture of Emperor Constantine the Great that was taken from the Imperial Baths on the Quirinale Hill (see accompanying photo).
Much like the church, many calamities befell the magnificence Lateran Palace. Dante said it was “beyond all human achievements.” Destructive fires, in 1307 and 1361, did irreparable harm; the palace never again attained its former splendor. Sixtus V destroyed what still remained of the ancient palace, erecting the present, much smaller structure next to the church in its place.
The Mother of All Churches, dedicated to Our Saviour, and to Sts John the Baptist and John the Evangelist.
The nave of the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano has five aisles. They are separated by pilasters; and some people suggest that the columns of the Mediaeval church are inside the pilasters. But the floor does date from the 14th century. It is an excellent example of the Cosmatesque technique. The powerful and ancient Roman Colonna family paid for this work; and it was finished in 1425 during the pontificate of Martin V, a Colonna family member. The family's crest, a crowned Corinthian column, can be seen inlaid in several places on the floor.
One of the most impressive features in the Basilica is the larger-than-life sculptures of the 12 apostles that line the center aisle. They date from the early 18th century and were designed and carved by several artists. Two that caught my attention were St. Philip with his cross overwhelming the Dragon, carved by Giuseppe Mazzuoli in 1715; and St. Thomas with his set square and cross with a dove, sculpted by Pierre Legros in 1711.
The Altar of the Blessed Sacrament is formed by four gilded, bronze columns that were brought from the Ancient Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill. And the bronze used to create those columns had been melted down and reformed from the bronze prows of the ships of Cleopatra that had been taken during battle by Emperor Augustus. The Romans are experts at recycling!
san giovanni is one of rome's great constantinian churches. in the church things to see are the papal altar, the baptistry, the corsini chapel, and the cloister. to learn more about this beautiful church check out my rome page. open daily
Obelisks are ancient Egyptian monuments which were carved out of granite and usually placed in front of temples as they were used to worship the sun god Ra. The tip of the obelisk would have been covered in gold, reflecting the light of the sun. When the Romans took control of Egypt, they carted some of these obelisks back to Rome, by some accounts as many as fifty of them. This was meant to symbolise Rome's dominion over Egypt. After the fall of the Roman Empire most of the obelisks lay broken and buried under rubble, until the Renaissance when popes started to dig them up and erect them around town once more, only this time they stood them in front of churches and stuck crosses on the tops of them, thus symbolising Christianity's victory over the pagan religions of the past.
Nowadays there are thirteen obelisks standing in Rome, and only four standing in Egypt. The one in front of San Giovanni in Laterano is the tallest in Rome at 32.18 metres, and it's also the largest standing Egyptian obelisk in the world. Originally it stood in the temple of Amun in Karnak, Egypt. In the 4th century A.D. it was brought to Rome and placed in the middle of the Circus Maximus, the ancient chariot-racing stadium. In 1587 it was found in three pieces, was put back together (though with 4 metres missing from its original height) and placed in front of the Lateran Palace, replacing the statue of Marcus Aurelius which had been moved to the Campidoglio.
The Scala Santa, or Holy Staircase, is a staircase of 28 marble steps that are believed by the Catholic faithful to be the steps Jesus walked up to the praetorium of Pontius Pilate on the day he was sentenced to death by crucifixion. It is said that St. Helen, the mother of the emperor Constantine, brought the steps to Rome from Jerusalem in around 326 A.D., along with many other relics such as the true cross on which Jesus was crucified. Believers can be seen climbing the steps on their knees, stopping to say a prayer at each step. In fact the holy stairs can only be ascended on one's knees; other stairways flank it on both sides and can be climbed by normal means. At the top of the staircase is the Holy of Holies (Sancta Sanctorum), which was once the Pope's private chapel. The photo is of the mosaics on the exterior of the building.