St John Lateran, Rome
The Basilica has two façades very typical of the Baroque Rome. San Giovanni in Laterano looks more like a palace than like a church.
The main one, facing Porta S Giovanno, is from the architect Allessandro Galilei in 1735. It was said in Rome that he got the job because he was from Florence as well as the pope Clement XII.
It is a very suggestive façade combining dark openings and bright columns. The 15 giant statues on top are visible from far away even from the Capitoline Hill. They represent Christ surrounded by St. John Baptist and St. John the Evangelist the co-patrons of the Cathedral and other saints. The statues are 7 m high. It is one of the views of Rome tourists certainly do remember.
The very impressive bronze doors (1st c. AC) are those of the ancient Roman Senate, the "Curia Julia". They were transferred here from the Forum by Pope Alexander VII in 1660.
Left of the entrance in a large statue of the first christian Emperor Constantine I. This statue was once at the Imperial baths on the Quirinal.
If you arrive at the basilica by the opposite side i.e. by the Piazza S. Giovani with the Obelisk you see, on the right of the Palace, the other nice façade by Domenico Fontana (1586).
Open each day from 7 to 18.30 h. Free entrance.
The interior lay out and decoration of this basilica reflects the hectic history of San Giovanni in Laterano with rebuilding after disasters. The present appearance of the church dates from the late 17th c. and is a restoration carried out by Innocent X, with Borromini for his architect. The general aspect is rather heterogeneous. The lack of homogeneity is quite visible when entering by the main gate at the nave. The ancient columns were enclosed in huge pilasters, with statues of the Apostles in front. By them selves these gigantic statues in grey marble made by various sculptors in the beginning of the 18th c. are of high quality but the contrast with the beautiful ceiling of 1567 is great.
At the end of the nave the visitor is surprised by the baldachin from 1369, over the high altar, which looks out of place in the baroque surrounding from the nave of Borromini.
The High Altar with its relics as well as the apse merits some special comments in another review.
The pavement with mosaics of the 14th c. by Vassalletto is very nice and of course best admired when there are no benches in the nave like on my visit.
When comparing this basilica with the others like San Pietro, and even more San Paolo fuori le Mura, the visitor will notice the heterogeneity of San Giovanni in Laterano. Best is to focus on each element separately from the others and so enjoy the beauty of the various parts of the church.
Open: 7 - 18.30 h
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)
The High Altar with its baldachin is very special among the altars of the catholic churches. It is not erected over the tomb of a saint as in almost all other great churches of Rome.
The High Altar is made of wood and not of stone, and encloses no relics of any kind. Actually it is itself a relic, being the wooden altar upon which St. Peter is believed to have celebrated Mass during his residence in Rome.
Presently the original wood can still be seen enclosed in a larger altar of stone and marble.
The Gothic "baldacchino" or canopy rests on four marble columns. On the upper part are conserved in a splendid shrine from 1804 the heads of the Apostles Peter and Paul. The original shrines from 1434 had been robbed by the French revolutionaries in 1799.
Only the pope can celebrate Mass at this altar.
The ancient apse, with mosaics of the fourth century by Jacopo Torriti and Jacopo da Camerino, was part of the Basilica of Constantine and survived the many changes till 1878, when it was destroyed in order to provide a larger space.
The original mosaics were, however, preserved with great care and were re-erected at the end of the new and deeper apse as seen nowadays by the visitor.
Here stands the "cathedra" the seat of the bishop of Rome i.e. the Pope.
On the left part of the transept is the chapel of the Holy Sacrament interesting by its four antique gilded columns. They are unique in Rome and said to belong to the temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline hill.
Open each day from 7 to 18.30 h. Free entrance
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.
The oldest of the four great Basilicas and also the cathedral of Rome went through a very hectic history since it was given to the Church (311) by Constantine the first Christian emperor. The not very large original church was dedicated to the Saviour, "Basilica Salvatoris", the dedication to St. John is of a later date (12 th c.).
Thanks to many donations the basilica became so splendid that it was called the "Golden Basilica" and attacked by the Vandals who stripped it of all its treasures. Restored by the Popes in the 5th c. the church was totally destroyed by an earthquake in 896. The new and second church lasted 400 years and burnt down. Rebuilt, the third church burned down once more in 1360.
Twenty popes worked to rebuild, restore, and embellish the Basilica.
It was not until the latter part of the 17th century that the church took its present appearance, in the restoration carried out by Innocent X, with Borromini for architect. Last changes were around 1890 by Pope Leon XIII.
The church has entirely lost the appearance of an ancient basilica, and is completely altered in character. The hectic history results in a heterogeneous décor. Portions of the older buildings still survive and like the baldachin over the high altar don't harmonize with newer parts.
I prefer therefore the basilica of San Paolo Fuori le Mura (ref. my tip) which preserved the ancient basilica character.
A somewhat anecdotic consequence of the history of San Giovani in Laterano is the fact that Kings and, later, Presidents of France are honorary canons of the chapter of the cathedral because the Kings of France, especially Henri IV, gave rights to the chapter. President Sarkozy went to Rome in January 2008 for his enthronisation as honorary canon of Saint John Lateran (new president François Hollande did not go).
Open: 7 - 18.30 h
The Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano (or St. John in Lateran) is the actual cathedral of the Diocese of Rome. In theory it is an extremely old building dating from 314AD however such is the history of Rome that it had been pillaged and destroyed so many times that little really remains of the original church. Today what you see is most baroque in style.
The church has an 18th century facade that is very decorative, typical of the baroque style. It was damaged by terrorists in 1993 but has since been restored. The interior is very bright and is a feast for the eyes. There is a marvelous organ and the naive is flanks by numerous statues of various saints. The ceiling is magnificantly carved. It is higly recommeded that you visit the cloisters as many critics find that this is the most beautiful part of the complex. This will cost you 2 Euros. The rest of the church is free to visit. It is open from 7am to 7pm.
“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.
When you get to be Pope, you get your own church…and it's not St. Pete's. Nope, the man has to wear two hats so when he's not addressing his flock from a balcony at the Vatican, he's moonlighting as Bishop of Rome across town at San Giovanni in Laterano. This is 'his' church; the Catholic Mother Church; more important in pecking order than St. Peter's and with an altar reserved just for him. It is both cathedral and basilica, and the oldest of the four major papal basilicas in Rome.
It's named for a family, the Laterani, who originally had a palace here that was either confiscated by Nero as imperial property or sold to Septimius Severus. It is thought to have become the dower house of Fausta, daughter and sister of emperors Maximiam and Maxentius, and wife of Constantine I; her brother Maxentius' enemy. If you've read my review about the Villa of Maxentius, you'll recognize another interesting connection between these four people? Constantine, in turn, donated the palace and all or part of the property to the bishops of the newly recognized Christian faith.
The first, 4th-century basilica was erected over demolished barracks of a military guard that had fought on Maxentius' side against Constantine in the battle of Milvian Bridge. Over the next 1000 years the palace served as the papal residence, and the church suffered sackings, fires and earthquakes but was stubbornly rebuilt after each calamity. In the 14th century, fire irreparably damaged the palace so new papal digs were established at the Vatican. The basilica also underwent a major overhaul at that time, and yet another in the 17th which produced the version we see today.
It's a big, fancy thing chock-full of frescos, shrines, relics, gilt, mosaics, Cosmati pavements, monuments and statuary but naught so fascinating as its history. My favorites? Bright side aisles crowned with amusing putti - a nice visual contrast from the heavily-decorated nave and apse - and an ancient baptistry with interesting mosaics. This structure was the first to assume the eight-sided design symbolizing six days of creation, one of rest and one of everlasting life that became the model for others all over the world.
Entrance is free; visiting info:
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
This church is of historic importance. Siege of papal authority until early XIVth c., the Lateran Accords were signed here between MUSSOLINI and the Pope -- firmly establishing the role of the State and that of the Papacy over Rome.
The main bronze door on façade is from the time of the Roman Senate.
The 2nd façade is on Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano, where the obelisk is.
Inside, large niches contain monumental statues of the 12 apostles. Very impressive! The floor alone is worth the visit! Cosmatesque style, XVth c. Look down, that floor is admirable!
Now I'm sorry I didn't take a photo of the floor... but here's an explanation of Cosmatesque style:
Typical flooring style of the Middle Ages in Italy and particularly in Rome. The name is from Cosmati, a group of artisan marble workers from the XIIth c. who worked with antique Roman marble and re-arranged them in geometric patterns.
Some remarkable cosmatesque churches in Rome are: San Lorenzo Fuori Le Mura, Church of San Saba, Basilica San Paolo Fuori le Mura, Santa Maria in Aracoeli, Santa Maria in Cosmedin. Outside Rome, remarkable cosmatesque works are found at Anagni and Ferentino, as well as the Church in Civita Castellana.
The cosmatesque style spread through the rest of Europe, including at the Master Altar at the Abbey of Westminster, whose floor is in marble, cosmatesque style.
I'm uploading pics of the apostles I took but am not too sure I've got the right name on each one.
A major sight which I unfortunately didn't visit is the SANTA SCALA (Holy Stairs), on the other side of the street. The stairs were brought from Jerusalem by St-Helen, mother of Constantin. They are known to be the stairs from the Palace of Pontius Pilatus, which Christ climbed before his death.
They lead to the ancient papal chapel which holds an icon of Christ known as "achiropite" (not made by man, made by an angel.)
The pink granite OBELISK on Piazza del Laterano is the most ancient and the highest in Rome. It was erected by Tuthmosis III fifteen centuries before Christ...
in front of Amun's temple in Thebes, the Egyptian city with a Greek name. :) The obelisk was transported to Rome in 357 and placed on the spina in the middle of Circus Maximus.
That's where it was discovered in 1586! Pope Sixte V had it transferred to Piazza del Laterano. The only pic I have of it includes my tired face but it's better than nothing. This obelisk has to be seen to be believed!
The statue of Constantin himself can be seen in the portico under the main façade. It comes from the Imperial Baths at the Quirinal.
Yet another church and this one is MUST SEE! It is easy to get to, I walked from the Coliseum and saw much of value on the way, so don't hesitate and head for the Basilica San Giovanni in Laterano, you won't be disappointed.
The Basilica is in the SOUTH-EAST part of Rome, near the ruins of Anfiteatro Castrense inside the Aurelian Wall. It's the cathedral of Rome, the Pope is its bishop. The Church belongs to the Vatican and enjoys extra-territorial privileges.
This is the most ancient church of Rome - still known as omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput (the mother and head of all churches.) Founded by Constantin, who gave it ex-voto to the African Pope Miltiades. -- I have to restrain myself from giving too many details.
To this day, only St. Peter's is bigger in size. Invasions and fires destroyed the original building and the present one is XVIIth century. The interior was done on commission from Pope Innocent X by BORROMINI, who worked on "modernising" the interior, transforming it from medieval to baroque. It's certainly the most monumental church I've seen in Rome, after St.Peter's. Alessandro Galilei did the façade we see today in 1730.
PHOTO OPP: I too the photo of the façade at 12:30 p.m., too late! In the early morning, the façade and statues that decorate it are beautifully lit by the sun.
One cold Sunday morning I walked a bit at Appia Nuova when there were no people around, only a nun and a priest that were heading to the church too. I stood for a while on piazza San Giovanni in Laterano where you can see the Lateran Palace, the church and an Egyptian obelisk (31metres high) which was brought here in 357AD from the Thebes, Egypt and it’s the oldest in Rome.
Church San Giovanni in Laterano (St John Lateran) is an impressive basilica which is the cathedral of the bishop of Rome, the Pope, which means it ranks over any other church including St.Peter!
A sign at the entrance informs the visitors in 5 languages (!) that it’s prohibited to enter the Basilica in sleeve-less dresses and in short pants! I checked the statue of Constantine at the end of the portico and I walked inside.
I was surprised by the spacious interior(pic 2), the numerous statues(pic 3) and the Confession next to the High Altar(pic 4). The basilica is dedicated to John the Baptist and John the Evangelist. It was built by Constantine the Great during the 4th century so it was the first church in Rome. It was destroyed in 896 by an earthquake, reconstructed and destroyed again in 1308 by fire, rebuilt, destroyed by fire (again!) in 1360. It was reconstructed and the baroque façade was added in 18th century.
On my way out I took a picture of what left from the old Lateran Palace(pic 5). You can still see the apse of the papal dinining hall(Triclinium Leoninum) on the outside of the remains of the building that Pope Sixtus V demolished at the end of 16th century. The mosaic dates from 800 and shows Christ, the Apostles, Constantine, Pope Sylvester I, St Peter, Pope Leo III and Charlemagne (who was crowned that year in Rome)
The papal altar with baldaquin (XIVth c.) is only used by the Pope. The baldaquin contains the skulls of St.Peter and St.Paul.
The cloister is magificent (XIIIth c.) You can visit from the nave of the basilica, for a small obole (contribution.)
The baptistery is seen from the lateral façade. It's IVth c., Constantin's time. This was the only baptistery in Rome for centuries. A bit of history: The North façade (lateral) faces Piazza S. Giovanni. See the statue of Henri IV of France, who paid some of the Churches' expenses. Since then, French Heads of State have the honorific title "Honorary Canon of the Basilica."