Portico or Atrium and statue of
The nave of San Giovanni in Laterano
The Papal cathedra, which makes this basilica the cathedral of
14th century gothic baldacchino
The cloister of the monastery, with a cosmatesque decoration
Funerary relief of freedmen of the family of Gavi (first century BC)
Papal throne of Pope Nicholas IV (XII century)
The Papal Archbasilica of St. John Lateran (Italian: Arcibasilica Papale di San Giovanni in Laterano), commonly known as St. John Lateran's Archbasilica, St. John Lateran's Basilica, and just The Lateran Basilica, is the cathedral church of the Diocese of Rome and the official ecclesiastical seat of the Bishop of Rome, who is the Pope.
It is the oldest and ranks first among the four Papal Basilicas or major basilicas of Rome (having the cathedra of the Bishop of Rome). It claims the title of ecumenical mother church among Roman Catholics. The current archpriest is Agostino Vallini, Cardinal Vicar General for the Diocese of Rome. The President of the French Republic, currently François Hollande, is ex officio the "first and only honorary canon" of the basilica, a title held by the heads of the French state since King Henry IV of France.
An inscription on the façade, Christo Salvatori, indicates the church's dedication to "Christ the Saviour", for the cathedrals of all patriarchs are dedicated to Christ himself. As the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, it ranks above all other churches in the Catholic Church, including St. Peter's Basilica. For that reason, unlike all other Roman Basilicas, it holds the title of Archbasilica.
The archbasilica is located outside of the boundaries of Vatican City proper, although within the city of Rome. However it enjoys extraterritorial status as one of the properties of the Holy See. This is also the case with several other buildings, following the resolution of the Roman Question with the signing of the Lateran Treaty.
The archbasilica's name in Latin is Archibasilica Sanctissimi Salvatoris et Sanctorum Iohannes Baptista et Evangelista in Laterano, which translates in English as Archbasilica of the Most Holy Saviour and Saints John the Baptist and the Evangelist at the Lateran. In Italian, the basilica's name translates as Arcibasilica del Santissimo Salvatore e Santi Giovanni Battista ed Evangelista in Laterano.[The archbasilica stands over the remains of the Castra Nova equitum singularium, the 'new fort' of the imperial cavalry bodyguard. The fort was established by Septimius Severus in AD 193. Following the victory of Constantine I over Maxentius (for whom the Equites singulares augusti had fought) at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, the guard were abolished and the fort demolished. Substantial remains of the fort lie directly beneath the nave.
The rest of the site was occupied during the early Roman Empire by the palace of the gens Laterani. Sextius Lateranus was the first plebeian to attain the rank of consul, and the Laterani served as administrators for several emperors. One of the Laterani, Consul-designate Plautius Lateranus, became famous for being accused by Nero of conspiracy against the emperor. The accusation resulted in the confiscation and redistribution of his properties.
The Lateran Palace fell into the hands of the emperor when Constantine I married his second wife Fausta, sister of Maxentius. Known by that time as the "Domus Faustae" or "House of Fausta," the
The official dedication of the Basilica and the adjacent
Thus, the Basilica remains dedicated to the Saviour, and its titular feast is the Transfiguration. That is why sometimes the Basilica will be referred to by the full title of Archbasilica of the Most Holy Saviour and of Sts. John Baptist and John Evangelist in the Lateran. The church became the most important shrine in honor of the two saints, not often jointly venerated. In later years, a Benedictine monastery was established at the
Every pope from Miltiades occupied the
Lateran Palace until the reign of the French Pope Clement
V, who in 1309 decided to transfer the official seat of the Catholic
Church to Avignon,
a papal fief that was an enclave within France. The has also been the site of five Ecumenical councils. See Lateran
councils. Lateran Palace
During the Avignon papacy, the
and the basilica
began to decline. Two destructive fires ravaged the Lateran
and the basilica, in 1307 and Lateran Palace 1361.
In both cases, the Avignon
papacy sent money to their bishops in
to cover the costs of reconstruction and maintenance. Despite those actions the
Rome and the basilica lost their
former splendor. Lateran Palace
Avignon papacy formally ended and the Pope again resided
in Rome, the
and the basilica were deemed inadequate considering the accumulated damage. The
popes took up residency at the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere
and later at the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.
Eventually, the Palace of the Vatican was built (adjacent
to the Basilica of St. Peter, that already
existed at the Lateran Palace Vatican since
the time of ),
and the papacy moved in; the papacy remains there today. Constantine
There were several attempts at reconstruction of the basilica before Pope Sixtus V's definitive project. Sixtus hired his favorite architect Domenico Fontana to oversee much of the project. The original
was torn down and replaced with a
new building. On the square in front of the Lateran
Palace is the largest standing obelisk
in the world, known as the Lateran
Obelisk (weight estimated at 455 tons). Its manufacture was started
by Thutmose III
and it was erected by Thutmose IV before the great Karnak Lateran Palace temple of Thebes,
Intended by Constantine I to be shipped to Constantinople, the very pre-occupied Constantius II had it shipped instead to Rome, where it was re-erected in the Circus Maximus in 357. At some time it broke and was buried under the Circus. In the 16th century it was located and dug up, and Sixtus V had it re-erected on a new pedestal on August 3, 1588 on its present site.
Further renovation on the interior of the basilica ensued under the direction of Francesco Borromini, commissioned by Pope Innocent X. The twelve niches created by his architecture came to be filled by 1718 with statues of the apostles, using the most prominent Roman Rococo sculptors.
The vision of Pope Clement XII for reconstruction was an ambitious one: he launched a competition to design a new façade. More than 23 architects competed, mostly working in the current Baroque idiom. The putatively impartial jury was chaired by Sebastiano Conca, president of the Roman Academy of Saint Luke. The winner of the competition was Alessandro Galilei.The façade as it appears today was completed in 1735. Galilei's façade removed all vestiges of traditional ancient basilica architecture, and imparted a neo-classical facade.
An apse lined with mosaics and open to the air still preserves the memory of one of the most famous halls of the ancient palace, the "Triclinium" of Pope Leo III, which was the state banqueting hall. The existing structure is not ancient, but some portions of the original mosaics may have been preserved in the three-part mosaic of its niche. In the centre Christ gives their mission to the Apostles, on the left he gives the keys to St. Sylvester and the Labarum to Constantine, while on the right St. Peter gives the papal stole to Leo III and the standard to Charlemagne.
Some few remains of the original buildings may still be traced in the city walls outside the Gate of St. John, and a large wall decorated with paintings was uncovered in the 18th century within the basilica itself, behind the Lancellotti Chapel. A few traces of older buildings also came to light during the excavations made in 1880, when the work of extending the apse was in progress, but nothing was published of real value or importance.
A great many donations from the popes and other benefactors to the basilica are recorded in the Liber Pontificalis, and its splendour at an early period was such that it became known as the "Basilica Aurea", or Golden Basilica. This splendour drew upon it the attack of the Vandals, who stripped it of all its treasures. Pope Leo I restored it around 460, and it was again restored by Pope Hadrian.
In 897, it was almost totally destroyed by an earthquake—ab altari usque ad portas cecidit ("it collapsed from the altar to the doors"). The damage was so extensive that it was difficult to trace the lines of the old building, but these were in the main respected and the new building was of the same dimensions as the old. This second church lasted for four hundred years, and then burned in 1308. It was rebuilt by Pope Clement V and Pope John XXII. It was burned down once more in 1360, and was rebuilt by Pope Urban V.
Through vicissitudes the basilica retained its ancient form, being divided by rows of columns into aisles, and having in front a peristyle surrounded by colonnades with a fountain in the middle, the conventional Late Antique format that was also followed by the old St Peter's. The façade had three windows, and was embellished with a mosaic representing Christ, the Saviour of the World.
The porticoes were frescoed, probably not earlier than the 12th century, commemorating the Roman fleet under Vespasian, the taking of Jerusalem, the Baptism of the Emperor Constantine and his "Donation" of the Papal States to the Church. Inside the basilica the columns no doubt ran, as in all other basilicas of the same date, the whole length of the church from east to west.
In one of the rebuildings, probably that which was carried out by Clement V, the feature of a transverse nave was introduced, imitated no doubt from the one which had been added, long before this, at Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls. Probably at this time the church was enlarged.
Some portions of the older buildings survive. Among them the pavement of medieval Cosmatesque work, and the statues of St. Peter and Saint Paul, now in the cloisters. The graceful baldacchino over the high altar, which looks out of place in its present surroundings, dates from 1369. The stercoraria, or throne of red marble on which the popes sat, is now in the Vatican Museums. It owes its unsavoury name to the anthem sung at the papal enthronement, "De stercore erigens pauperem" ("lifting up the poor out of the dunghill", from Psalm 112).
From the 5th century, there were seven oratories surrounding the basilica. These before long were incorporated in the church. The devotion of visiting these oratories, which held its ground all through the medieval period, gave rise to the similar devotion of the seven altars, still common in many churches of
and elsewhere. Rome
Of the façade by Alessandro Galilei (1735), the cliché assessment has ever been that it is the façade of a palace, not of a church. Galilei's front, which is a screen across the older front creating a narthex or vestibule, does express the nave and double aisles of the basilica, which required a central bay wider than the rest of the sequence; Galilei provided it, without abandoning the range of identical arch-headed openings, by extending the central window by flanking columns that support the arch, in the familiar Serlian motif.
By bringing the central bay forward very slightly, and capping it with a pediment that breaks into the roof balustrade, Galilei provides an entrance doorway on a more-than-colossal scale, framed in the paired colossal Corinthian pilasters that tie together the façade in the manner introduced at Michelangelo's palace on the Campidoglio.