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Posted on 11/09/2006 9:22:53 AM PST by Salvation

Feast: November 9
From the beginning of the world altars were erected for offering sacrifices to God, and the places which were deputed for this supreme act of religion were always looked upon as sacred. Abel, Noe, Abraham, and the other patriarchs raised altars in retired and sanctified places, where they some times assembled their families or tribes to pay to God the most solemn religious worship. Abraham, to make the place more awful and retired, planted a grove round his altar at Beersabe,[1] and went thither religiously with his family to offer prayers and sacrifices. Jacob erected an altar of stone at Bethel, pouring oil upon it, called the place the house of God, and vowed to pay to him the tithes of all his possessions.[2] Christians had from the beginning chambers or oratories in private houses, set apart for their religious assemblies and sacrifices, as appears from St. Paul,[3] and from the Upper Room, in which the apostles are frequently mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles to have assembled,[4] which seems to have been in the house of John Mark.[5] In the time of St. John the Evangelist the place for the assembly of the faithful with the bishop is called the church or Ecclesia St. Clement of Rome says that God had appointed places to be appropriated to his worship. St. Ignatius often mentions one altar in every church and one bishop. Tertullian calls the place of the assembly in which the baptismal renunciations were made, the Eucharist offered, &c., Ecclesia, or the church, and the house of God. The heathen author of the dialogue called Philopatris mentions the Christians' place of religious assemblies. Lampridius, in the life of Alexander Severus, reports that that emperor adjudged to the Christians a place for their religious worship which the victuallers claimed. St. Gregory Thaumaturgus built many churches, as St. Gregory of Nyssa relates in his life. That ancient doctor, in his canonical epistle, and St. Dionysius of Alexandria, distinctly mention the church. St. Cyprian often speaks of the church, which he sometimes calls the Lord's house, or Dominicum. Eusebius says that during the peace which the church enjoyed from the persecution of Valerian to that of Diocletian, the ancient churches were not large enough to contain the faithful, "and therefore they erected from the foundation new ones more ample and spacious in every city." Origen, indeed, Minutius Felix, and Lactantius say Christians had no temples or altars; but evidently mean for idols and bloody sacrifices, like those of the heathens. Lactantius himself speaks of a Christian church in Phrygia, which the heathens burnt with the whole assembly in it. Gildas and Bede testify that the churches were demolished in Britain in the persecution of Diocletian, and rebuilt when it was over. St. Optatus says there were forty churches in Rome before the last persecution which were taken away, but restored to the Christians by Maxentius. It is a very ancient tradition at Rome that the house of the senator Pudens was converted into a church by St. Peter or, rather, that he established an oratory in that palace.

Constantine the Great, by his victory over Maxentius, gained on the 28th of October in 312, became master of Italy and Africa, and, under his protection and the favour of Licinius, who reigned in the East till the year 323, the Christians began to build everywhere sumptuous churches. That of Tyre, begun by the citizens under the direction of Paulinus, their bishop, in 313, is minutely described by Eusebius. The persecution, which Licinius renewed in 319, put a stop to such works in the East; but after his defeat, and especially after the council of Nice, Constantine built and adorned many churches at his own expense. Among these, Eusebius mentions a most magnificent one at Nicomedia, another at Antioch in the form of an octagon, which, from its rich ornaments, was called the Golden Church; others at Jerusalem and in several other parts of Palestine, and at Constantinople. The great Church of Sancta Sophia there, dedicated to Christ, the increased Wisdom, which was magnificently rebuilt by Justinian, was first founded by Constantine, and finished by Constantius, in 360. Constantine built also at Constantinople the beautiful Church of the Twelve Apostles which, as Eusebius describes it, "was vastly high; yet had all its walls covered with marble, its roof overlaid with gold, and the outside covered with gilded brass instead of tiles." Among a great number of churches which this pious emperor built, the principal is that of our Saviour, which he founded on Mount Coelio, in Rome. It stood upon the spot, and was built in part with the materials of the palace of Lateran, which gave name to that part of the hill, and which had been the house of Plautius Lateranus, a rich Roman senator, whom Nero put to death as an accomplice in Piso's conspiracy. Constantine inherited it by his wife Fausta, whence it was called Faustina, and more frequently the Constantinian Basilic. The founder built a chapel within the inclosed area of this church and dependent upon it, dedicated in honour of St. John Baptist, with a second altar dedicated in honour of St. John Evangelist. This chapel was the Baptisterion, a fine structure, and most richly ornamented. Upon the font was placed an image of St. John Baptist. We find by the ancient memorials of the church of Rome that Constantine gave to this baptisterion, or chapel, thirteen thousand nine hundred and thirty-four golden pence yearly income, in houses and lands not only in Italy, but also in Sicily, Africa, and Greece, which amounts to about ten thousand four hundred and fifty pounds; for the golden penny at that time was worth fifteen shillings of our money. But if we consider the difference of the price of things, the sum would be now of a much greater value. This chapel having always been a place of great fame and devotion, from it the whole church, though dedicated to our Saviour, has been generally called the Church of St. John Lateran. The Lateran church is styled the head, the mother, and the mistress of all churches, as an inscription on its walls imports. It would be too long to enumerate the precious relics of our divine Redeemer's passion, and of innumerable martyrs with which it is enriched. Pope Leo I established among the canons of the Lateran basilic the regular observance which St. Austin had instituted in Africa. Alexander II placed here reformed regular canons which he called from St. Frigidian's at Lucca, in 1061, and declared this church the head of that reformed congregation, which still bears the name of the regular canons of St. John of Lateran; though these canons have been removed hence to the Church of our Lady <della pace>, and secular canons with the title of prelates serve this basilic according to the constitutions of Sixtus III in 1456 and Sixtus IV in 1483.

Solomon's temple was dedicated to the divine worship by the most solemn religious rites and prayers. The Christians, who blessed their food, their houses, and whatever they used, could not fail to consecrate or bless oratories—which they deputed for divine service: though during the persecutions they celebrated the sacred mysteries in houses, prisons, private places, &c.

Hence churches have been usually consecrated by solemn rites and prayers, and it is a grievous sacrilege to profane them, or do in them anything but what has an immediate relation to the divine service: the church being the house of God. Though he be everywhere, he is said to reside particularly in heaven, because he there displays his presence by his glory and gifts. In like manner he honours the church with his special presence, being there in a particular manner ready to receive our public homages, listen to our petitions, and bestow on us his choicest graces. How wonderful were the privileges which he annexed, how magnificent the promises which he made, to the Jewish temple![6] With what religious awe did his servants honour it! how severely were they punished who sacrilegiously profaned it or its sacred vessels! There was then but one temple of the true God in the whole world; and his temple no infidel was ever suffered to enter further than the outer enclosure or court of the Gentiles. The Jews, that is, the faithful, had an inner court allotted to them, where they beheld the offering of the sacrifices and performed their devotions at a distance from the holy place, but were never permitted to go any further, nor even to enter this court, till they had been purified from all legal uncleanness by the ablutions and other rites prescribed by the law, an emblem of the interior purity of the soul. The Levites, though devoted to the divine service, were not admitted beyond the part allotted for the bloody sacrifices. None but priests could enter the sanctuary or holy place, and of these but one a week, by lot, could approach the golden altar to offer the daily sacrifice of frankincense. As for the holy of holies, or innermost sanctuary, which God sanctified by his more immediate presence, and where the ark, the tables of the law, and Aaron's rod were kept; this no one could ever enter on any account except the high priest alone, and he only once a year, on the solemn feast of expiation, carrying the blood of victims sacrificed. Neither was he to do this without having been prepared by solemn purifications and expiations; and the smoke of perfumes was to cover the ark and the propitiary or oracle called the Seat of God before the blood was offered. Yet the temple of Solomon and the holy of holies were only types of our sacred tabernacles in which is offered, not the blood of sheep and goats, but the adorable blood of the immaculate Lamb of God. "Verily, the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not."[7] When the Jewish temple was consecrated, to inspire the people with an awe for the holy house, "God filled it with a cloud; nor could the priests stand and minister, by reason of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God."[8] This miracle was repeated when holocausts were first offered in it.[9] The like wonder had often happened when Moses and Aaron entered the tabernacle. When God came to give the law, Moses himself was affrighted and trembled,[10] and the people, being terrified, stood afar off.[11] Yet all these things were but shadows to our tremendous mysteries, in which we are sprinkled with the precious blood of our Redeemer; and it is offered by our hands,[12] and we are thereby associated to the "company of many thousands of angels," &c.

A ray of the divine presence ought to pierce our souls when we approach the sanctuary, and we ought with trembling to say to ourselves, "How terrible is this placer this is no other than the house of God and the gate of heaven."[13] Do we not enter the awful gates as we should have done the miraculous cloud? Do we not seem to hear with Moses that voice from the bush, "Approach not hither: put off the shoes from thy feet, for the ground on which thou standest is holy?"[14] Do we not put away all earthly thoughts and affections? Do we not veil our faces by the awe with which we are penetrated, and the strict guard we place upon our senses when we appear before him in his holy place, before whose face the heavens and the earth withdraw themselves, and their place is not found.[15] The seraphims tremble in his presence and veil their faces with their wings.[16] Cassian mentions[17] that the Egyptian monks put off their sandals whenever they went to celebrate or receive the holy mysteries. As the Jews upon entering the temple bowed themselves toward the mercy-seat, so it seems to have been derived from them in the beginning of the church, as Mr. Mede and Mr. Gingham observe that the Greek and all the Oriental Christians took up the custom, which they still retain, of going into the middle of the church at their ingress and bowing toward the altar, repeating those words of the publican in the gospel, "God, be merciful to me a sinner" which all know who have visited any of their churches at Rome, Ancona, or in the East. The custom of sprinkling the forehead with holy water in entering the church is of primitive antiquity; and the use of holy water is recommended by tradition and miracles.[18] In taking it as an emblem of interior purity, we pray in sincere compunction and holy fear that God in his mercy sprinkle us with hyssop dipped, not in the blood of goats and calves, which could not take away sin, but in the adorable blood of Christ, which may perfectly cleanse our souls, that we may present ourselves spotless in his holy house and divine presence.


1 Gen. xxi. 33.

2 Gen. xxviii. 18, 22; xxxv. 14.

3 Cor. xi. 22.

4 Acts i. 13, &c.

5 Acts xii. 12.

6 2 Chron. or Paralip. vii. 2, 14, 15, 16.

7 Gen. xxviii. 16.

8 2 Chron. or Par. v. 14.

9 2 Chron. vii. 3.

10 Heb. xi. 21.

11 Exod. xx. 18.

12 Heb. xi. 22

13 Gen. xxviii. 17.

14 Exod. iii. 5.

15 Apoc. xx. 11.

16 Isa. vi. 2.

17 Instit. lib. i. c. 10.

18 Constit. Apost. lib. viii. c. 29; St. Epiphan. haer. 30, in vita Josephi Com. sub Constantino; St. Hieron. in vita St. Hilarion; Theodoret, Hist. Eccl. lib. v. c. 2 et 12; Beda de St. Germano Antis. Hist. lib. i. s. 17.

(Taken from Vol. III of "The Lives or the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints" by the Rev. Alban Butler.)

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TOPICS: Catholic; Evangelical Christian; Prayer; Worship
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1 posted on 11/09/2006 9:22:59 AM PST by Salvation
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Churches of Rome -- Christianity's First Cathedral

June Hager
Christendom's earliest basilica and home of the Popes for a thousand years St. John Lateran on the Caelian Hill.

St. John Lateran is Christendom's earliest basilica. Ordered by Rome's first Christian Emperor, Constantine the Great, it became the Popes' own cathedral and official residence for the first millennium of Christian history.

Today, standing before the basilica's ponderous eighteenth- century facade, assailed by ear-splitting Roman traffic snarls on every side, we can hardly imagine this as the cradle of our religious heritage.

A visitor should glance upwards. Towering against the (usually) cobalt-blue Roman sky, a 7-meter high statue of

Christ, flanked by saints and doctors of the Church, triumphantly displays the Cross of Redemption.

It was to Jesus the Savior that Constantine dedicated the original church, confirming Christ's superiority over the Capital's pagan gods and assuring the worldwide expansion of the Christian religion.



With the ascent of Constantine as Emperor of Rome (306-337), the days of bloody Christian persecutions (see Inside the Vatican, January 1996) came to an end. Placed at first on an equal footing with paganism, Christianity soon became the official religion of the Roman Empire.

Constantine was the son of Constantius I, Roman Emperor of the West (305-6), and Helena, a woman of obscure origins, whose fervent conversion to Christianity, and legendary: finding of the True Cross, won her sainthood. After defeating his rival Maxentius, son of an earlier emperor Maximian (286-305), at the Milvian Bridge in Rome. t312), Constantine established himself as the undisputed ruler of the Western Empire.

The night before this battle, Constantine's earliest biographer Eusbesius tells us, the emperor saw a cross of light in the heavens and the words In Hoc Signo Vinces ("by this sign you shall conquer"). His soldiers went into battle bearing the Christian monogram on their shields, rather than the Roman eagle, and a standard of Christ's cross carried before them. From that time, as he won battle after battle and consolidated his rule over the empire in East and West (324), the Emperor claimed to be fighting in Jesus' name, as the champion of the Christian faith.

The Edict of Milan (313) secured Christians' freedom and legal recognition. By imperial edicts, Constantine restored Christians' property and strengthened the Church hierarchy (without giving too much offense to Rome's influential pagans!). He ordered basilicas built over the cellae memoriae marking St. Peter's, St. Paul's, and other martyrs' tombs. And he donated his personal property, received in dowry from his wife, for the first papal cathedral and residence in Christian history. So begins the story of St. John Lateran.



It was to Pope Melchiade (311-314) that Constantine gave the palace on Monte Celio, formerly property of the patrician Laterani family (hence the basilica's appellation "Lateran"), which his second wife Fausta (Maxentius' sister) had brought to the marriage. Soon after, the Emperor razed the adjoining imperial horse-guards barracks (allegedly the equites singulares had supported Maxentius against Constantine) and commissioned the construction of the world's first Christian basilica on that site.

Henceforth, the Lateran palace, known as the Patriarchate, was the Pope's official residence until the fifteenth century. The basilica, consecrated in 324 by Melchiade's successor, Pope Sylvester I (314-335), was dedicated, by will of the Emperor, to Christ the Savior. In the tenth century, Pope Sergio III (904-911) added St. John the Baptist, and in the twelfth century, Pope Lucius (1144- 1145), St. John the Evangelist, to the basilica's dedication.

In the course of its history, St. John Lateran suffered just about as many disasters and revivals as the papacy it hosted. Sacked by Alaric in 408 and Genseric in 455, it was rebuilt by Pope Leo the Great (440-461), and centuries later by Pope Hadrian I (772-795). Almost entirely destroyed by an earthquake in 896, the basilica was again restored by Pope Sergius III (904-911). Later the church was heavily damaged by fires in 1308 and 1360.

When the Popes returned from their sojourn in Avignon, France (1304-1377), they found their basilica and palace in such disrepair, that they decided to transfer to the Vatican, near St. Peter's. (That basilica, also built by Constantine, had until then served primarily as a pilgrimage church.)

Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590), in one of his frenzied urban renewal projects, tore down St. John Lateran's original buildings, replacing them with late-Renaissance structures by his favorite architect Domenico Fontana. Later, Pope Innocent X (1644-1655) engaged one of the Baroque's most brilliant architects, Francesco Borromini, to transform St. John Lateran's interior in time for the Jubilee of 1650. Finally, Pope Clement XII (17301740) launched a competition for the design of a new facade, which was completed by Alessandro Galilei in 1735.

Of the original Lateran basilica and palace, only the Popes' private chapel, the Sancta Sanctorum (See Inside the Vatican, August-September 1995) remains. Sixtus V removed this magnificently-frescoed shrine to what has become a grimy traffic island. As an approach to the chapel, Sixtus moved from the Lateran Palace the Scala Santa, the stair

case which Jesus is believed to have ascended to Pontius Pilate's palace in Jerusalem, and according to tradition, was brought to Rome by St. Helena herself.

Many important historic events have taken place in St. John Lateran, including 5 Ecumenical Councils and many diocesan synods. In 1929 the Lateran Pacts, which established the territory and status of the State of Vatican City, were signed here between the Holy See and the Government of Italy.

The offices of the Cardinal Vicar of Rome now occupy the Lateran Palace. On July 27, 1992, a bomb explosion devastated the facade of the Rome Vicariate at St. John Lateran. The attack is widely assumed to have been the work of the Italian Mafia, a warning against Pope John Paul II's frequent anti-Mafia statements. Repairs were recently completed, in January 1996.

The Popes now reside at the Vatican, and since the fifteenth century, St. Peter's Basilica has hosted most important papal ceremonies. Every year, however, the Holy Thursday liturgy, when the Holy Father symbolically washes the feet of priests chosen from various parts of the world, is celebrated in St. John Lateran.



St. John Lateran retains, internally at least, its original Constantinian arrangement: a large rectangular hall with impressive nave, flanked by double

aisles and terminating in an apse. The Emperor seems to have conceived an edifice to rival the Roman basilicae, or monumental public meeting halls of the imperial city. (In fact, the basilica has provided the model for the great majority of Roman churches, from the earliest to most recent.)

Even Borromini's Baroque decor does not detract from the impression of an early Christian temple. As usual, Borromini's genius is not immediately evident. But any visitor will be rewarded by a close examination of details and architectural solutions this resourceful artist managed to execute. The massive statues of apostles which line the main nave (by followers of Gian Lorenzo Bernini), fill their marble-columned niches, fairly bursting with psychological and esthetic power. Above these powerful figures, Pamphili doves (family insigna of Innocent X) are prominently displayed in the pediments, and topped by reliefs by Alessandro Algardi of Old and New Testament scenes, and painted medallions with prophets. A gold-leaf coffered ceiling bears the coats of arms of its patron Renaissance Popes, Pius IV (1559-1565) and Pius V (1566- 1572). The Cosmatesque-style pavement in polychrome marble, restored by Pope Martin V (1417-1431) appears, somehow, much more recent.



St. John Lateran contains artistic treasures from every historic period, a tribute to the important role the basilica has played in the history of Rome and of the Roman Catholic Church.

During excavations carried out in 1934-1935 beneath the central nave, significant pagan and early Christian remains were unearthed--floor mosaics, household implements, and even stretches of paved Roman streets. In the atrium, an imposing fourth-century statue of the Emperor Constantine (From the Constantine Baths on the Quirinal) is a reminder of the basilica's origins, while the central bronze doors (second century) come from the Curia, or Senate in the Roman Forum. On the second pilaster, between the main nave and far right aisle, we find the fragment of a fresco, attributed to Giotto, of Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303) proclaiming the first Holy Year in 1300. This fresco originally decorated the papal loggia outside the Lateran Palace.

The lovely cloister dates from about 1215-1230, the work of Pietro Vasselletto and son--and is not to be missed at any cost! The jewel-like mosaics, delicate arches with paired spiral and smooth columns, and oddly "primitive" animal and floral motifs are typical of the Vasselletto duo (who executed another cloister for St. Paul's Outside the Walls, described in Inside the Vatican, January 1994).

A small museum has been arranged in the Vassalletto cloister. Among other works collected over the centuries by Popes, cardinals and private donors are fragments from the original basilica, a thirteenth-century papal throne, and precious monstrances, tapestries, chalices and vestments.

The apse mosaic, completely redone by Pope Leo XIII (1878- 1903) around 1880, using designs and fragments of the original decorations, are especially appealing. The mosaic includes, besides the bust of Christ the Savior surrounded by angels (perhaps a remnant of the fourth-century original), figures of the Virgin and saints, a magnificent jeweled cross, and pleasant scenes of animals and children frolicking in the River Jordan--as well as tiny portraits of the medieval friar mosaicists, Jacopo Torriti and Jacopo da Camerino, crouched between the apostles in the lower level.

Beneath the triumphal arch in the middle of the transept we admire the beautiful Gothic papal altar, which contains a wooden altar where the earliest Popes, from St. Peter to St. Sylvester, supposedly celebrated Mass, and silver busts with remains of the heads of St. Peter and St. Paul. The tabernacle, known to be the last Gothic work executed in Rome, was designed by Giovanni di Stefano in 1367, and surmounted by beautiful frescoes, painted by Barna da Siena in 1369. The confessional below contains the tomb of Pope Martin V (1417- 1431), who was responsible for many of the basilica's most important embellishments.

Entering the transept, we pass from the Middle Ages to the height of late sixteenth-century Mannerism. Pope Clement VIII (1592-1605) employed his favorite architect, Giacomo della Porta, and painter, Cavaliere d'Arpino (see his famous Ascension in the right transept altar) to direct the works. Top Mannerist painters of he day (Cesare Nebbia, Paris Nogari, Cristoforo Roncalli, Agostino Ciampelli, etc.) executed a series of frescoes around the entire left and right transepts, which tell the story of Constantine and St. John Lateran.

After Constanine's Dream and Victory at the Milvian Bridge, we see his Search for Pope Sylvester I, Baptism, Dedication of the Basilica, Miraculous Appearance of the Savior in the Basilica, and Presentation of Gifts. Much of this legend has been disputed by later historians (who claim Constantine thought little of Pope Sylvester, and waited until his deathbed to be baptized by the Arian Bishop Eubesius of Nicomedia).

The Baptistery, to the left of the Basilica, was originally built by Constantine, transformed into an octagonal brick building by Pope Sixtus III (432430), and substantially restored by Pope Urban VIII (1623-1644).

Modern Art in an Ancient Shrine

Tucked away to one side of the Scala Santa leading to the Sancta Sanctorum is the surprising Studio Uno, a modern art gallery run by one of Italy's most renowned abstract artists, Tito Amodei, who is also a Passionist priest. Born in 1926, in Italy's Isernia province, Tito Amodei has always followed two vocations: sculpture and the religious life. He entered the Passionist seminary at the age of 15, later studying theology, and becoming a priest in 1953. At the same time, Father Tito pursued artistic studies at Florence's Fine Arts Academy, establishing himself as a sculptor in Rome from 1966. It was in the storerooms of the Passionist Monastery, beneath the Sancta Sanctorum, that Father Tito decided to open his unusual art gallery. (The Passionists are custodians of the Scala Santa and the Sancta Sanctorum, and the Passionist rector, Father Carlo Fioravanti, is a top expert on the recently-restored chapel frescoes. See Inside the Vatican, August-September, 1995.)

Only a few steps from Constantine's basilica, we enter a different world: huge wooden structures, totem-like poles, stakes arranged in circles or as looming walls and screens- -primitive and evocative. "I work mostly in wood," Father Tito explained to Inside the Vatican, a living, breathing substance. Wood is also the material of Christ's cross, and the Crucifixion is my constant inspiration I sculpt with different tools --hatchets, pincers, hammers and nails-- entering into the spirit of the materials, and coaxing out the image, which is both spiritual and human. It is almost like working the land itself." Tito has participated in important sculpture exhibitions throughout Italy, and has won many of his country's highest awards.

This article was taken from the February 1996 issue of Inside the Vatican.

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2 posted on 11/09/2006 9:24:59 AM PST by Salvation (With God all things are possible.;)
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Basilica of St. John Lateran

Basilica of St. John Lateran
The late Baroque façade of the Basilica of St. John Lateran was completed by Alessandro Galilei in 1735 after winning a competition for the design.
The late Baroque façade of the Basilica of St. John Lateran was completed by Alessandro Galilei in 1735 after winning a competition for the design.

The Basilica of St. John Lateran — in Italian, the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano — is the cathedral church of Rome and the official ecclesiastical seat of the Pope. Officially named Archibasilica Sanctissimi Salvatoris (Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior), it is the oldest and ranks first (being the only cathedral in Rome) among the four major basilicas of Rome, and holds the title of ecumenical mother church (mother church of the whole inhabited world) among Roman Catholics. The current archpriest of St. John Lateran is Camillo Cardinal Ruini, Papal Vicar General for the Diocese of Rome.

An inscription on the façade, Christo Salvatore, dedicates the Lateran as Archbasilica of the Most Holy Saviour, for all patriarchal basilicas are dedicated to Christ himself. As the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, containing the papal throne (Cathedra Romana), it ranks above all other churches in the Roman Catholic Church, even above St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.

The square in front of the Lateran Palace has an obelisk built by Pharaoh Tuthmosis III in Karnak, and placed in the Circus Maximus before being re-erected in its current place.
The square in front of the Lateran Palace has an obelisk built by Pharaoh Tuthmosis III in Karnak, and placed in the Circus Maximus before being re-erected in its current place.

Lateran Palace

Main article: Lateran Palace

The site on which the Basilica sits was occupied during the early Roman Empire by the palace of the gens Laterani. The Laterani served as administrators for several emperors; Sextius Lateranus was the first plebeian to attain the rank of consul. 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 Lateran Palace 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, in time to host a synod of bishops in 313 that was convened to challenge the Donatist schism, declaring Donatism as heresy. 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, declaring both to be Domus Dei or "House of God." In its interior, the Papal Throne was placed, making it the Cathedral of the Bishop of Rome. 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 nave of San Giovanni in Laterano.
The nave of San Giovanni in Laterano.

The Lateran Palace and basilica have been rededicated twice. Pope Sergius III dedicated them to Saint John the Baptist in the 10th century in honor of the newly consecrated baptistry of the Basilica. Pope Lucius II dedicated the Lateran Palace and basilica to Saint John the Evangelist in the 12th century. However, St. John Baptist and St. John the Evangelist are regarded as co-patrons of the Cathedral, the chief patron being Christ the Saviour himself, as the inscription in the entrance of the Basilica indicates, and as is tradition in the Patriachal Cathedrals. Thus, the Basilica remains dedicated to the Saviour. That is why sometimes the Basilica will be reffered to by the full title of Archabsilica of the Most Holy Saviour and of Sts. John Baptist and John Evangelist in the Lateran.[1] The church became the most important shrine in honor of the two saints, not often jointly venerated (but see Peruzzi Chapel, Santa Croce, Florence). In later years, a Benedictine monastery was established at the Lateran Palace, devoted to serving the basilica as a devotional to the two saints.

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 Roman Catholic Church to Avignon, a papal fief that was an enclave within France. During the Avignon papacy, the Lateran Palace and the basilica began to decline. Two destructive fires rampaged through the Lateran Palace and the basilica, in 1307 and again in 1361. In both cases, the Avignon papacy sent money to their bishops in Rome to cover the costs of reconstruction and maintenance. Despite the action, the Lateran Palace and the basilica lost their former splendor.

When the Avignon papacy formally ended and the Bishop of Rome again resided in Rome, the Lateran Palace 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 constructed, and the papacy moved in; the papacy remains there today.

The Holy Door.
The Holy Door.

Pope Sixtus V tore down the original Lateran Palace and basilica and commissioned replacements. The rebuilt Lateran Palace and the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano became separate entities. Today the Lateran Palace is home to the Pontifical Museum of Christian Antiquities.

The square in front of the Lateran Palace has a red granite obelisk, the largest in the world, erected by Tuthmosis III in Karnak. It was removed to Rome by Constantius II in 357 and re-erected in the Circus Maximus. Sixtus V had it re-erected in 1587 on its present site.

The Lateran Palace has also been the site of five Ecumenical councils. See Lateran councils.


The Loggia delle Benedizioni, on the back left side. Annexed, on the left, is the Lateran Palace.
The Loggia delle Benedizioni, on the back left side. Annexed, on the left, is the Lateran Palace.

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. Further renovation of the interior ensued under the direction of Francesco Borromini, commissioned by Pope Innocent X. The vision of Pope Clement XII for reconstruction was an ambitious one: he launched a competition to design a new façade. Over 23 architects, mostly working in the current Baroque idiom competed. The putatively impartial jury was chaired by Sebastiano Conca, president of the Roman Academy of Art. The winner of the competition was Alessandro Galilei. The façade as it appears today was completed in 1735. Galilei's façade however removed all vestiges of traditional ancient basilica architecture, and imparted a neo-classical facade.

The Papal cathedra, which makes this basilica the cathedral of Rome, is located in the apse. The decorations are in cosmatesque style.
The Papal cathedra, which makes this basilica the cathedral of Rome, is located in the apse. The decorations are in cosmatesque style.

Architectural history

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 it is possible that some portions of the original mosaics have been preserved in a three-part mosaic: 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 then discovered of real value or importance.

Triclinium of Pope Leo III in the Lateran Basilica.
Triclinium of Pope Leo III in the Lateran Basilica.

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. St. Leo the Great restored it about 460, and it was again restored by Pope Hadrian, but in 896 it was almost totally destroyed by an earthquake— ab altari usque ad portas cecidit "it collapsed from the altar to the doors"— damage 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 burnt in 1308. It was rebuilt by Pope Clement V and Pope John XXII, only to be burnt down once more in 1360, but again rebuilt by Pope Urban V.

Through these various 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 dating further back than the twelfth 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, but at 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, long before this, added at Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls. It was probably at this time also that the church was enlarged.

Some portions of the older buildings still 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 so utterly 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 fifth 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 Rome and elsewhere.

Alessandro Galilei's façade.
Alessandro Galilei's façade.

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.

Holy Steps

The cloister of the monastry, with a cosmatesque decoration.
The cloister of the monastry, with a cosmatesque decoration.

A famous papal sanctuary located adjacent to the Basilica, the Holy Staircase is believed to be the actual steps that Jesus climbed the day He was sentenced to death. Tradition holds that the stairs were ordered sent from Jerusalem to Rome by Saint Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine I in 334. Though not completely documented, this has been believed for over 1,200 years, since it was first mentioned in papal documents in 844. The stairs are known as the Scala Pilati (Pilate's stairway) or the Scala Sancta (holy stairway).

It has been proven that the staircase was first located in the Patriarchum, the complex of palaces that was the ancient seat of popes. In 1589, Pope Sixtus V had it located to its present location in front of the ancient palatine chapel (the Sancta Sactorum). Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) restored the staircase, and promoted its veneration as one of Christianity's great relics. The pope climbed the 28 steps on his knees many times, an act of veneration done that was done traditionally then, and continues to this day. A prayer related to the passion of Jesus Christ is recited upon each of the 28 steps. [2]

Detail of the tomb of Riccardo degli Annibaldi, by Arnolfo di Cambio.
Detail of the tomb of Riccardo degli Annibaldi, by Arnolfo di Cambio.

Lateran cloister

Between the basilica and the city wall there was in former times the great monastery, in which dwelt the community of monks whose duty it was to provide the services in the basilica. The only part of it which still survives is the cloister, surrounded by graceful columns of inlaid marble. They are of a style intermediate between the Romanesque proper and the Gothic, and are the work of Vassellectus and the Cosmati. This beautiful cloister dates to the early 13th century.

View of the Lateran Baptistery.
View of the Lateran Baptistery.

Lateran baptistry

Main article: Lateran Baptistery.

The octagonal Lateran Baptistry stands somewhat apart from the basilica. It was founded by Pope Sixtus III, perhaps on an earlier structure, for a legend grew up that Constantine the Great had been baptized there and enriched the structure. (He was actually baptised in the East, by an Arian bishop.) This baptistry was for many generations the only baptistery in Rome, and its octagonal structure, centered upon the large basin for full immersions provided a model for others throughout Italy, and even an iconic motif of illuminated manuscripts, "The fountain of Life".

3 posted on 11/09/2006 9:27:05 AM PST by Salvation (With God all things are possible.;)
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To: All
American Catholic’s Saint of the Day

God calls each one of us to be a saint.
November 9, 2006
Dedication of St. John Lateran

Most Catholics think of St. Peter’s as the pope’s main church, but they are wrong. St. John Lateran is the pope’s church, the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome where the Bishop of Rome presides.

The first basilica on the site was built in the fourth century when Constantine donated land he had received from the wealthy Lateran family. That structure and its successors suffered fire, earthquake and the ravages of war, but the Lateran remained the church where popes were consecrated until the popes returned from Avignon in the 14th century to find the church and the adjoining palace in ruins.

Pope Innocent X commissioned the present structure in 1646. One of Rome’s most imposing churches, the Lateran’s towering facade is crowned with 15 colossal statues of Christ, John the Baptist, John the Evangelist and 12 doctors of the Church. Beneath its high altar rest the remains of the small wooden table on which tradition holds St. Peter himself celebrated Mass.


Unlike the commemorations of other Roman churches (St. Mary Major, Sts. Peter and Paul), this anniversary is a feast. The dedication of a church is a feast for all its parishioners. St. John Lateran is, in a sense, the parish church of all Catholics, for it is the pope's parish, the cathedral church of the Bishop of Rome. This church is the spiritual home of the people who are the Church.


"What was done here, as these walls were rising, is reproduced when we bring together those who believe in Christ. For, by believing they are hewn out, as it were, from mountains and forests, like stones and timber; but by catechizing, baptism and instruction they are, as it were, shaped, squared and planed by the hands of the workers and artisans. Nevertheless, they do not make a house for the Lord until they are fitted together through love" (St. Augustine, Sermon 36>).

4 posted on 11/09/2006 9:41:29 AM PST by Salvation (With God all things are possible.;)
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To: All
Dedication of Saint John Lateran Basilica in Rome

Dedication of Saint John Lateran
Basilica in Rome
Feast Day

November 9th

The Basilica of Saint John Lateran is the cathedral of Rome. It was built during Constantine's reign and was consecrated by Pope Saint Sylvester I in 324. This feast was later made a universal celebration in honor of the basilica called "the mother and mistress of all churches of Rome and the world" (omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput) as a sign of love for and union with the See of Saint Peter.

Source: Daily Roman Missal, Edited by Rev. James Socías, Midwest Theological Forum, Chicago, Illinois ©2003


each year we recall the dedication of this Church
to your service.
Let our worship always be sincere
and help us to find your saving love in this Church.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

First Reading: Ezekiel 47:1-2,8-9, 12
Then he brought me back to the door of the temple; and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east; and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me round on the outside to the outer gate, that faces toward the east; and the water was coming out on the south side. And he said to me, "This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the stagnant waters of the sea, the water will become fresh. And wherever the river goes every living creature which swarms will live, and there will be very many fish; for this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing".

Second Reading: I Co 3:9-11,16-17
For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it. For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If any one destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and that temple you are.

Gospel Reading: John 2:13-22
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple He found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. And making a whip of cords, He drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and He poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And He told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; you shall not make My Father's house a house of trade". His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for thy house will consume Me". The Jews then said to Him, "What sign have You to show us for doing this?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up". The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?" But he spoke of the temple of His body. When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.

5 posted on 11/09/2009 7:47:33 AM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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