Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran


The Cathedral of the Most Holy Savior and of Saints John the Baptist and the Evangelist in the Lateran ( it, Santissimo Salvatore e Santi Giovanni Battista ed Evangelista in Laterano), also known as the Papal Archbasilica of Saint John
Lateran, Saint John Lateran, or the Lateran Basilica, is the of the in the city of , and serves as the of the bishop of Rome, the . It is the oldest and highest ranking of the four , holding the unique title of "archbasilica". It is the oldest public church in the city of Rome, and the oldest basilica of the Western world. It houses the ' of the Roman bishop, and has the title of ecumenical of the faithful. The current rector is , . The , currently , is ' the "First and Only Honorary " of the archbasilica, a title that the heads of state of France have possessed since . The large Latin inscription on the reads: ''Clemens XII Pont Max Anno V Christo Salvatori In Hon SS Ioan Bapt et Evang''. This abbreviated inscription translates as: ", in the fifth year f his Pontificate, dedicated this buildingto Christ the Savior, in honor of Saints John the Baptist and ohnthe Evangelist". The inscription indicates, with its full title (see below), that the archbasilica was originally dedicated to Christ the Savior and, centuries later, co-dedicated to and . As the Cathedral of the Pope as Bishop of Rome, it ranks superior to all other churches of the , including . The archbasilica is sited in the . It is outside , which is approximately to its northwest, although the archbasilica and its adjoining edifices have from as one of the , pursuant to the of 1929.


The archbasilica's Latin name is ', which in English is the Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior and Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist at the Lateran, and in Italian '.

Lateran Palace

The archbasilica stands over the remains of the ', the "New Fort of the Roman imperial cavalry bodyguards". The fort was established by in AD 193. Following the victory of over (for whom the ''Equites singulares augusti'', the emperor's mounted bodyguards had fought) at the , the guard was abolished and the fort demolished. Substantial remains of the fort lie directly beneath the . The remainder of the site was occupied during the early by the of the ' Laterani. was the first to attain the rank of , and the Laterani served as for several emperors. One of the Laterani, Consul-designate Plautius Lateranus, became famous for being accused by of conspiracy against the Emperor. The accusation resulted in the confiscation and redistribution of his properties. The fell into the hands of the Emperor when married his second wife , sister of . 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 I. The actual date of the donation is unknown, but scholars speculate that it was during the pontificate of , in time to host a of s in 313 that was convened to challenge the Donatist , declaring to be . The palace was converted and extended, becoming the residence of , eventually becoming the Cathedral of Rome, the seat of the Popes as the Bishops of Rome.

Early Church

presided over the official dedication of the archbasilica and the adjacent Lateran Palace in 324, changing the name from "Domus Fausta" to "Domus Dei" ("House of God") with a dedication to Christ the Savior ("Christo Salvatori"). When a ''cathedra'' became a symbol of episcopal authority, the papal ''cathedra'' was placed in its interior, rendering it the cathedral of the Pope as Bishop of Rome. When sent the to England under , some original churches in Canterbury took the Roman plan as a model, dedicating a church both to Christ as well as one to Saint Paul, outside the walls of the city. The church name "Christ Church", so common for churches around the world today in Anglophone Anglican contexts, originally came from this Roman church, central to pre-medieval Christian identity.

The Middle Ages

On the archbasilica's front wall between the main portals is a plaque inscribed with the words ''"SACROS LATERAN ECCLES OMNIUM VRBIS ET ORBIS ECCLESIARVM MATER ET CAPUT"'' ("Most Holy Lateran Church, mother and head of all the churches in the city and the world"); a visible indication of the declaration that the basilica is the "mother church" of all the world. In the twelfth century the canons of the Lateran claimed that the high altar housed the Ark of the Covenant and several holy objects from Jerusalem. The basilica was thus presented as the Temple of the New Covenan

The archbasilica and Lateran Palace were re-dedicated twice. dedicated them to in the 10th century in honor of the newly consecrated of the archbasilica. dedicated them to in the 12th century. Thus, Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist became co-patrons of the archbasilica, while the primary Patron is still Christ the Savior, as the inscription in the entrance indicates and as is traditional for patriarchal cathedrals. Consequently, the archbasilica remains dedicated to the Savior, and its titular feast is the . The archbasilica became the most important shrine of the two Saint Johns, albeit infrequently jointly venerated. In later years, a was established in the Lateran Palace, and was devoted to serving the archbasilica and the two saints. Every pope, beginning with , occupied the Lateran Palace until the reign of the French , who in 1309 transferred the seat of the Papacy to , a Papal fiefdom that was an enclave in . The Lateran Palace has also been the site of five s (see ).

Lateran fires

During the time the , the Lateran Palace and the archbasilica deteriorated. Two fires ravaged them in 1307 and 1361. After both fires the pope sent money from Avignon to pay for their reconstruction and maintenance. Nonetheless, the archbasilica and Lateran Palace lost their former splendor. When the papacy returned from Avignon and the pope again resided in Rome, the archbasilica and the Lateran Palace were deemed inadequate considering their accumulated damage. The popes resided at the and later at the . Eventually, the was built adjacent to the , which existed since the time of Emperor , and the popes began to reside there. It has remained the official residence of the pope (though Pope Francis unofficially resides elsewhere in the Vatican City).


There were several attempts at reconstruction of the archbasilica before a definitive program of . Sixtus V hired his favorite architect, , to supervise much of the project. The original Lateran Palace was demolished and replaced with a new edifice. On the square in front of the is and the largest standing in the world, known as the . It weighs an estimated 455 tons. It was commissioned by the Egyptian and erected by before the great temple of . Intended by to be shipped to , the very preoccupied had it shipped instead to Rome, where it was erected in the in AD 357. At some time it broke and was buried under the Circus. In the 16th century it was discovered and excavated, and Sixtus V had it re-erected on a new pedestal on 3 August 1588 at its present site. Further renovation of the interior of the archbasilica, ensued under the direction of , commissioned by . The twelve niches created by his architectural scheme were eventually filled in 1718 with statues of the , sculpted by the most prominent Roman sculptors. The vision of for reconstruction was an ambitious one in which he launched a competition to design a new façade. More than 23 architects competed, mostly working in the then-current idiom. The putatively impartial jury was chaired by , president of the Roman . The winner of the competition was . The façade as it appears today was completed in 1735. It reads in Latin: ''Clemens XII Pont Max Anno V Christo Salvatori In Hon SS Ioan Bapt et Evang''; this highly abbreviated inscription is expanded thus: ''Clemens XII, PontMax Anno V, edicavit hoc aedificiumChristo Salvatori, in hon[sanctorum] Ioan[is] Bapt[tistae] et Evang[elistae]''. This translates as ", Pontifex Maximus, in the fifth year of his reign, dedicated this building to Christ the Savior, in honor of Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist". Galilei's façade removed all vestiges of traditional, ancient, basilical architecture and imparted a neo-classical facade. File:Rom, San Giovanni in Laterano, Innenansicht.jpg, File:Rom, Basilika San Giovanni in Laterano, Decke der Basilika 2.jpg, Ceiling File:Obelisk-Lateran.jpg, The in its third location, in front of the . File:San Giovanni in Laterano - Seitenansicht.jpg, The ''Loggia delle Benedizioni'', on the rear left side. Annexed, on the left, is the Lateran Palace.

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 "" of , 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 tripartite mosaic of its niche. In the center Christ gives to the their mission; on the left He gives the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven to and the to ; and on the right gives the Papal to and the standard to . Some few remains of the original buildings may still be traced in the outside the , and a large wall decorated with paintings was uncovered in the 18th century within the archbasilica behind the Lancellotti Chapel. A few traces of older buildings were also revealed during the excavations of 1880, when the work of extending the apse was in progress, but nothing of importance was published. A great many donations from the Popes and other benefactors to the archbasilica are recorded in the , and its splendor at an early period was such that it became known as the "Basilica Aurea", or "Golden Basilica". This splendor drew upon it the attack of the s, who stripped it of all its treasures. restored it around AD 460, and it was again restored by . 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 mostly respected and the new building was of the same dimensions as the old. This second basilica stood for 400 years before it burned in 1308. It was rebuilt by and . It burned once more in 1360, and was rebuilt by . Through vicissitudes the archbasilica retained its ancient form, being divided by rows of columns into aisles, and having in front a surrounded by colonnades with a fountain in the middle, the conventional Late Antique format that was also followed by the old . The façade had three windows and was embellished with a mosaic representing Christ as the Savior of the world. The porticoes were frescoed, probably not earlier than the 12th century, commemorating the under , the taking of , the Baptism of and his to the . Inside the archbasilica 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 , a transverse nave was introduced, imitated no doubt from the one which had been added, long before this, to the . Probably at this time the archbasilica was enlarged. Some portions of the older buildings survive. Among them the pavement of medieval work, and the statues of and , now in the . The graceful 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 . It owes its unsavory name to the anthem sung at previous Papal coronations, "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 archbasilica. These before long were incorporated into the church. The devotion of visiting these oratories, which was maintained through the Mediaeval Ages, gave rise to the similar devotion of the seven altars, still common in many churches of Rome and elsewhere. Of the façade by (1735), the cliché assessment has ever been that it is the façade of a , not of a church. Galilei's front, which is a screen across the older front creating a or vestibule, does express the nave and double aisles of the archbasilica, 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 . By bringing the central bay forward very slightly, and capping it with a pediment that breaks into the roof balustrade, Galilei provided an entrance doorway on a more than colossal scale, framed in the paired colossal that tie together the façade in the manner introduced at 's .

Statues of the Apostles

The twelve niches created in 's architecture were left vacant for decades. When in 1702 and , archpriests of the archbasilica, announced their grand scheme for twelve larger-than-life sculptures of the (replacing Judas Iscariot with Saint Paul) to fill the niches, the commission was opened to all the premier sculptors of late Rome. Each statue was to be sponsored by an illustrious prince with the Pope himself sponsoring that of and Cardinal Pamphili that of . Most of the sculptors were given a sketch drawn by Pope Clement's favorite painter, , to which they were to adhere, but with the notable exception being , who successfully refused to sculpt to Maratta's design and consequently was not given a sketch. The sculptors and their sculptures follow and are dated according to Conforti (the dates reflect archival findings but models for most must have existed before): * **' (1704–1708) **' (1704–1711) *Francesco Moratti **' (1704–1709) * **' (1704–1709) * **' (1705–1711) * **' (1705–1711) **' (c. 1705–1712) * **' (1705–1711) * **' (1705–1709) **' (1705–1711) **' (1711–1715) **' (1715–1718) South wall File:Simone a San Giovanni in Laterano.jpeg , ''Saint Simon''
by Moratti File:Bartholomaeus San Giovanni in Laterano 2006-09-07.jpg , ''Saint Bartholomew''
by Le Gros File:Jacobus Minor San Giovanni in Laterano 2006-09-07.jpg , ''Saint James the Lesser''
by de' Rossi File:Johannes San Giovanni in Laterano 2006-09-07.jpg , ''Saint John''
by Rusconi File:Andreas San Giovanni in Laterano 2006-09-07.jpg , ''Saint Andrew''
by Rusconi File:Petrus San Giovanni in Laterano 2006-09-07.jpg , ''Saint Peter''
by Monnot
North wall File:Paulus San Giovanni in Laterano 2006-09-07.jpg , ''Saint Paul''
by Monnot File:Jacobus Major San Giovanni in Laterano 2006-09-07.jpg , ''Saint James the Greater''
by Rusconi File:Thomas San Giovanni in Laterano 2006-09-07 n2.jpg , ''Saint Thomas''
by Le Gros File:Philippus San Giovanni in Laterano 2006-09-07.jpg , ''Saint Philip''
by Mazzuoli File:Matthaeus San Giovanni in Laterano 2006-09-07.jpg , ''Saint Matthew''
by Rusconi File:Thaddeus San Giovanni in Laterano 2006-09-07.jpg , ''Saint Jude Thaddeaus''
by Ottoni

Papal tombs

There are six extant papal tombs inside the archbasilica: (right aisles), (right aisles), Corsini (left aisle), (in front of the confessio); (right transept); and (left transept), by G. Tadolini (1907). The last of these, Pope Leo XIII, was the last pope not to be entombed in . Twelve additional papal tombs were constructed in the archbasilica starting in the 10th century, but were destroyed during the two fires that ravaged it in 1308 and 1361. The remains of these charred tombs were gathered and reburied in a . The popes whose tombs were destroyed are: (914–928), (946–955), (955–964), (1099–1118), (1119–1124), (1124–1130), (1143–1144), (1144–1145), (1153–1154), (1187–1191), (1191–1198), and (1276). Popes who reigned during this period, whose tombs are unknown, and who may have been buried in the archbasilica include (1003), (1003–1009), and (1061–1073). was the first pope buried within the walls of Rome, and was granted a prominent burial due to rumors that he was murdered by during a historical period known as the '. Cardinals and Carlo Colonna are also buried in the archbasilica.

Lateran baptistery

The octagonal Lateran baptistery stands somewhat apart from the archbasilica. It was founded by , perhaps on an earlier structure, for a legend arose that was baptized there and enriched the edifice. The baptistery 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 s known as "the ".

Lateran cloister

Between the archbasilica and the city wall there was in former times a great monastery, in which dwelt the community of monks whose duty it was to provide the services in the archbasilica. The only part of it which still survives is the 13th century , surrounded by graceful, twisted s of inlaid . They are of a style intermediate between the proper and the , and are the work of and the .

Holy Stairs

The ''Scala Sancta'', or Holy Stairs, are white marble steps encased in wooden ones. They form the staircase which once led to the praetorium of in and which, therefore, were sanctified by the footsteps of during His . The marble stairs are visible through openings in the wooden risers. Their translation from Jerusalem to the Lateran Palace in the 4th century is credited to , the mother of the then-Emperor . In 1589, relocated the steps to their present location in front of the ancient palatine chapel named the . completed some of the frescoes on the walls.

Feast of the Dedication of the Archbasilica

The anniversary of the dedication of this church has been observed as a feast in Roman Catholicism only since the 12th century, a time of increasing centralization of papal authority in the history of the Church. In the of the , 9 November is the of the Dedication of the (Arch)Basilica of the Lateran (''Dedicatio Basilicae Lateranensis''), and is referred to in older texts as the "Dedication of the Basilica of the Most Holy Savior". In view of its role as the mother church of the world, this liturgical day is ranked worldwide as a feast.

World War II

During the Second World War, the Lateran and its related buildings were used under Pope as a safe haven from the Nazis and Italian Fascists for numbers of Jews and other refugees. Among those who found shelter there were , , and others. The and the sixty orphan refugees they cared for were ordered to leave their convent on the Via Carlo Emanuele. The , who staffed the kitchen at the at the Lateran offered a wing of their convent. The grounds also housed Italian soldiers. and , vice-rector of the seminary, were recognized by for their efforts to assist Jews."Fagiolo", The Righteous Among the Nations, Yad Vashem


instituted the office of Archpriest of the Archbasilica circa 1299. List of Archpriests of the Archbasilica: * (c.1299–1302) * (1302) * (1302–1305) * (1306–1326) * (1326–1342) * (1342–1348) * (1348–1370) * (1371–1388) * (1388?–1389) *Francesco Carbone (1389–1405) * (1405–1412) * (1412–1417) * (1418–1422) * (1422–1428) * (1428–1434) * (1434–1437) * (1437–1444) * (1444–1447) * (1447–1458) * (1458–1463) * (1463–1477) * (1477–1503) * (1503–1538) * (1508–1534) * (1534–1553) * (1553–1565) * (1565–1588) * (1588–1608) * (1608–1620) * (1620–1627) * (1627–1629) * (1629–1666) * (1666–1693) * (1693–1698) * (1699–1730) * (1730–1740) * (1740–1770) * (1771–1780) * (1781–1799) * (1800–1801) * (1801–1811) * (1830–1844) * (28 April 1844 – 10 April 1863) * (1863–1867) * (1867–1876) * (24 December 1876 – 1885) * (1885–1896) * (16 December 1896 – 8 January 1910) * (10 January 1910 – 22 March 1913) * (7 April 1913 – 10 October 1914) * (28 October 1914 – 5 May 1931) * (26 May 1931 – 13 January 1951) * (27 October 1954 – 30 August 1970) * (7 November 1970 – 27 August 1972) * (26 March 1973 – 17 January 1991) * (1 July 1991 – 27 June 2008) * (27 June 2008 – 26 May 2017) * (26 May 2017 – )


File:Rome, Italy, Sunlight and basilica of St. John Lateran.jpg, Sunlight over the top. File:Sgio1.JPG, completed the late Baroque façade of the archbasilica in 1735 after winning a competition for the design. File:St John Lateran claim as head church in the world.jpg, Next to the main entrance is the inscription of the archbasilica's declaration to being the of the world. File:Rom, Basilika San Giovanni in Laterano, Hl. Johannes der Täufer 2.jpg, Statue of . File:St John Lateran ceiling.jpg, The decorated ceiling. File:Triclinium of Leo III.jpg, depicting s from the of in the ancient Lateran Palace. File:Latran intérieur.jpg, The cloister of the attached monastery, with a decoration. File:Rom, Lateran, Kreuzgang des Klosters.JPG, The cloister of the attached monastery. File:Notre Dame de Czestochowa.jpg, depicted in the archbasilica. File:Papal Archbasilica of St. John In Lateran Inside Photo.jpg, Interior picture of the Apse in the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran containing the Papal/Pontifical seat.

See also

* * *, a school named after the archbasilica





* * * * * *

External links

from the Vatican.
Satellite Photo of Saint John Lateran

*High-resolution 360° Panoramas and Images o
Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran , Art AtlasInteractive Nolli Map Website
{{DEFAULTSORT:Saint John Lateran Major basilicas, St John Lateran