The Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior and Saints John the Evangelist and the Baptist at the Lateran or, better yet, Archbasilica of St. John Lateran in Rome is a IV century work of art built on the Horti Laterani, the Laterani family estate. Known as the “mother of all churches”, St. John Lateran is the oldest and highest ranking of the four major papal basilicas, for this reason it’s considered the most important basilica of the Western world; St. John Lateran is also the ecclesiastical seat of the Holy Father meaning that only the Pope, Bishop of Rome, may celebrate mass from its alter. Although geographically located outside the Vatican City walls, the basilica enjoys extraterritorial status from Italy and is de facto property of the Holy See.
Rome’s oldest public church dates back to 314, it borders the Lateran Palace. Through the centuries the cathedral was subject to sackings, earthquakes and fires. In 1377 the entire edifice, including the palace, was declared inhabitable forcing the Papacy, who had taken up residence in the Domus Faustae (as the Palace was also called), to move to Avignon in 1309.
Deterioration began and in 1646 the Archbasilica was on the verge of collapse, the decision in favor of its restoration was made and assigned to Architect Borromini by Pope Innocent X. An intense process began drastically changing the Basilica’s appearance leaving only the XV century cosmatesque floor, part of the XVI century ceiling and IV century artwork. All else turned Baroque. The massive external façade presents 15 travertine statues, mostly influential theologians, each measuring 7 meters in height; Jesus appears at the center surrounded by John the Baptist and John the Evangelist.
The sacred Pontifical Sanctuary of the Holy Stairs rises in close proximity. This Roman Catholic relic, as tradition recounts, was transferred to Rome from Jerusalem in 335 by St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine the Great. White marble steps, 28 to be exact, protected by wood to avoid deterioration, lead to the Church of St. Lawrence in Palatio ad Sancta Sanctorum (“Holy of Holies”), the first private papal chapel safeguarding some of the church’s most significant relics.
So much to see, so little time. Get a head start with our live cam of the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran in Rome now!
St. John Lateran is the backdrop to Italy’s Labor day festivities. Each year, on May 1st , a concert is held in the piazza in front of the Basilica attracting hundreds of thousands of young adults from all over Italy!
Also, did you know that the Scala Sancta was believed to be an integral part of Pontius Pilate’s Palace and for thus reason is also referred to as “Scala Pilati”? Catholic tradition narrates that on the day of his crucifixion, Jesus trod the staircase on his way to trial. Plenary indulgence is granted to devotees who honor the passion of Christ by climbing the Holy Stairs on their knees.