San Giovanni in Laterano: mother of all the churches in the world

The Basilica di San Pietro surely is the heart of the Christian religion, but "mater et caput" of all the churches in Rome and all over the world is the church of San Giovanni in Laterano. This church, originally called Arcibasilica Papale, entitled to the Holy Saviour, Giovanni Battista and Giovanni l'Evangelista, is the most ancient of the entire West and it is considered the mother of all the churches: the building rises on the Celio hill and is destination of pilgrims from all over the world.

The origin of the church
The history of the church is very ancient and it started in the IV century, in a place called "horti laterani", in Rome, that is the lands of the Laterani's family, then confiscated in 65, according to the Annals by Tacit, by Nerone.
The lands passed to the empire. Settimio Severo, made building a barracks to host "equites singulares", the chosen knights, in 201: we have to remember that during the diggings made in the area, the remains of the ancient constructions by Settimio Severo have been found. It was thanks to the following donation of the lands by the emperor to Tito Sestio Laterano, born in the luxurious dwelling, lately called "Domus Faustae", because Costantino I il Grande married Fausta there.
Costantino himself is the most important figure for the birth of the church: the tradition says he donated the lands to Pope Milziade, to thank God for the victory of the battle of Milvio bridge against Massenzio, in 312. It is said Costantino dreamed a cross on which there was awriting saying: "in hoc signo vinces".
The legend comes from the "Legenda Aurea"of the Dominican friar Jacopo da Varagine, and it tells about Costantino, affected by leprosy, dreaming Peter and Paul - he really didn't know - inviting him to meet Silvestro the hermit to obtain the healing. He subsequently recovered and made a law to convert Rome to Christianity.

The print of Borromini
In 324 - according other hypothesis in 318 -, Pope Silvestro consecrated San Giovanni in Laterano church, initially dedicating it only to the Saviour. In the IX and XII century, it was dedicated to Giovanni Battista and Giovanni l'Evangelista, too.
Along its history, it has been focus of numerous incursions by Vandals and Visigoths, and affected by fires and earthquakes.
Anyway, there are lots of works of art, and restorations, revealing the current splendour: Pope Bonifacio VIII, during the Jubilee of 1300, made decorating the lodge of the blessings, by Giotto and Cimabue, even if today there is nothing anymore.
But the gold century for the basilica was the '600. Borromini left the strongest sign on the church: the great pillars alternated to arches are his great work and between each arch pillar there are green marble tabernacles, enclosing the statues of the Apostles, about the Old and New Testament and ovals frescoes representing prophets. The fun fact about the pillars is the acoustics: if you whisper against the colonnade, the person staying on the other side will hear you.

Works of art in the church
Over the triumph arch you can see the papal altar, decorated by Barna da Siena's works. The extraordinary element is overhanging the very rich Gothic canopy, behind whose grate the most precious remains of Peter and Paul are stored in silver urns.
On the opposite side, enjoying the wonderful Cosmati's pavement and the golden ceiling by Ligorio, you will see the doors of Corsini chapel: inside of it, there is Clemente XII's funeral monument, made by Alessandro Galilei.
You will get astonished by the policrom mosaic over the apse, representing the saints and Christ the Saviour surrounded from the angels, on a golden background.

The facade
The architect Galilei realized the 1700 monumental facade: in the central part you can see a lodge from the XVIII century, where the Pope used to benedict the people on the Holy Thursday. You will be astonished by the colossal statues of the saints and Christ the Redeemer, 7 meters tall.
As the Basilica di San Pietro, with the same structure, the church of San Giovanni in Laterano has a holy door usually opened only during the Jubilee: it is situated on the right, and on the other side there is the statue of Costantino from the imperial baths. In the middle, you will see instead the great bronze door from the ancient roman curia, in the Fori Imperiali, moved there on demand of Pope Alessandro VII.

The Chiostro Lateranense
The octagonal baptistry where Costantino was christened and the biggest cloister in Rome, realized in the first half of the '200 by Vassalletto, complete the basilica: it is an elegant work, greatest example of the Cosmati's architecture. Everything is situated around the "Pozzo della Samaritana" from the IX century, you can reach by lanes decorated by lions and sphinxes. All around it, there is a colonnade, made of small coloumns of the XIII century, differently decorated.
Funeral monuments and Paleochristian and Roman remains enrich the cloister, but the most interesting things are the copy of the papal bubble of Gregorio XI and the Cosmati's fragments of the altar of the Maddalena, once situated in the church of San Giovanni in Laterano.

The Holy Stairs
The monumental Laterano complex is made of the red granite obelisk from the Tempio di Ammone, the Palace in Laterano dwelling of the Popes for more than 1000 years and the Sanctuary of the Holy Stairs.
There you will find yourselves in front of the prethorium of Jerusalem, moved by Costantino's mother from Gerusalemme, and walked by Christ, to reach Ponzio Pilato: the tradition tells the Christian people have to go up the 28 steps on the knees, in order to remember the passion of Christ.
On the top, there is one of the holiest places in the world: the "Sancta Sanctorium" where precious remains are stored.

Do you want to stay in Rome?

For this location we recommend Hotel Ariston, the ideal starting point to discover Rome!

06/02/2018
Basilica San PietroSan Giovanni in LateranoCappella Corsinisanctuary of the holy ladderChiostro Lateranense

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