The Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano is the Cathedral of Rome, and the mother church of all the Catholic churches in the entire world. The basilica is located on the Caelian Hill, in the homonymous square.
The church is the highest ranking of the four papal major basilicas, receiving the unique title of archbasilica. Its official name is Papal Archbasilica Cathedral of the Most Holy Savior and of Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist in the Lateran (Arcibasilica Papale del Santissimo Salvatore e dei Santi Giovanni Battista ed Evangelista in Laterano).
The Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano was built in the 4th century in an area owned by the Plauzi Laterani family, which was confiscated by the Roman Empire during the time of Nero. At the beginning of the 4th century, Constantine the Great gave the ancient land and the Lateran residence, now the Lateran Palace, to the bishop of Rome.
The church was completed in the first decades of the 4th century, and consecrated in 324 by Pope Sylvester I, who dedicated it to the Most Holy Saviour.
In 410, Rome was devastated by the Visigoths of Alaric, and in 455 by the Vandals of Genseric, who deprived the basilica of all its treasures. The church was restored and brought back to its original splendor by Pope Leo the Great around the middle of the 5th century.
At the end of the 9th century, the structure was damaged by an earthquake, and it was decided to built a new basilica. The new church was completed at the beginning of the 10th century, during the time of Pope Sergius III, who added the dedication to Saint John the Baptist.
In the 12th century, Pope Lucius II dedicated the basilica to Saint John the Evangelist, and a Benedictine monastery was installed in the adjacent Palazzo del Laterano.
At the end of the 13th century, great works were undertaken under Pope Boniface VIII, with the addition of the frescoes by Giotto and Cimabue, now lost.
In the 14th century, with the shift of the papal power from Rome to Avignon, the church was abandoned. After the return of the papacy to Rome, due to the poor condition of the basilica, the popes moved to the Vatican.
At the end of the 16th century, during the pontificate of Pope Sixtus V, a third basilica was built, and the original Lateran Palace was demolished and replaced with a new edifice.
In the 18th century, during the pontificate of Clement XII, the facade of the basilica was completed on a design by the architect Alessandro Galilei.
ART AND ARCHITECTURE
The main facade of the basilica consists of a long atrium surmounted by a beautiful loggia. On top of the facade, there is a marble group depicting Christ between some bishops of the Eastern and Western Churches. In the tympanum, there is a mosaic from the early Christian basilica, depicting Jesus.
The facade of the north transept, framed between two medieval bell-towers from the time of Pius IV, is preceded by a large portico surmounted by another loggia, the work of Domenico Fontana. On the ceiling of the portico and the loggia, there are frescoes depicting angels and saints.
The interior of the basilica has five naves. The central one has a coffered ceiling and the two adjacent ones have small domes. Those from the extremes have a flat ceiling and are divided into square and rectangular spans by pilasters.
In the central nave, in niches built in the pillars, are the statues of the Twelve Apostles. In the spaces between the windows, there are painted roundels depicting the Prophets.
The papal altar is located in the cross of the transept and is surmounted by a monumental Gothic ciborium, the work of the architect Giovanni di Stefano.
In the apse of the church, there is a large mosaic depicting the Virgin with Saints Paul, Peter, Francis of Assisi, John the Baptist, Anthony of Padua, John the Evangelist and Saint Andrew. In the center of the mosaic, are the Holy Cross and the dove of the Holy Spirit, and above is Christ watching from heaven.
HOW TO GET THERE
The Basilica of Saint John in Lateran is located about 300 meters away from the nearest Metro station, San Giovanni, on the Metro Line A. The closest bus stop is Porta San Giovanni, located in front of the basilica, on the bus Lines 16, 81, 85, 87 and 665.
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