Visiting the Archbasilica of St John Lateran

While St Peter’s attracts more visitors, it is actually this Roman basilica which holds the title of the most important Catholic church.  It is the seat of this cathedral which gives the Pope his title of Bishop of Rome.

Set just inside the 4th Century Aurelian walls in the south-east of the city, the origins of the church are linked with the history of the Roman Empire.  The site, originally occupied by the Laterani family, then a site for an army barracks, eventually came into the possession of Emperor Constantine, who donated it to the church following his own conversion.

The site is marked by Rome’s tallest obelisk, brought from the Temple of Amun in Karnak in the 4th Century.

The church itself has come a long way from its earliest origins, and the façade that we see today dates from the middle of the 18th Century. The picture below doesn’t come close to capturing the size of those statues, though.



Constantine and ancient Rome feature in the vestibule or narthex, while the bronze central doors retain a further link to the Empire, being the original entrance to the Curia of the Roman Forum.


Once inside, there’s a peaceful and quiet atmosphere, only added to by a service going on in one of the side chapels at the time of our visit.

There’s more than a nod below to Empire-era temple architecture in this beautiful side chapel.

While the baldacchino is firmly from the 14th Century.

And finally the cathedra or seat of the Pope in his role as bishop…

Visitors can also choose to visit the basilica’s cloister and baptistery, but that will have to wait for another trip!

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