San Giovanni in Laterano - History and Facts | History Hit

San Giovanni in Laterano

Rome, Lazio, Italy

San Giovanni in Laterano is Rome’s cathedral, originally founded by Constantine the Great.

Peta Stamper

31 May 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About San Giovanni in Laterano

San Giovanni in Laterano, or Rome Cathedral, is a basilica known to many as the ‘cathedral of the world’ by virtue that it is the cathedral of Rome and thus the seat of the Pope.

Founded by the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great in the early 4th century, San Giovanni in Laterano was dedicated first to Jesus Christ and then to John the Evangelist and John the Baptist.

San Giovanni in Laterano was rebuilt several times over the centuries, including a controversial redecoration during the papacy of Innocent X which obscured many original frescoes.

San Giovanni in Laterano history

San Giovanni in Laterano was built over the remains of the ‘New Fort of the Roman imperial cavalry bodyguards’ established in 193 AD. After Constantine I beat Maxentius during the struggles of the tetrarchy, the guard was abolished and the fort destroyed.

The Laterani family palace stood on the site prior to the fort, and fell into the hands of Constantine when he married Maxentius‘ sister, Fausta. Constantine gave the palace to the Bishop of Rome under Pope Miltiades in the 4th century AD.

The house was dedicated in 324 by Pope Sylvester I, and the papal cathedra (raised throne) was moved to the cathedral, surrounded by geometric patterns. The cathedral became a model for most other pre-medieval Christian churches, also named ‘Christ Church’ after the basilica.

For some time after 1309, the papacy resided in Avignon, France, during which the cathedral was damaged by fires. In the 16th century, Pope Sixtus V had extensive reconstruction done and erected an ancient obelisk originally commissioned by the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III.

San Giovanni in Laterano today

Today, San Giovanni in Laterano is the oldest and highest ranking of the 4 major papal basilicas and is known as the ‘archbasilica’. The current structure mostly dates to the late 16th century; the cloisters to the 13th century and the neo-classical palatial façade to 1735.

Inside, you can see magnificent mosaicked apses as well as the 12 niches filled with Baroque sculptures of the Apostles by the illustrious artists of 18th century Rome. Interestingly, although the basilica is situated outside the Vatican City, the church still has extraterritorial status from Italy as a property of the Holy See.

Getting to San Giovanni in Laterano

Located in central Rome, the San Giovanni in Laterano is easily found on foot or via Rome’s public transport. The San Giovanni metro stop is only 4 minutes walk away whilst buses 16, 81, 85, 87, 665 and nMC all stop at Porta San Giovanni outside.

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