St Peter's Basilica is often thought (quite mistakenly) to be Rome's cathedral, whereas that honour is, in fact, held by the Archbasilica di San Giovanni in Laterano (Archbasilica of St John Lateran), which lies on the other side of the Eternal City.
San Giovanni in Laterano, the first Christian basilica to be raised in Rome, was founded by the emperor Constantine the Great (r. 306-337) and built between 314 and 318 on land that had once been the property of the Laterani family. The basilica is hailed as the mother of all churches.
San Giovanni in Laterano was originally dedicated to Christ the Saviour, when it was known as the Basilica Sancti Salvatoris. Centuries later the church was also dedicated to St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist.
The magnificent facade was commissioned by Pope Clement XII (r. 1730-40) and built between 1732 and 1735 by the Florentine mathematician and architect Alessandro Galilei (1691-1737). It is crowned with 15 colossal statues, with Christ the Redeemer in the centre.
As the seat of the bishop of Rome (who is automatically pope), San Giovanni in Laterano ranks higher than all the other churches of the Roman Catholic Church, including Saint Peter's Basilica.
The inscription on the facade reads: CLEMENS XII PONT MAX ANNO V CHRISTO SALVATORI IN HON SS IOAN BAPT ET EVANG (Clement XII, Pontifex Maximus, in the fifth year of his reign, dedicated this building to Christ the Saviour, in honour of Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist).
Blogging about Rome:
its art, history and culture.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private and
small-group walking tours
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