Founded in the 4th century, San Giovanni in Laterano (St John Lateran) is the cathedral of Rome and the mother church of the world (Omnium urbis et orbis Ecclesiarum Mater et Caput). The church, which stands on land once owned by the emperor Constantine (r. 306-37), was the first Christian basilica to be erected in the city. Dedicated to Christ the Saviour, San Giovanni in Laterano was consecrated circa 318.
Over the centuries the basilica has been rebuilt and remodelled on several occasions. The last major reconstruction took place during the reign of Pope Innocent X (r. 1644-55), who entrusted the task to Francesco Borromini (1599-1667). The magnificent west facade was added by the young Florentine architect Alessandro Galilei (1691-1737), at the behest of Pope Clement XII (r. 1730-40), who is interred in the basilica. It was completed three years before Galilei's death at the age of 46.
The central bronze door was once the entrance to the Curia in the Forum, the seat of the Roman Senate. It was moved here in 1660 on the orders of Pope Alexander VII (r. 1655-67), who added the eight-pointed stars, the heraldic emblem of his family, the Chigi.
The colossal statues of the apostles in the nave were added in the 18th century and are the work of a number of sculptors, including Camillo Rusconi and Pierre Legros the Younger.
The beautiful bronze tomb of Pope Martin V (r. 1417-31), in the Confessio, is the work of Simone Ghini. The Gothic baldacchino (1367) is by Giovanni di Stefano. The two 19th century silver reliquaries, which take the form of half-figures of St Peter and St Paul, are said to contain their skulls.
During the reign of Pope Leo XIII (r. 1878-1903), who is interred in the basilica, the apse was rebuilt, and on a larger scale, by the Roman architect Virginio Vespignani (1808-82). Sadly, the 13th century mosaics, the work of Jacopo Torriti and Jacopo da Camerino, were destroyed and replaced by copies.
Both transepts were built by Giacomo della Porta (1532-1602) during the reign of Pope Clement VIII (r. 1592-1605). The large frescoes above the chapels were completed in 1600 under the direction of Giuseppe Cesari (1568-1640), better known as Cavaliere d'Arpino, who is buried in the church. The Altar of the Sacrament, in the north transept, was designed by Pietro Paolo Olivieri (1551-99). The monumental gilded bronze columns date back to the 2nd century CE and must have adorned the original basilica.
The elegant Cappella Corsini, at the beginning of the north aisle, is home to the funerary monument of Pope Clement XII (r. 1730-40). The chapel, with its beautiful wrought-iron railings, was designed by Alessandro Galiliei. The xxx chapel in the same aisle is the Cappella Lancellotti, which was originally designed by Francesco da Volterra but rebuilt almost a century later, in 1675, by Giovanni Antonio de' Rossi.
The charming medieval cloister (c. 1222-32), the work of Jacopo and Pietro Vassalletto, should not be missed.