The Basilica diSan Giovanni in Laterano (Basilica of St John Lateran), which is the cathedral of Rome, was consecrated on November 9th 324 by Pope Sylvester I (r. 314-335).
San Giovanni in Laterano, whichwas the first Christian basilica to be erected in Rome, was initially dedicated to Christ the Saviour; St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist were later added to the dedication. It also boasts the title of being the Omnium Urbis et Orbis Ecclesiarum Mater et Caput (The Mother and Head of all the Churches of the City and the World).
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 facade was added by the Florentine architect Alessandro Galilei (1691-1737), at the behest of Pope Clement XII (r. 1730-40), who is interred in the basilica. The inscription proclaims: CLEMENS · XII · PONT · MAX · ANNO · V · CHRISTO · SALVATORI · IN · HON · SS · IOAN · BAPT · ET · EVANG (Clement the Twelfth, Pontifex Maximus, in his fifth year, to Christ the Saviour in honour of Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist).
The long inscription beneath the loggia, which is a copy of a medieval one, reads: DOGMATE PAPALI DATVR AC SIMVL IMPERIALI QVOD SIM CVNCTARVM MATER ET CAPVT ECCLESIARVM HINC SALVATORIS CELESTIA REGNA DATORIS NOMINE SANXERVNT CVM CVNCTA PERACTA FVERVNT QVESVMVS EX TOTO CONVERSI SVPPLICE VOTO QVOD HEC AEDES TIBI CHRISTE SIT INCLITA SEDES (By a papal decree, together with an Imperial one, it is given that I am the head and mother of all churches. When everything was finished, they made this [place] sacred by the name of the Saviour, who gives the heavenly kingdom. We, [your] servants by vow, beseech you, Christ, by our supplications that this temple may be for you a glorious seat).
Fragment of a mosaic by Jacopo Torriti
In the tympanum of the pediment is a fragment of a mosaic by Jacopo Torriti, which is all that survives of the decoration of the mediaeval portico. It depicts the head of Christ and is enclosed in a wreathed tondo, which is being held by a pair of angels, the work of Paolo Ciampi.
Christ the Saviour by Paolo Benaglia
The facade is crowned with a statue of Christ, the work of Paolo Benaglia. Christ is flanked by St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist and a host of other saints (most of whom are Doctors of the Church).
On two of the large plinths at the base of the facade is the inscription: SACROS · LATERAN · ECCLES / OMNIVM VRBIS ET ORBIS / ECCLESIARVM MATER / ET CAPVT (The holy Lateran church, mother and head of all churches of the city and the world).
Bronze doors of the Curia
The large entrance portico or narthex has a coffered barrel vault. The coat-of-arms of Pope Clement XII appears in both the ceiling and the floor. There are five doors. The central door was once the entrance to the Curia Julia 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, one of the heraldic emblems of his family, the Chigi.
At the left end of the narthex is a statue of the emperor Constantine the Great (r. 306-337), which was found in the ruins of the Baths of Constantine on the Quirinal Hill.
The four rectangular bas-relief panels depict scenes from the life of St John the Baptist: The Baptism of John by Zechariah by Bernardino Ludovisi, John the Baptist Preaching in the Desert by Giovanni Battista Maini, John the Baptist Reproves Herod by Pietro Bracci and The Decapitation of St John the Baptist by Filippo della Valle.
The bronze door on the far right is the Porta Santa(Holy Door), the work of Floriano Bodini (1933-2005).
Borromini designed the niches, each with two verde antico columns, for the colossal statues of the twelve apostles (with St Paul replacing St Matthias), which were added during the first two decades of the 18th century.
Above the statues are stucco relief panels, with Old Testament scenes on the left and scenes from the New Testament on the right. They were executed by several sculptors, including Antonio Raggi and Giovanni Antonio De Rossi. Above these reliefs are frescoes of prophets in oval tondi, executed in 1718.
Tomb slab of Pope Martin V
The beautiful bronze tomb (1443) of Pope Martin V (r. 1417-31), in the Confessio, is the work of Simone Ghini (1406/7-91).
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.
The beautiful gilded wooden ceiling was commissioned by Pope Pius IV (r. 1559-65), whose coat of arms appears in the decoration. The design has been attributed to Pirro Ligorio.
Coat of arms of Pope Pius V
The work was completed during the reign of Pope Pius V (r. 1566-72), whose coat of arms also appears. In 1775 the ceiling was restored at the behest of Pope Pius VI (r. 1775-79), who, needless to say, added his own coat of arms.
A detail of the Cosmatesque floor
The Cosmatesque floor was funded by the Colonna family and completed in its present form in 1425 during the reign of Pope Martin V Colonna (r. 1417-31). The family's heraldic device of a single column can be seen depicted in several places.
Altar of the Blessed Sacrament
The transepts were substantially remodelled by Giacomo della Porta (1532-1602), who was commissioned by Pope Clement VIII ( r. 1592-1605) to do the work in celebration of the Jubilee of 1600. The frescoes were the responsibility of Giuseppe Cesari (1568-1640), better known as the Cavalier d'Arpino, who was in charge of a talented team of artists. The beautiful gilded wooden ceiling sports the pope's coat of arms.
Pope Sylvester Baptises Constantine by Pomarancio
The frescoes in the lower register of the right transept are: West wall: The Baptism of Constantine by Pomarancio and Pope Sylvester Receives the Envoys of Constantine on Mount Soracte by Paris Nogari. East wall: The Consecration of the Basilica by Giovanni Battista Ricci and The Building of the Basilica by Paris Nogari.
The frescoes in the lower register of the left transept are: West wall: The Dream of Constantine by Cesare Nebbia and The Triumph of Constantine by Giuseppe Cesari. East wall: Constantine Donates Liturgical Vessels to the Basilica and The Miraculous Appearance of the Holy Face in the Basilica, both by Giovanni Baglione.
Tabernacle by Pompeo Targone, Altar of the Blessed Sacrament
The Altar of the Blessed Sacrament, at the end of the left transept, was designed by Pietro Paolo Olivieri (1551-99) for Pope Clement VIII. The beautiful tabernacle, the work of Pompeo Targone (1575-1630), takes the form of a gilded bronze octagonal temple.
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.
The episcopal throne stands on a flight of five steps. The last step has the inscription: HIC EST PAPALIS SEDES ET PONTIFICALIS (This is a papal and pontifical seat). The throne stands on a white marble plinth, which sports, in relief, an adder, a lion, a dragon and a basilisk.
The elegant Cappella Corsini, at the beginning of the outer left aisle, is home to the funerary monument to Pope Clement XII. The chapel, with its beautiful wrought-iron railings, was designed by Alessandro Galilei.
Inner left aisle
The church's charming medieval cloister (c. 1222-32), the work of Jacopo and Pietro Vassalletto, should not be missed.
The facade on the north side of San Giovanni in Laterano was designed by Domenico Fontana, at the behest of Pope Sixtus V (r. 1585-90).