What is St. John Lateran Basilica, and why does it get its own day in the Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar?
Normally, the Church’s liturgical calendar designates feast days, solemnities, and memorials that we celebrate throughout the year. We honor martyrs, popes, doctors of the Church, and. . . church dedications?
Here are seven things you need to know about the basilica that gets its own day on the liturgical calendar.
1. St. John Lateran is the pope’s church
Always thought that St. Peter’s was the pope’s church? Actually, St. John Lateran is the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome where the Bishop of Rome (now Pope Francis!) resides.
But it’s not just the pope’s church. St. John Lateran is a parish church for every Catholic in the world, and a spiritual home for all of us.
2. It is Christendom’s earliest basilica
Constantine’s rise to power ended the bloody persecution of early Christians in the Roman Empire. The Edict of Milan, signed in 313, allowed Christians the freedom they desired as well as legal recognition.
Constantine also restored Christian’s property. He ordered the construction of basilicas over the tombs of the early Christian martyrs. The basilica is the first papal cathedral in Christian history. Constantine’s donation of personal property and funds made St. John Lateran possible.
3. The basilica is dedicated to Jesus the Savior
The Catholic Church originally dedicated St. John Lateran to Jesus the Savior. This name was intentional. The dedication confirmed the superiority of Christ over the other Roman pagan gods. It was also a sign of Christianity’s expansion over the next years.
4. It holds the unique title of “archbasilica”
St. John Lateran is the oldest and highest ranking of the four papal major basilicas. The basilica holds the special title of “archbasilica.” It’s also the oldest and most important basilica found in the Western world.
The other papal major basilicas are St. Peter’s Basilica, the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Wall,s and the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.
5. The basilica was dedicated twice
Pope Sergius III dedicated the basilica to Saint John the Baptist in the 10th century. But Pope Lucius II dedicated the basilica again to Saint John the Evangelist in the 12th century.
Today, the Church considers both Johns co-patrons of the archbasilica. Christ the Savior holds the primary patronage.
6. Fires ravaged the original construction
The church started construction of the original basilica in the fourth century. Artisans built the church on land received from the Laterani family. The Empire stripped the family of their land after they conspired against the empire.
However, fires, earthquakes, and war ravaged the structure. When the papacy left Rome for Avignon, they found the church in ruins.
Pope Innocent X commissioned the Basilica you can visit today in 1646. The front of the basilica boasts of enormous statues of Jesus, John the Baptist, John the Evangelist, and the twelve doctors of the Church.
7. Six popes are buried inside the basilica
Before 1870, all popes were enthroned in St. John Lateran. Today, there are six papal tombs inside the church today.
Pope Alexander III is buried in the right aisles along with Pope Sergius IV. In the left aisle, you can find Pope Clement XII, while Pope Martin V rests in front of the confessionals. Pope Innocent III is buried in the right transept, and Pope Leo XII is in the left transept.