Basilica of St. John Lateran
San Giovanni in Laterano is one of the most antique Roman churches and the Cathedral of Rome, i.e. the church of the Pope as the Bishop of Rome. The basilica and the adjoining Lateran Palace are part of the Vatican State and thus do not belong to the Italian territory.
The history of the basilica goes back to a gift from the Emperor Constantine to Pope Melchiad (311-314). In 312 AD the emperor donated to the Roman Christians the area around the present church, which had previously been a latifundium of the Plauzi Laterani family (hence the name "in Laterano") and which included the barracks of a unit of the cavalry elite Equites Singulares. Probably by incorporating this building, the first large Roman Christian temple was built in the form of a basilica with five naves which was consecrated to the Redeemer.
The type of basilica on the Lateran estate became a model for many cathedrals, in Rome and in the whole Western world. Thus it is correct, also in the way of art history, that above the entrance to the atrium an inscription which reads CAPUT ET MATER ECCLESIARUM URBIS ET ORBIS: Head and Mother of all churches of the city (Rome) and of the whole world.
This first basilica, about which we know very little, was seriously damaged by an earthquake in 897 and rebuilt under Pope Sergius III (904-911), who dedicated it to St. John Baptist and St. John Evangelist. It remained the Pope's church until Pope Gregory XI (1370-1378) returned to Rome from exile in Avignon in 1377, and moved the Pope's residence to the Vatican which was better fortified. On the occasion of the Holy Year 1650, Pope Innocence X (1644-1655) entrusted Francesco Borromini with the restoration of the completely dilapidated church. Borromini modernized the interior in baroque style in only three years (1647-1650) and created a majestic, bright and homogeneous space which clearly shows the master's hand of this most important Baroque architect.
The basilica contains two relics which have been highly venerated through the centuries: the skulls of the apostles Peter and Paul which are kept in silver reliquaries in the tabernacle above the high altar. The altar itself encloses a wooden altar at which, according to tradition, the first 33 popes from St. Peter to St. Sylvester celebrated. Only the Pope can say Mass at this altar. The presbytery and the apse are dominated by the splendid apse mosaic from the 13th century by Jacopo Torriti and Jacopo da Camerino, which has been restored in the 19th century. The altar of the Holy Sacrament (Santissimo Sacramento) on the left side of the transept and on the opposite side, the monumental organ built by Luca Blasi in 1598, have been restored between 1988 and 1992 with funds from a fundraising campaign promoted by the President of the Fondazione pro Musica e Arte Sacra Sen. Dr. hc Hans-Albert Courtial. The cloisters are among the most beautiful in Rome.