Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano in Rome


The Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist on the Lateran Hill (Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano) is a papal archibasilica located in Rome. In the hierarchy of Catholic churches, the Lateran Basilica stands at the highest level, surpassing ancient and revered churches such as Santa Maria Maggiore (Basilica di S. Maria Maggiore) and St. Peter's Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro). It is in this church that the pulpit and throne of the Pope are located.


In pre-Christian times, the land near Celio Hill belonged to the wealthy Roman family of the Laterani. In the "Annals" of Tacitus, there is a mention of how in the 1st century AD. Plauzio Laterano was convicted of intrigues against Emperor Nerone.

Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano

The coup failed, and all the property of the rebellious Roman went to the imperial treasury.

In the 2nd century AD on the site of the Lateran Basilica, a powerful cavalry corps was defeated for the troops of Emperor Septimius Severus (Settimio Severo).

Confirmation of this fact was found during excavations in the vicinity of the temple. The founder of the basilica is the Roman Emperor Flavius ​​Valerius Constantine (Flavio Valerio Costantino). Before the decisive battle with Maxentius, Constantine the Great saw a chrysm in the sky - a monogram of the name of Christ, which foreshadowed victory. Thus, at the beginning of the 3rd century, the ruler of the empire recognizes freedom of religion, and the first Christian church appears in Rome.

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior in the 9th century was also dedicated to John the Baptist (San Giovanni Battista), in the 12th century - to John the Theologian (San Giovanni Evangelista). From the 5th to the 14th centuries, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist remained the only papal church. The adjacent buildings housed papal residences. The throne of the pontiff was installed in the church itself. The Church witnessed 5 ecumenical councils - the highest church meetings, at which fundamental religious issues were considered.


The richly decorated Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Rome was repeatedly looted and subsequently restored. In the second half of the 5th century, Pope Hilarion added a baptismal hall to the simple basilica. In addition to the font, three chapels were created in the baptistery, named after John the Baptist, John the Evangelist and the Holy Cross. In the 9th century, Pope Leo III reconstructed the ceiling of the temple and decorated its apse with stained-glass windows. In the 10th century, a chapel was added to the basilica, consecrated in honor of St. Thomas.

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During the 14th century, Rome lost its privilege to be considered the center of Christianity, the pontificate moved to the French Avignon (Avignon).

In this century, the once majestic cathedral fell into disrepair and was twice set on fire. Upon the return of the papal power to Rome, the Lateran Basilica was consigned to oblivion, the Vatican was elected as a new residence. The old building was practically destroyed.

The restoration of the temple in the 15th century was undertaken by Pope Martin V. Thanks to his efforts, the wall paintings of Gentile da Fabriano and his student Antonio Pisanello were restored. In the following decades, during construction work, most of the Romanesque columns were destroyed to give way to the early Baroque style. In the 16th century, the dome of the baptistery (baptistery) acquired an octagonal shape, which it has retained to this day.

baptismal dome

During its existence, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist has undergone many changes. The exterior of the building shows interspersed Romanesque, Classicism, Baroque. Many characteristic elements of the decor of the temple were created during the 17th century. So, the engineer and architect Domenico Fontana (Domenico Fontana) decorated the facade of the church with sculptures of the apostles. Then Borromini (Francesco Borromini) undertook the task of rebuilding the nave and aisles of the basilica in the Baroque style. From the Roman Forum, magnificent bronze doors were taken, which currently serve as the main entrance to the temple.

sculptures of the apostles

The final appearance of San Giovanni in Laterano was formed in the 18th century. The reconstruction of the church and the decoration of the facade was carried out by the architect Alessandro Galilei (Alessandro Galilei). His merit is the strict classicist columns and impressive statues installed above the entrance to the basilica.

basilica facade

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the temple underwent several restorations designed to preserve the historical appearance and content of the task. And for the 2000th anniversary, the Holy Doors, created by Floriano Bodini, were opened in the collection.

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The Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano amazes and fascinates with the beauty of its interior decoration. The most valuable mosaics from the time of Emperor Constantine are preserved in the apse of the temple. The early Christian martyrs with scrolls in their hands, as well as the face of Jesus towering over them, are made in the Byzantine style. In the 13th century, the mosaics were restored by Giacomo Torriti. The master added symbols of the Franciscan order to the ancient drawings.

The Pope's pulpit is located under the vault of the apse. Precious porphyry pillars and flamboyant Byzantine mosaics serve as the solemn decorations for the sermons of the pontiffs. Ancient Christian relics - the heads of the apostles Peter and Paul - are kept above the central altar of the church in Kevoria.

Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano from the inside

The nave of the temple impresses with its rich decoration. The mosaic floors are dotted with contrasting circles and squares, so characteristic of the Cosmatesco style. The columns of the nave are faced with Numidian marble. Snow-white plates are decorated with decorative carvings and emblems of the pontiffs. Borromini put a lot of effort into restoring the nave in the 17th century. Of particular note is the restored wooden ceiling of the nave, decorated with coffered ornaments. In the center of the richly carved ceiling is a panel with the coat of arms of Pope Pius V. Between the marble columns, statues and paintings depicting the apostles were installed in the 17th and 18th centuries.

In the nave of San Giovanni in Laterano, you can see a partially preserved fresco depicting Pope Boniface III. The author of this skillful work is considered to be the great Giotto (Giotto di Bondone).

There are several chapels inside the church, each of which has its own dedication.

The Chapel of St. Mary of the Assumption (Capella S. Maria Assunta) appeared in the 18th century to house the tomb of Cardinal Giulio Aquavia, who died in the 16th century. Another chapel is dedicated to the martyr John of Nepomuk (San Giovanni Nepomuceno). It was created in the 19th century and is distinguished by its rich decoration: an altar inlaid with semi-precious stones, sculptures, an icon of the Descent from the Cross.

The Massimo Chapel was designed by the architect Giacomo della Porta in the 16th century. The main relic of the chapel is the painting "The Crucifixion of Christ". There is a chapel, consecrated in honor of John the Evangelist. It is decorated with a fresco depicting St. John, who had a vision of the Immaculate Virgin. The chapel houses the tomb of the Portuguese cardinal Antonio Martinez de Chavez, who died in the 15th century.

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Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano from the inside


The temple has a museum where you can see the sacred relics of the 11th-19th centuries.

The most valuable exhibits of the Archbasilica Museum: a reliquary with relics of the 11th century, a casket with a cloak of John the Theologian, a precious cross of the 13th century, the relics of the Great Martyr Catherine, the coat of arms of Clement VIII, made of silk and jewelry, numerous tapestries with images of the emblems of the pontiffs of the past, church bowls and goblets made of silver and precious stones.

The museum was founded in 1984 by Pope John Paul II. The door to the exhibition is located immediately behind the statue of Innocent III.

Interesting Facts

  • Above the entrance to the cathedral, the inscription "Mother of all churches in Rome and the world" is inscribed. Thus, the pontificate marked the highest importance of the temple.
  • Every year on November 9, Catholics celebrate a celebration in honor of the consecration of the Lateran Basilica.
  • Six popes are buried within the walls of San Giovanni in Laterano: Sergius IV, Alexander III, Innocent III, Martin V, Clement XII, Leo XIII.
  • Near the cathedral there is an ancient Egyptian obelisk made of red granite. This unusual pillar was brought in the 4th century AD. from the Egyptian temple of Pharaoh Thutmose III, located in Karnak.

Location and opening hours

The cathedral is located at: Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano. Take the metro to San Giovanni station or take bus number 116, 81, 85, 87, 810, 16.

  • The Lateran Basilica is open daily from 7:00 am to 18:30 pm.
  • Sacristy - from 8:00 to 12:00 and from 16:00 to 18:00.
  • The baptistery is open from 7:00 am to 12:30 pm and 16:00 pm to 19:00 pm.
  • Museum - from 10:00 to 17:30.
  • Official website:
  • Virtual tour:

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