The pope’s church

Learn more about the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran

Archbasilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. Photo by Borisb17/Shutterstock.

The Archbasilica of St. John Lateran is the oldest of the four papal basilicas in Rome and serves as the cathedral church of Rome and, by extension, the ecclesiastical seat of the pope. Nov. 9 is the feast day for the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica. In honor of the feast, here are five facts about the church.


The Archbasilica of St. John Lateran is one of the pilgrimage churches of Rome

The tradition of visiting the seven pilgrimage churches of Rome dates back to 1553 when St. Philip Neri organized it to be a shared religious experience amongst the faithful. The seven pilgrimage churches are St. Peter’s Basilica, the Papal Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls, the Papal Basilica of St. Mary Major, the Basilica of St. Lawrence Outside-the-Walls, the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, and the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Divine Love.


Constantine the Great donated the building to Pope Melchiades

The building was formerly owned by the Laterani family, which is where its original name, the Lateran Palace, is derived. The pope officially resided at the Lateran Palace until fires in the 1300s caused for need of serious renovation. The pope’s residence moved several times until it was settled to be the Vatican.


There is an inscription on the archbasilica’s façade

The inscription reads: “Clemens XII Pont Max Anno V Christo Salvatori In Hon SS Ioan Bapt et Evang.” This translates to: “Pope Clement XII, in the fifth year [of his Pontificate], dedicated this building to Christ the Savior, in honor of Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist.” In 324 A.D., Pope Sylvester I dedicated the building only to Christ the Savior. However, the dedication was changed to also include Sts. John the Baptist and John the Evangelist after the building’s reconstruction under Clement XII was finished in 1735.


During World War II the archbasilica was used as a haven

The grounds housed Italian soldiers, Jews, and other refugees from Nazis and Italian fascists. Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, recognizes Cardinal Vincenzo Fagiolo and Cardinal Pietro Palazzini for their work providing a safe haven for Jews at the archbasilica.


There is a statue of each of the Twelve Apostles along the roofline of the archbasilica

Originally there was nothing along the roofline of the archbasilica. However, in 1702, Pope Clement XI and Cardinal Benedetto Pamphili commissioned to have a statue built for each apostle.


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