The Basilica of Saint John Lateran was first founded in the 4th century AD and is considered the mother church of the Roman Catholic congregation of Italy. It is the oldest public church in Rome and is the highest ranking of the four papal basilicas, thus it is known as the Archbasilica. Since the middle ages it has been dedicated to St John the Baptist and John the Evangelist. The basilica was built on lands that had previously been in the possession of the Laterni family who were stripped of their lands by Emperor Constantine I after being accused by the infamous Nero of conspiring against Constantine. A palace had existed on the site and this was donated by Constantine I to the Catholic Church, it became the residence of Pope Saint Sylvester I and eventually became the cathedral of Rome. In 324AD the church and palace were officially consecrated by the church with the title Domus Dei “House of God” dedicated to Christ the Saviour ‘Christo Salvatori’. In 897AD the basilica was almost destroyed in an earthquake but a similar layout was used during its rebuilding. The basilica was rededicated twice, once to Saint John the Baptist in the 10th century and again to John the Evangelist in the 12th century, hence its longest lasting moniker.
In the 12th century the canons of the Lateran claimed that the altar housed the Ark of the Covenant and other items from the life of Christ such as part of the table from the Last Supper, due to this the canons presented the basilica as the ‘Temple of the New Covenant’. The church was ravaged by fire twice in the 14th century, first in 1307 and again in 1361. The Basilica houses the tombs of six popes, however 12 further papal tombs are now in a polyandrion (communal tomb) as they were destroyed during the two fires. The basilica is filled with colossal statues of the apostles about three metres in height that date from the 18th century and they truly exemplify the grandeur of this remarkable building. It should be noted that the obelisk to the north of the basilica is well worth a visit, this was created by Pharaoh Thutmose III (1479-1425BC) but was not finished until after his death, his grandson Thutmose IV (1400-1390BC) finished the obelisk and it was erected at the great temple of Amun in Karnak. It is the largest standing ancient Egyptian obelisk in the world and was brought to Italy in the 3rd century AD.
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