Basilica of St. John Lateran

Duration: 3 hours


This itinerary takes us to three sites: (1) the majestic Lateran Basilica of San Giovanni, (2) the Scala Sancta and (3) the Lateran Baptistery.


Saint John’s at the Lateran is the Mother Church of Rome and of the world, the place where the papal throne (cathedra) is located. Such constitutes this basilica to be the most important church in Christendom. On its façade is an inscription that proclaims the basilica as: “SACROSANCTA LATERANENSIS ECCLESIA OMNIUM URBIS ET ORBIS ECCLESIARUM MATER ET CAPUT” (The Most Holy Lateran Church, Mother and Mistress of all churches of the city and the World). This Basilica is the Cathedral of Rome, where the Emperor Constantine permitted Pope St. Sylvester I to establish his cathedra in 314 AD.


St. John’s houses some of the most important relics of the Christian faith. The principal sights inside the Basilica, which we visit, are the High Altar, the Confessio, the apse and sanctuary, the splendid cloisters and the lateral Chapels of the Orsini, Torlonia, Massimo, Colonna and Corsini. On this itinerary we also visit the sacred Scala Santa, or Holy Stairs, which pilgrims have ascended on their knees over centuries in honor of the tradition that these were the steps of the Palace of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem that Christ stood upon during his trial. At the top of the stairs we see the revered Sancta Sanctorum, or Holy of Holies, an 8th century chapel which refers to the inner chamber of the Jewish Temple where only the high priest could enter. Today it is a private chapel for the Pope. Above the entrance to the apse is the inscription NON EST IN TOTO SANCTIOR ORBE LOCUS; “there is no holier place in all the world”.


While in the area we also visit the St. John’s Square where we observe the world’s most ancient obelisk (circa 1500 BC) and study its transformation from a pagan sun-dial into a Christian pilgrims’ marker. We also visit the Lateran Baptistery constructed here by the order of the first Christian Emperor, Constantine. This baptistery, with its elegant lateral chapels, is the first in Rome.


Regarding the educational input on this itinerary, it is an in-depth survey of the origins of Christianity told against the background of one of the most spectacular and lesser-seen sites in the Holy City.



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