The term Lateran may refer to one building or the entire group of buildings that stand on the Monte Celio in rome. They comprise mainly: (1) the Basilica of St. John Lateran, which is the episcopal seat of the pope as bishop of Rome; (2) the Baptistery; and (3) the Lateran Palace, which at one time served as the residence of the popes. The Lateran has been the site for five major church councils (1123, 1139, 1179, 1215, 1512–1517) and several minor ones. Under the lateran pact of 1929 the Lateran enjoys diplomatic immunity but not extraterritoriality (arts. 13, 15). The Lateran serves as a museum and as the cathedral and central offices for the Diocese of Rome. Renovations and restorations have been carried out by many of the popes throughout the centuries until the present.
Although the present architecture is largely late 16th century onward, the buildings retain some foundations, architectural detail, and decoration that illustrate the long and varied history of the Lateran both before and during its Christian period (from the 4th century onward). Originally the site had been occupied by the palace of the Laterani, a noble Roman family. Eventually it became imperial property and finally passed to the Emperor Constantine through his wife Fausta (the domus Faustae ). Constantine, pursing his policy of recognizing Christianity as the official religion of the Empire, donated the property with an ample patrimony to the Church. This event would be recalled several times over the subsequent centuries to reinforce the prestige of the Lateran. The height of its influence as a residence was in the Middle Ages until the time of the Avignon papacy. Subsequently the Vatican replaced the Lateran as the residence of the popes and the administrative center of the Holy See. However, on the feast of St. John the Baptist in 1962 John XXIII (1958–1963) announced the transfer of the offices for the Vicariate of Rome to the Lateran Palace. He transferred the Lateran Museum from the Vatican to the Lateran Palace in 1963.
Basilica . The Basilica of St. John Lateran is one of the four great patriarchal basilicas of Rome. It is the oldest and the first in rank (Mater et Caput Omnium Ecclesiarum Urbis et Orbis ). Originally it was known as the Church of the Savior, and only later was it dedicated to John the Baptist. The first basilica was probably an adaptation by Constantine of the already existing basilica or great hall of the palace (Jerome, Ep. 73; Patrologia Latina 22:692). The subsequent architectural history is marked by numerous occasions of destruction followed by renovation, the principal causes being fire, earthquake, and neglect. There was an earthquake that damaged the apse in 443, the Vandal attacks occurred in 455; restoration was undertaken by Leo I (440–461) around 460. During the 8th century the Saracens attacked the basilica, and Adrian I (772–795) renovated it. Severe damage caused by earthquake in 896 was repaired by Sergius III (904–911) in 905. After that the Lateran retained its typical medieval form for four centuries. There is a tradition that St. Francis of Assisi appeared to Innocent III (1198–1216) in a dream to support the crumbling Lateran. At the end of the 13th century a Gothic renovation took place in 1290 under Nicholas IV (1288–1292), especially through the work of the artists Giacomo Torriti and Giacoma di Camerino. In 1308 the Lateran burned and was partly rebuilt by Clement V (1305-1314) and John XXII (1316–1334); it was burned again in 1360 and later restored by Urban V (1362–1370). It was not therefore surprising that under the impact of these and later changes, both the early and the medieval features of the basilica have disappeared almost entirely. But old drawings and paintings preserve a picture of the monumental character of the former edifice.
The main characteristics of the Constantinian basilica were the large apse rising above the bishop's throne; the altar as the center of worship, seen through the great triumphal arch at the west end of the central nave—the church was rectangular in shape and divided by rows of columns that ran from east to west; and by the arcades and four side aisles formed by the columns. The roof timbers were open. In front there was an atrium surrounded by colonnades with a fountain in the center. The façade had three windows and was embellished with mosaics. Generally the early basilica is said to have lacked a transverse nave until one was added under Clement V (1305–1314), but now Josi, Krautheimer, and S. Corbett think otherwise. They refer to a closed, tripartite nave. There was no crypt or confessio. The main walls of the central nave originally rested on 30 granite pillars, in time replaced by columns of masonry. The upper walls had mosaics with scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Toward the front a clerestory of 16 windows on each side opened onto the timber framework of the lower side roofs; the side aisles were divided by 21 smaller pillars on each side. Although the altar formerly occupied the position customary in basilicas, i.e., in the center of the chord of the apse, successive rebuildings and extensions added to the transverse nave and placed the choir beyond the altar. Above the altar is the baldachino, resting on four marble columns; it was erected in 1369 but appears somewhat incongruous in the present baroque interior. Traditionally the basilica was richly decorated, hence the title Basilica Aurea given by Gregory I (590–604). Of the decoration the most famous were the mosaics of the semi-circular apse. The main mosaic, representing Christ the Redeemer, was venerated throughout the Middle Ages. It was reworked in the 13th century and when the old apse was destroyed in 1878 to enlarge the church, the mosaics were reerected in the new apse.
During the Avignon papacy most of the basilica was ruined by two fires and was collapsed by an earthquake. As a result many wanted St. Peter's Basilica to become the primatial church. However, Gregory XI (1370–1380) issued a bull from Avignon in 1372 affirming the Lateran's primacy. When Gregory returned to Rome in 1377 he had to live at the Vatican because the Lateran was in poor condition and it lacked security. Martin V (1417–1431) sent a clear signal about the Lateran's importance when he restored it and provided a place for his burial there. He also installed the cosmatesque pavement in 1425. Eugenius IV (1431–1447) continued some renovations and constructed a new monastery for the Augustinian order of canon regular. Both Martin V and Eugenius IV reaffirmed the Lateran's primacy. Sixtus IV (1471–1484) affirmed the primacy of the Lateran by soliciting donations during the Holy Year of 1475. In preparation for the Holy Year of 1500 Alexander VI (1492–1503) had work done in the interior, including a fresco above the Holy Door and the triumphal arch that separates the nave from the transept. Julian II (1503–1513) had limited renovations done in preparation for the Lateran Council in 1512. Leo X (1513–1521) initiated restoration of the Lateran baptistery.
Pius IV (1559–1565) launched extensive renovations. Most the changes during his reign were done on the exterior, especially the transept façade and the roof. Pius V (1566–1572) continued the renovations and extin guished the rivalry of primacy with a bull in 1569 giving the Lateran this distinction. Freiburg highlights the importance of the twin towers and the transept façade as restoring the imperial majesty and spiritual primacy that the Lateran possessed during the Constantinian period. Gregory XIII 1572–1585) completed projects (the Aurelian wall portal, Via Appia Nuova, Via Merulana) of Pius IV and constructed another road in preparation for the Holy Year of 1575. This road began at from the north piazza, continued past the Porta Metronia to the Porta San Sebastiano, where it intersected with the Via Appia Antica. Freiburg points out that these changes made the Lateran the centric point in a radiating scheme that facilitated access to three of the four churches Holy Year pilgrims were required to visit.
Sixtus V (1585–1590) continued the theological influence of renovations that he accomplished in the Lateran Palace. He wanted to emphasize the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. A new benediction loggia was built on the north transept façade of the basilica by Domenico Fontana. Under Clement VIII (1592–1605) renovations occurred in two phases: construction of the new transept ceiling, restoration of the high altar, the ciborium, and the confessio chapel (1592–1596) and a new chapel, with material from the Pantheon, and expansion of the transept (1597–1600). The full baroque remodeling and decoration were executed by Francesco Borromini under Innocent X (1644–1655), especially from 1646 to 1649. A new curtain wall concealed the old brickwork, and the former columns were enclosed in huge pilasters with great statues in front. Alexander Galilei built the main facade in 1735. Finally during the reign of Leo XIII (1878–1903) came the choir with extended apse.
Originally outside the basilica there were seven oratories for the deacons of the church. These were eventually worked into the church itself. The devotion of visiting the seven altars gave rise to the similar devotion found in other Roman churches.
The Baptistry . Next to the basilica, in the southwest corner of the Piazza di San Giovanni, is the octagonal baptistery, begun by Constantine on the site of the baths belonging to the former palace of the Laterani. Excavations have discovered a hot spring structure with a network of underground passages. There is evidence of an earthquake in 191. A circular room was found constructed between 300 and 312. There is a decorated mosaic pavement from the 4th century and graffiti with the Christian cross. In the interior of the baptistery are eight porphyry columns that support an architrave on which are eight smaller columns, which in turn support the octagonal drums of the lantern. Originally, detached from the basilica, the baptistery was entered through the portico of St. Venantius consisting of a vestibule in which two large porphyry columns leading still stand and which was formerly approached by a colonnade of smaller porphyry columns leading from the church. The grandeur of the baptistery expressed the solemnity with which Baptism was received in the early church. Hilary (461–468) added the two Johannine chapels; on the west side is that of John the Baptist with its bronze doors taken from the Baths of Caracalla, and on the east, that of the Evangelist. John IV (640–642) built a third oratory in honor of St. Venantius and other Dalmatian martyrs. Here the mosaics are 7th century and, when compared with earlier mosaics, they illustrate the decline in this art form.
Gregory XIII (1572–1585) made extensive renovations to the baptistery. Restorations in the interior included new windows, repairs to the marble revetment of the walls, and fresco decoration—all lost in later interventions. Freiburg states these renovations highlighted the baptistery's historical prominence given by the baptism of Constantine. During the reign of Gregory XIII baptism was once again regularly performed in the Lateran baptistery on the feasts of Easter and Pentecost. Gregory also revived the tradition of conferring confirmation there immediately after the baptismal ceremony. Clement VIII (1592–1595) renovated the chapels around the central octagon.
The Lateran Palace . The imperial residence was given by Constantine to Melchiades, the Bishop of Rome. The Lateran Palace provided a location for the residence (including a library and archives) and central administration of the church for almost 1,000 years. Julian II (337–352) created the Holy Scrinium as a repository for literary and theological writings. St. Jerome mentioned the scrinium in a 4th century letter. Hilarius I (461–468) built two libraries at the palace. Gregory the Great (590–604) mentions that he placed his sermons at Lateran. The condition of the palace declined over the next two hundred years as construction work focused on new churches to honor martyrs. John VII (705–707) planned to restore it or move the papal residence to the Palatine Hill. The palace was finally restored by Zacharias (741–752). Mandel describes how he embellished and enlarged the palace after the imperial palace at Constantinople, with a great tower, known as the Torre degli Annibaldi ; a new porch before the palace archives; and a new triclinum on the piano nobile, also known as the Basilica Zacharia, complete with a map of the world. The impetus to maintain and beautify the papal residence was carried on by Leo III (795–816), who built two more triclinia ; restored the long corridor connecting the second triclinium, also known as the Sala del Concilio, to the basilica; and dedicated an oratory to the Archangel Michael. Work continued on the palace during the pontificates of Gregory IV (827–844), Leo IV (847–855), and Sergius III (904–911). Callistus II (1119–1124) built a chapel dedicated to St. Nicholas and Innocent II (1130–1143) built two new rooms. Innocent III (1198–1216) further enlarged the residence with more rooms and an oratory to express the grandeur of the papacy. An earthquake damaged the Lateran in 1227. Boniface VIII (1294–1303) built the Palazzo Nuovo and the Benediction Loggia. The Lateran palace was destroyed by fire in 1308 and 1309. During the Avignon period (1309–1377) another earthquake in 1349, and a fire in 1361, further damaged the residence.
After the Avignon period the abysmal condition of Lateran Palace led to the papal residence being moved to the Vatican, where it remains to the present. However, restoration on the Lateran palace began to take place during the reign of Julius II (1503–1513) in preparation for the Fifth Lateran Council. Sixtus V (1585–1590) constructed a new Lateran Palace. Mandel describes the layout of the Lateran Palace and the frescoes of the four main halls (Hall of the Popes, Hall of the Emperors, Hall of the Apostles, and the Hall of Constantine), the five Old Testament rooms dedicated to Samuel, David, Solomon, Elijah and Daniel), the papal chapel and antechapel, the Hall of the Obelisks, the Hall of Gloria, and the four rooms of the private papal apartment. Sixtus V also had the Scala Sancta, a staircase of 28 steps made of Tyrian marble covered with wood, moved to the present site where they lead to the Sancta Sanctorum, the old private chapel of the popes in the Lateran Palace. An Egyptian obelisk was excavated from the Circus Maximus in 1586 and transferred to the piazza of the Lateran. Recent studies have demonstrated that Sixtus V's construction and decoration of a palace with imperial dimensions sought to emphasize the spiritual imperium of the pope.
Subsequent popes have made wonderful improvements. Innocent X (1644–1655) commissioned Borromini in 1646 to make additions and Alexander VII (1655–1667) restored the Oratory of the Blessed Sacrament in 1662. Pius IX (1846–1878) undertook some restorations in 1853 but he also desired to construct 14 chapels in the Sancta Sanctorum to correspond with the Stations of the Cross; Pius X (1903–1914) approved this project in 1909. Pius XI (1922–1939) approved plans to build a chapel for the Holy Year of 1925. The Lateran Museum and the Vicariate offices of Rome were moved from the Vatican to the second floor of the Lateran Palace by John XXIII (1958–1963) to restore the Lateran's historic role in the diocese. He also initiated excavations of the Lateran in 1961 that were completed in 1968 under Paul VI (1963–1978).
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Lateran Council any of five general councils of the Western Church held in the Lateran Palace in 1123, 1139, 1179, 1215, and 1512–17. The council of 1215 condemned the Albigenses as heretical and clarified the Church doctrine on transubstantiation, the Trinity, and the Incarnation.
Lateran Treaty a concordat signed in 1929 in the Lateran Palace between the kingdom of Italy (represented by Mussolini) and the Holy See (represented by Pope Pius XI), which recognized as fully sovereign and independent the papal state under the name Vatican City.