We commemorate today the dedication of one of the 4 major basilicas of Rome, that of St John the Lateran. This majestic basilica was the first church to be built in Christendom.
At the top of the center of the façade stands the Risen Christ, demonstrating that to enter the Church, we must enter into Christ’s body. That is why we as Church are called the “Body of Christ.”
Underneath this statue is the Papal balcony, from which the pope addresses his faithful – this is to mean that the Pope is literally under Christ as his Vicar on earth.
Directly above the pillars and columns on the façade are 12 bishops of the early Church (known as Doctors) to symbolize that the visible face of the Church is found in the Bishops throughout the east and west.
Then each of the foundational pillars of the basilica’s interior contains an enormous marble statue of the 12 Apostles, to symbolize literally that the Church is built on the foundation of the Apostles. They are all similar in style and size, but done by different sculptors.
In the back of the Church in the apse is a huge mosaic of Christ the Savior hovering over his Cross. In fact the original name of the Church was “Christ the Savior,” named so by Pope Sylvester, just after it was built by King Constantine, who legalized Christianity.
In 313 AD, King Constantine stopped the persecutions and the killing of many innocent martyrs, and he built a Church on a plot of land owned by the Laterani family. It was pillaged and attacked and desecrated over the years, but it survived. However in the 9th century it was destroyed by an earthquake, and Pope Sergius III rebuilt it and dedicated it to St John the Baptist. Later it was also dedicated to St John the Evangelist, and that’s why it is known as the basilica of St John Lateran.Now until the 13th century, this Church was the seat of the Pope, his headquarters and his Church government, but then moved to the Vatican, where he still resides, and from where all Church business is conducted. The present facade was completed in 1735, and was done after a competition among Rome’s best architects, the prize and winning design going to Alessandro Galilei.