The major basilica of St John Lateran is the cathedral church of Rome. At the main altar, only the Pope, as Bishop of Rome, can preside at Mass.
There is no St John Lateran: it is Lateran because it sits on the Lateran hill in Rome, and the basilica honours both St John the Baptist and St John the Apostle; although technically its primary dedication is to Jesus as Saviour of the World, with minor dedication to the two St Johns.
We do something similar when we qualify which church of St John the Baptist we are talking about, e.g. St John the Baptist Woy Woy and St John the Baptist Bonnyrigg.
It is this Basilica as the mother of all churches that the Church celebrates with a feast on 9 November, the ‘Dedication of the Lateran Basilica’.
This statue of St Francis and the early friars of the Franciscan order is located across the road and in front of the basilica of St John Lateran. That might seem strange, but in the time of St Francis if you wanted to get an audience with the Pope, you came here, since the Pope lived in the Lateran palace attached to St John Lateran. In fact this was the location of the papal residence for about 1000 years.
What St Francis wanted was to get papal approval for the Franciscan Rule of Life needed to recognise St Francis and his followers as a religious order. Would you let a group of barefoot, poorly clad men into a papal audience? But God found a way. God gave the pope of that time, Pope Innocent III, a dream while he slept, of Francis holding up the basilica of St John Lateran. This helped the pope take Francis and his men seriously and give them a Yes to their request. Hence the memorial statue of this event.
The way you know this is the Lateran Basilica – and not any other big basilica - is at the top of the roof stands Jesus, the triumphant Redeemer holding His Cross. To the left of Him is St John the Baptist. To the right of Him is St John the Apostle. The other statues represent doctors of the Church from both Eastern and Western traditions, for example St Basil the Great and St Ambrose must be represented in the statues somewhere on that roof.
In case you are wondering what that blue round thing is in the foreground, I’ve got one too. It came in our pilgrim pack, and it folds spirally down into a flattish circular object about the size of the palm of an adult hand. When the weather is hot, it can be used as a fan; and if anyone feels playful it can also be used as a frisbee. But the most important thing is that it fits inside our pilgrim satchels.
This view from inside St John Lateran looking down the nave towards the apse.
Along each side of the nave, between the high arches, are very tall, white statues of the Apostles. Surrounding each statue of an Apostle are grey columns on each side. St Paul in this depiction of the Apostles replaces St Matthias, and the statues of St Peter and St Paul are the ones closest to the altar. Each of the Apostles carries the weapon with which they were martyred – except St John, who has an eagle at his feet, a writing stylus in one hand, and an open book in the other hand.
Vincent Cavanagh #bbwyd
29 Jul 2023, 7.19pm Italy | 30 Jul 2023, 3:19am Sydney
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