Saint John Lateran…pray for us???

Ceiling of the Lateran Basilica

I once heard a humorous story about a group of Catholics that would meet in the morning for prayer. Every morning at the end of their prayers, they would invoke the saint commemorated that day, for example: “St Francis, pray for us.”

Well on November 9th, the person leading the prayers had checked the calendar and noted “St John Lateran,” so at the end of prayer, he said, “Saint John Lateran, pray for us.”

The problem is that “Saint John Lateran” is not a person, but a place! Most people don’t know this, but St Peter’s Basilica of the Vatican is NOT the cathedral church of Rome. Rather, the cathedral of Rome, the chief church of the entire world is (take a deep breath): “The Cathedral Archbasilica of the Most Holy Saviour and Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist at the Lateran.”

That’s a mouthful isn’t? The cathedral is simply called “St John Lateran” by those who aren’t able to rattle off the full title. The term “Lateran” refers to the church’s ancient origins as the the Lateran palace, which once belonged the Roman noble family of the Laterni. It was acquired by Constantine the Great and donated to the Pope in order to be the cathedral of the city.

As the cathedral of Rome, it is also referred to as the Sacrosancta Lateranensis Ecclesia Omnium Urbis et Orbis Ecclesiarum Mater et Caput “Most Holy Lateran Church, of all the churches in the city and the world, the mother and head”. This day (November 9th) commemorates the consecration of the Church and recalls the universal vocation the Church as the “New Jerusalem.”

My favorite thing about the Lateran Basilica is the “Holy Staircase” that’s just across the street. The Holy Staircase {scala sancta in Latin} is the staircase that once led to the praetorium of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem. Saint Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine I, moved the staircase from Jerusalem to Rome where it has remained ever since. These are the stairs that Christ ascended before he was judged by Pontius Pilate. Pilgrims ascend the stairs on their knees for an indulgence. If you get to Rome, don’t miss the Holy Staircase. Also, the baptistry attached to the Lateran Basilica is simply amazing. Be sure to visit it, as well.

Comments Policy: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. If your comment contains a hyperlink to another site, your comment automatically goes into "Comments Purgatory" where it waits for release by way of moderation.

  • Edgewise.Sigma

    By any chance, Mr. Marshall, have you seen the “Sancta Sanctorum”?