Lateran Complex: The Basilica of St. John in the Lateran, the Baptistery and the Cloister, the Sancta Santorum (Holy of Holies) and the Scala Sancta (Holy Stairs)

The visit

With this itinerary we enter the oldest church in the Western world, the mother and archetype of all other churches throughout Rome and the world, which served as a papal residence for over a 1,000 years, until the 14th century.

The Basilica of St. John in the Lateran, the Baptistery, the Sancta Sanctorum and the Scala Sancta form a complex of great significance for the history of the Church. The Lateran was the seat of the papacy until it was moved to the Vatican. Through the centuries, however, the area has retained its importance and many religious buildings have been built here.

You will have to opportunity to visit the Scala Sancta, a destination for pilgrimages from all over the world. According to tradition, the stairs were brought to Rome by St. Helena, and were climbed by Jesus himself in the days of the Passion. The tour continues on to the Sancta Sanctorum, once a private Chapel of the Popes. In the past, only the Popes and a handful of other people were allowed to enter. Witnessing it is an emotional experience.

Today, the Cathedral of the Diocese of Rome, the oldest Western Basilica, opens its doors to modernity: music, song, images and replicas of famous frescoes overlap in a special mix of history, culture and spirituality, all explained by the audio guide, which will lead the tour of the “mother of all the Churches of Rome and the world" and the adjacent Cloister, a place of meditation and silence in the heart of the city, the work of the most important Cosmati masters of Rome.

A bit of history...

The area was chosen by Emperor Constantine for the construction of the first Christian basilica, the Basilica of St. John in the Lateran. The Basilica was officially dedicated to the Holy Saviour by Pope Sylvester I in the 4th century; the church and the adjoining Lateran Palace were declared to be the Domus Dei ("house of God"), a Lateran name that derives its ancient owners. The Basilica - the first one ever dedicated to the Savior - was elevated above the Lateran structures donated by Constantine to Pope Miltiades. Early on, in the year 313, a Bishop’s council was held in the House of Fausta, the sister of Maxentius and Constantine's second wife. Soon thereafter a true citadel was built next to the Basilica, where many Popes resided, and where the life of the Roman and universal Church would continue to exist for many centuries. Kings, emperors and saints alike have passed through these places, just as simple pilgrims have.

The Sancta Sanctorum, originally a private oratory of the Popes and a small treasure trove of art, holds many relics, enough to put the phrase "there is no holier place in the world” under the main fresco. Even today, the beautiful and ancient icon of the Savior rests on its altar; this image was carried in procession on the night of the Assumption and venerated by the people who bathed it in basil water to invoke protection during great disasters - the very same Popes led it through on a procession invoking salvation.

Masterpiece of art and beauty

The Basilica of St. John in the Lateran is also a treasure trove of art: its façade – designed by Alessandro Galilei (1736) - is perhaps the most beautiful in Rome for its harmony and a lightness, appearing to float against the backdrop of the city’s blue sky. The central nave – harmonious work of Borromini - commissioned by Innocent X for the Jubilee of 1650, will amaze you with its magnificent beauty: the artist managed to retain elements of the early church, such as the Cosmati floor, the coffered ceiling and small columns next to the Apostles, carved from precious green marble. Through a succession of statues, the representation of the Apostles becomes the living image of a new cenacle and a shining Pentecost - a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church. An interesting fact – of Borromini’s doing: starting in March, after 12 o’clock the sun enters through the large windows simultaneously illuminating all 12 statues - a visible sign of the divine ray that illuminated the lives and hearts of the disciples.