This church is the cathedral of the diocese of Rome, where the pope comes to celebrate Mass on certain holidays. Built in A.D. 314 by Constantine, it has suffered the vicissitudes of Rome, forcing it to be rebuilt many times. Only fragmented parts of the original baptistry remain.
The present building is characterized by its 18th-century facade by Alessandro Galilei (statues of Christ and the Apostles ring the top). A 1993 terrorist bomb caused severe damage, especially to the facade. Borromini gets the credit (some say blame) for the interior, built for Innocent X. It's said that, in the misguided attempt to redecorate, frescoes by Giotto were destroyed (remains believed to have been painted by Giotto were discovered in 1952 and are now on display against a column near the entrance on the right inner pier). In addition, look for the unusual ceiling and the sumptuous transept, and explore the 13th-century cloisters with twisted double columns. Next door, Palazzo Laterano (not open to the public) was the original home of the popes before they became voluntary "Babylonian captives" in Avignon, France, in 1309.
Across the street is the Santuario della Scala Santa (Palace of the Holy Steps), in the Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano (tel. 06-7726641). It's alleged that the 28 marble steps (now covered with wood for preservation) were originally at Pontius Pilate's villa in Jerusalem and that Christ climbed them the day he was brought before Pilate. According to tradition, Constantine's mother, Helen, brought the steps from Jerusalem to Rome in 326, and they've been in this location since 1589. Today pilgrims from the world over come to climb the steps on their knees. This is one of the holiest sites in Christendom, although some historians say the stairs may date only to the 4th century. Santuario della Scala Santa is open daily 6:15am to noon and 3:30 to 6:30pm.
- © Frommer's 2013
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- tel: 06-69886452
- Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano, 00184 Roma, Italy
- Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano 4
- Summer daily 7am-6:45pm (off season to 6pm)
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