Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

When I glanced at the upcoming gospel this Sunday, I found that it was the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica. Having no idea what that was, I assumed that perhaps others were unfamiliar with it too.

So here you go – a little bit of Church history – coming at you!Lateran basilica

In the time of the Roman empire, this site was originally occupied by the Laterani family who during Nero’s reign, was accused of conspiracy against the emperor. At this time, the family palace was seized by the Roman government.  Eventually the palace came into the hands of Constantine, the first Christian emperor, who gave it to the Church to use around 311 A.D.   Legend speaks of how Constantine helped to physically build the basilica with his own hands.  This palace became a center for Christian life and the home of the pope as well as the cathedral of Rome.  The church was so beautiful, it was known as the “Basilica Aurea” or Golden Church.

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Unfortunately, this beauty led the church to be attacked by vandals and stripped of its treasures. Despite restorations by Hadrian I and St. Leo the Great in the mid hundreds, an earthquake almost totally destroyed the original structure.  The structures were rebuilt in the same design and dimensions as the old one and stood for 400 years until it was burnt down.  Clement V and John XXII rebuilt the church but it was burned down a second time in 1360, after which Urban V had it rebuilt.  Some of the beauty within included colonnades, columns, porticoes, frescoes and a mosaic of Christ the Savior. Lateran basilica2Lateran basilica3

In the Middle Ages, the church was abandoned with the city and was in ruins. It was after this last major restoration that the church was no longer used as a residence and renovations were made that were not part of the original design, often covering up some of the original architecture.

Some more modern day restorations have allowed some of the original beauty to be revealed while combining styles and changes made throughout history. This church is one of the only in Rome, and few in the world,  to contain a wooden altar.  The altar is a relic in itself as it is believed that St. Peter himself celebrated mass upon that wooden altar during his time in Rome.  It survived all of the years of persecution and was protected and preserved.  Although it is now enclosed in a larger stone altar, the original wood is still displayed. Lateran basilica5

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