Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica
“I have chosen and consecrated this house, says the Lord,
that my name may be there forever.”+
2 Chronicles 7:16
The Archbasilica of St. John Lateran is the oldest and most important of the four Major Papal Basilicas in the Catholic Church. And, it is this because it is the seat, or cathedra, of the Pope, the Bishop of Rome. The present basilica stands on the site of an ancient palace on the Celian Hill (one of the famous seven hills) of Rome which formerly belonged to the family of the Laterani. This palace was part of the dowry of Fausta, the wife of the Emperor Constantine; and, Constantine gave it to the Church* around year 324 A.D., when he converted a portion of the Laterini palace to serve as the papal residence.** The original dedication was to the Redeemer (S. Salvator–see the words [Christo Salvatore] in the picture above); but after destruction by an earthquake in 896 A.D., the church was rebuilt by Pope Sergius III (904–11), who dedicated it to St. John the Baptist. After the fire of 1308, it was restored by Pope Clement V (1305–14); but it was again burnt down in 1361. The present church was built under the direction of a succession of Popes beginning with Pope Urban V.* St. John Lateran has been host to a number of Lateran councils (some ecumenical) from the 7th to the 18th centuries.* Very fittingly, two inscriptions on the façade say that it is is “the Mother and Head of all Churches, in the City and of the World” (see picture on the right). It’s commonly known as St. John Lateran because it was dedicated to both St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist (see inscription on picture above).** It is located outside of Vatican City, but retains all the diplomatic status of the Vatican.
“The anniversary of the dedication of the Lateran Basilica, which was erected by the Emperor Constantine, has been observed on this day since the 12th century. This feast was at first observed only in Rome but later in honor of the basilica, which is called the mother church of Christendom, the celebration was extended to the whole Latin Church. This action was taken as a sign of devotion to and of unity with the Chair of Peter which, as Saint Ignatius of Antioch wrote, ‘presides over the whole assembly of charity.'”***
“…Today is the birthday of this church, an occasion for celebration and rejoicing. We, however, ought to be the true and living temple of God. Nevertheless, Christians rightly commemorate this feast of the church, their mother, for they know that through her they were reborn in the spirit…We are indeed living and true temples of God. God does not dwell only in structures fashioned by human hands, in homes of wood and stone, but rather he dwells principally in the soul made according to his own image and fashioned by his own hand…Do we wish to celebrate joyfully the birth of this temple? Then let us not destroy the living temples of God in ourselves by works of evil.”****
+ Gospel Acclamation for the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome; courtesy USCCB Daily Readings for November 9.
* cf Cross, F. L., & Livingstone, E. A. (Eds.). (2005). In The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed. rev., p. 958). Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.
** cf Tylenda, J. N. (2003). Saints and Feasts of the Liturgical Year (p. 239). Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.
***From the Liturgy of the Hours précis for the celebration of the feast.
****From a sermon by Saint Caesarius of Arles, Second Reading, Office of Readings, November 9th, Liturgy of the Hours.
Art: Archbasilica of St. John Lateran HD, Livioandronico2013, 21 April 2015, CCA-SA; “Sacrosancta Lateranensis ecclesia omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput”, incised in the front wall of the basilica; Laurel Lodged, 1 April 2010, PD-Worldwide; both Wikimedia Commons.