Lateran, Church of St John

Lateran, Church Of St. John, the first in dignity of the Roman churches, and situated in the southern extremity of the city, derives its name from its occupying a portion of the site of the splendid palace of Plantius Lateranus, which having been escheated (A.D. 66) in consequence of Lateranus being implicated in the conspiracy of the Pisos (Tacitus), became imperial property, and was assigned for Christian uses by the emperor Constantine. The palace, once destroyed by fire, and rebuilt by Sixtus V, was the habitual residence of the popes until after the return from Avignon, when they removed to the Vatican. It was once made a hospital for orphans, and is now occupied partly by officials of the chapter, partly for public purposes. The present pope, Pitis IX, has converted a portion of it into a museum of Christian archaeology. Its ancient magnificence is celebrated by Juvenal. In the time of Constantine the palace was the abode of his second wife, the empress Fausta. It has been the conjecture of some that Fausta was a Christian, and that the Basilica, or Hall of Justice, connected with her palace, was granted by Constantine as a place of Christian assembly. The fact seems, however, well established that Constantine subsequently bestowed the palace upon pope Sylvester, and it has ever since (several times rebuilt, and modified in its final completion, dating from the pontificate of Clement XII) continued a papal patrimony. The emperor is said to have founded at the same time the adjacent church, which was originally dedicated to the Savior, but after it was rebuilt by Lucius II in the middle of the 12th century, was dedicated to St. John, because of the baptistery which Constantine built near by it. It bears the additional name Basilica Constantiniana. The church has thus been naturally regarded as the parish or cathedral church of the popes, and is distinguished as such above any other in Rome. St. Peter's and Sta. Maria Maggiore are not to be compared with it in importance. Each of the three has a porta santo. In reference to the Lateran, however, Gregory XI, in his bull June 23, 1372, uses the following language, which has been substantially repeated by many popes: "Sacrosanctam Lateranensem ecclesiam, praecipuam sedem nostram, inter omnes alias Urbis et orbis ecclesias ac basilicas, etiam super ecclesiam seu basilicam principis Apostolorum de Urbe, supremum locum tenere." The ceremony of taking possession of the Lateran Basilica is one of the first observed on the election of a new pope, whose coronation takes place in it. The chapter of the Lateran has precedence of that of St. Peter's. On the throne of the Lateran is written the inscription, "Haec est Papalis Sedes et Pontificalis." An inscription on each side of the entrance styles it mother and mistress of churches, Omnium urbis et orbis Ecclesiarum Mater et Caput. In accordance with its dignity, therefore, all the oecumenical councils assembled in the city of Rome have been held in this church. the late council (1870), held at St. Peter's, being the only exception. SEE LATERAN COUNCILS. In the piazza of St. John Lateran stands the celebrated relic called the "Scala Santa," or "Holy Staircase," reputed to be the stairs of Pilate's house at Jerusalem, made holy by the feet of Christ as he passed to judgment. See Herzog, Real-Encyklop. 8:212; Stanley, Hist. East. Ch. page 304; Wetzer und Welte, Kirchen-Lexikon, volume 6, s.v.

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