The Pope's Cathedral Celebrates Its 1700th Anniversary

November 10, 2023
Basilica of St. John Lateran

The Basilica of St. John Lateran – known as the Most Holy Savior – is one of most venerable churches in Christianity, the “cathedral” of the Pope, built at the request of the Emperor Constantine after his conversion, and consecrated in 324 AD. On November 9, 2023, she celebrated her 1700th birthday. For the occasion, the Vicariate of Rome has planned a series of events in succession over the course of a year.

According to Tacitus, the Caelius Hill in Rome was once shaded by a forest of oaks. During the imperial era, this vast space bore the name of Mars Field, which it soon lost to receive that of the Caelian Hill, at the highest point of which stood a sumptuous dwelling belonging to the noble Laterani family. Around it were numerous buildings, notably barracks.

The Laterani family is famous for several of its members. History remembers Plautius Lateranus, compromised in the Piso conspiracy, who was executed under Nero with the sixty-five other conspirators. Lateranus, consul designate, had no personal resentment against the emperor; he conspired, Tacitus tells us, for love of his country. Three other Laterani held consular offices.

Juvenal alludes to the luxurious palace in his tenth satire: “More still have been ruined by money too carefully amassed, and by fortunes that surpass all patrimonies by as much as the British whale exceeds the dolphin. It was for this that in the dire days Nero ordered Longinus and the great gardens of the over-wealthy Seneca to be put under siege; for this was it that the noble Palace of the Laterani was beset by an entire cohort.”

It was in 313, on the occasion of the council where Donatus and his supporters were condemned, that we find the first mention of Christian use of the Caelius buildings. This council was convened by Pope Miltiades in domum Faustae in Laterano, that is to say in the palace which had passed into the hands of Constantine's second wife, Fausta.

The donation of the Lateran Palace made by the Emperor Constantine to Pope St. Silvestre is said to have caused the miraculous healing of his leprosy and his victory over Maxentius at Pontus Milvius. It is known that since the time of Constantine, popes have occupied the Imperial Lateran Palace.

To establish the power of a Church emerging from the catacombs, Constantine did not hesitate to raze the enormous barracks next to the palace to establish the great basilica which was consecrated on November 9, 324.

A basilica which was damaged numerous times over the centuries: sacks of Rome by Alaric I in 410, then by Genseric in 455, earthquakes in the 4th and 9th centuries, repeated fires. The Lateran was always rebuilt, restored, embellished, at times even by the Avignon popes.

The last notable restoration – apart from that carried out in the 17th century by the architect Borromini who remodeled the entire building and gave it its current appearance – dates from the pontificate of Leo XIII (+1903).

In order to celebrate with dignity the 1700th anniversary of its foundation, the Vicariate of Rome, presided over by Archbishop Angelo De Donatis, has planned to hold various liturgical events from November 9, 2023, until the next Feast of the Dedication in 2024 .

The Basilica of St. John Lateran is dedicated to the two great saints close to Our Lord and named John: St. John the Baptist and St. John the Apostle. At the top of the frontispiece, above the entrance, is the statue of Christ the Savior. St. John the Baptist is placed on His right and St. John the Apostle on His left.