Did you know?
Every bishop has a “cathedral”—that is, the church where he officially presides as the head of his diocese. The Pope too—both in his capacity as the Bishop of the diocese of Rome, and as the head of the entire Church—has a “cathedral.”
The Pope’s cathedral stands on the property of an ancient palace donated to the popes by Emperor Constantine in the early 4th century. In its 1,700 years of existence, it has suffered a Vandal raid, neglect, fires, and earthquakes, and been rebuilt four or five times. Dedicated a total of three times, its name is the Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior and of Sts. John the Baptist and the Evangelist at the Lateran.
We know it simply as St. John Lateran.
The basilica was built for the popes as their primary church, placed right next to the Lateran palace, which was the papal residence for 1,000 years. It was the first western church to be built and dedicated as a Catholic place of worship, and surpassed the beauty of all the pagan temples in Rome. It was so lavishly adorned that it gained the name “Basilica Aurea” or “Golden Church.”
When the Pope moved to Avignon in the 1320s, both palace and church were forgotten and slowly deteriorated over the next seventy years. They had to be restored when the Holy See finally returned to Rome. Then the papal residence was moved to Vatican Hill, but St. John Lateran remains the Pope’s cathedral.
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