The streets of Rome are so much quieter at 7:30am in the morning, which was the perfect time for breakfast consisting of a cappuccino and croissant each. After this, we walked to the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano (Basilica of St. John Lateran).
On the way, we saw this obelisk in the Piazza di S. Giovanni in Laterano. Apparently, this is the tallest Egyptian obelisk in the world. Although this obelisk was the last one brought to Rome, it may also hold the record for being the oldest obelisk in Rome. The obelisk was built by an Egyptian Pharaoh and later bought from Alexandria to Rome by sea and then used to decorate the spina (the raised centre part) of the Circus Maximus. After the Roman Empire fell, the Circus Maximus was abandoned and buried over time. This obelisk was found broken into three pieces during excavations carried out under Pope Sixtus V. It was then restored and relocated to the Piazza di S. Giovanni in Laterano, near the Lateran Palace (which used to be the main residence of the Pope before the Vatican).
Emperor Constantine got hold of the Lateran Palace through his wife Fausta, and later gave it to the Catholic Church. It then became the center of the church, comprising the papal residence and the cathedral of Rome. While the Pope no longer resides in the Lateran Palace, the Basilica of St. John Lateran is still the highest ranking Catholic Basilica in Rome, even ranking above St. Peter’s Basilica.
This church is so important because it contains the papal cathedra, which is the official seat of the Bishop of Rome (the Pope), symbolising his authority in the Catholic Church and so this is the place where his authority is officially associated. Of interest, a basilica is basically a title given to an important church with some spiritual or historical significance, while a cathedral is a church that contains the bishop’s throne. So, this building is a church, basilica, and a cathedral.
Of interest were the bronze doors, which were originally from the Curia Julia, the Senate House in the Roman Forum. The Altar of the Holy Sacrament is said to contain fragments of the table used at the Last Supper, and the columns on each side are thought to have come from the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill. The confessio beneath the high altar houses the tomb of Pope Martin V. The word ‘confessio’ is used to describe the tomb of a saint or martyr whose lives confessed their faith and tends to be located beneath the high altar.
We next went to the nearby Scala Santa (Holy Stairs), which are believed to be the stairs that were located in the house of Pontius Pilate, brought to Rome by the mother of Emperor Constantine. These stairs may only be climbed on your knees because they are believed to be the ones that Jesus walked up before he was condemned by Pilate. If one does not wish to climb by knee, there are some stairs around the corner to walk up (or back down after ascending by knee).
These stairs lead up to the Sancta Sanctorum, so called because the wooden box is said to contain many holy relics. This area was located behind a lot of grating, so it was hard to get a good photo. Instead, I enjoyed admiring the ceiling in the chapel at the top of the stairs.