Il Palazzo del Laterano: a treasure of art and faith

The Palazzo Lateranense is a treasure that spans more than three centuries of Christian history, and since last December it has opened its doors to the public, with a unique and innovative path that crosses the entire first floor of the Palazzo Apostolico.

Giuseppe Tetto-September 12, 2022-Reading time: 3 minutes
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Testo originale del articolo in inglese qui

Art, culture and faith. The Palace is a treasure that contains more than three centuries of Christian history. It is located in the heart of the Eternal City, next to the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano, which has always been the "Mother and Principle" of all the churches of Rome and the world.

Today the Pope, the Pope of Rome, takes "physical" possession of his diocese by claiming it in the Cathedral of San Giovanni in Laterano.

From December 13 of last year, the Lateran has opened its doors to the public with a unique and innovative route that passes through the first floor of the Apostolic Palace. Here the visitor is fascinated by the magnificence of each of the ten rooms, among which the one where the Lateran Patti were signed, displaying frescoes of the fifteenth century, precious arches, paintings of great artists and precious antique furniture. These were the places of representation of the Popes, who have lived in this complex for over a thousand years. After passing through them, one enters the private apartments of the Holy Father, which, together with the chapel, can now be visited for the first time in history.

The Suore Missionarie della Divina Rivelazione, committed to evangelization through beauty, accompany the visitor throughout the tour. The visit ends inside the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano which is accessed from the majestic monumental stairway.

Pope Francis suggested to revitalize what for centuries was the "Casa del Vescovo di Roma", before it was transferred to the Vatican. In a letter dated February 20, 2021, addressed to Cardinal Vicar Angelo De Donatis, the Holy Father invited to share the "fruit of the genius and mastery of the artists, often a testimony of faith experiences" and to "make fruitful the beauty and the preeminent importance of the patrimony and of the artistic assets" entrusted to the protection of the Bishop of Rome.

History of the Palazzo del Laterano

To retrace the history of the Palace we must go back to October 28th, 312, when Costantino's army reconfirmed that of Massenzio in the famous battle of Ponte Milvio. It was then seated on the throne of Pietro Papa Milziade I, to whom Costantino donated the area and the buildings that once belonged to the ancient Roman family of the Lateran Plauzi.

It was the same Costantino who, with the Editto di Milano of 313, granted freedom of worship to Christians who, until then, had professed the faith between intolerance and persecution, and promoted the construction of places for worship and the profession of faith.

The Basilica of Santissimo Salvatore, which will later be dedicated also to Saints Battista and Evangelista, was the only one not to be built on the burial place of a martyr, but as an ex-voto in honor (by grace received), but on the remains of the Castra Nova Equitum singularium, the seat of the praetorians of Massenzio, Costantino's rival.
 The basilica was consecrated on November 9, 318 and dedicated to Saint Salvatore by Pope Silvestro I. Successively besides the Battistero it was added the Patriarchium, called "Casa del Vescovo di Roma".

In the course of centuries, among damages, vicissitudes and sacrifices, these places reached their maximum splendor in medieval times, under the pontificate of Innocenzo III and Bonifacio VIII.

Transfer of the Vatican papacy

The Palace, which was for about a thousand years the residence of the Popes, was abandoned when the papal authority returned to Rome after the "Cattività di Avignone" (1309-1377).
The Vatican, in fact, was designated as the ideal place to host the Pope, not only for the geographic aspects that made it safer, but above all for the presence of Peter's tomb. Nevertheless, the Lateran Palace would have continued to maintain its patriarchal prerogative: all the Popes, in fact, once elected to the papal throne, would have been established in the Lateran.

The urban planning project of the entire complex came at the request of Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590) who, in only five years of pontificate, carried out a series of interventions of restoration and construction of the Lateran dintorni and throughout the city.
In the end, however, Sisto V could only stay for one year, and all his successors chose the Vatican as their successor.

But the importance of the place in the course of the centuries has remained. The Palazzo Lateranense was rarely used as an apartment. Its main use was that of "hospice", used to provide the city's inhabitants with a place to live and work.

It was then, with the figures of Gregory XVI, Pius IX and Pius XI, that the palazzo was used to house the documents and historical memorabilia related to the universal propagation of the Vangelo.

Giovanni XXIII first, and Paul VI later, carried out an extensive restoration and restoration of the Palace, which concluded in 1967 with the transfer to the Lateran of the offices of the Vicariate of Rome.

Today it is possible to access the Palace only with guided tours, in groups of at least 30 people. To book, you have to book choosing the desired date through the site

The authorGiuseppe Tetto

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