Wednesday, October 14, 2009

St. John Lateran

History is a funny thing in that it goes hand in hand with cultural and communal amnesia.

We visited St. John Lateran, a church I'd never heard of before. But it's called the Mother Church because it was actually the seat of power for the Pope and the entire Catholic Church from the 300's to the early 1500's. Which means much of the Papal history we know about took place here and not at St. Peter's Basilca and the Vatican. I thought the Vatican has been the center from the start.

St. John Lateran was given its current name in 904 for both St. John the Baptist and St. John the Apostle as well as the Laterani family which owned the property until Constantine conquered Rome and took it. It's where St. Francis came when he had just 11 followers to ask Pope Innocent III to approve his rule of law. There were a number of sects popping up at that time and many went far afield of accepted religious practice. Francis wanted to get that stamp of approval to separate him from the others.

A series of dreams led to Francis gaining approval after at first being dismissed; the most important being the one Pope Innocent had which showed a straggly man holding up Lateran Church. He recognized that Francis was the man in his dream and gave verbal approval for his way of life. With that approval, the number of Brothers grew from a total of 12, including Francis, to thousands in just a few years.

The church itself is as magnificent as it is enormous. They took the giant metal doors from the old Roman Senate (possibly three stories high) and built the whole church to those gigantic proportions. Twenty feet high marble statues of the disciples line the main nave with gold flaked and vibrant colored designs blanketing the ceiling. The floor has intricate marble swirling patterns on intertwining paths and geometric designs that create wild 3D effects.

There is a holy door at the church also, one of four in Rome that people can go through every 25 years for absolution.

To immortalize Francis' dream, a statue was erected across the plaza that when viewed from the rear at the right angle shows Francis physically holding up the church.

We held mass in a back chapel then were able to walk on our own. Several Popes are buried there including Pope Innocent III who had died and was originally buried in Perugia.

Afterwards Father Andre took us to a great little restaurant he has frequented for almost 20 years known as Da Paulo (after the owner). We ate, drank and made merry, to understate things a bit.

Tomorrow is our last day. A mass and full tour of St. Peter's Basilica is on tap.

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