Saturday, March 8, 2014


Once upon a time this was the beginning of Lent (of course, once upon a time what we now call "3rd Sunday" was the beginning of Lent, with the reading of John 4:  "The Samaritan Woman at the Well").  Instead, it is the celebration of the station church of St John Lateran.  It's a sort of self-contradiction, in fact:  why?

Simply, the origin of "station churches" was a way of having the Bishop of Rome more "visible" than just in his own church, which for obvious reasons could hold only a limited number of people.  So he would make the trek to various churches, almost in the spirit of a royal "grand progress."  But then, St John Lateran is the Pope's church...

People forget that St Peter's is not the Cathedral of Rome:  St John Lateran is.  It is the oldest of all the churches built by order of the Emperor Constantine (on estates he claimed as his own through his wife's family).  Its original dedication was to "Christ the Redeemer"--its name was changed when relics attributed to Ss John the Baptist and John the Apostle were brought to it (it also is reputed to have the heads--or portions of them-- of Ss Peter & Paul:  a detail important in trying to determine if the bones found near the tomb of Peter were possibly actually his).
As Cathedral of Rome, it refers to itself as "Head and Mother of all churches of the City and the World."  Here the Pope traditionally celebrates Holy Thursday (though as we know, Pope Francis marked the Mandatum, or foot-washing, at a juvenile detention center last Holy Week).

Here Pope Boniface VIII announced the very first "Holy Year of Jubilee" in 1300--a fragment of a fresco of this event by Giotto can be seen on a column in the right-hand aisle. 

Of all the major basilicas in Rome (the others are St Peter's, St Paul's Outside the Walls, and St Mary Major), this is the least impressive building (to me, anyway).  But theologically it is the most important.

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