Monday, March 11, 2013

St. John Lateran, the Scala Santa and Sancta Sanctorum

If you are what you should be, 
you will set the world ablaze!
~Saint Catherine of Sienna

Arcibasilica Papale di San Giovanni in Laterno
The Papal Archbasilica of St. John Lateran

It's huge and it's the first of four Papal Basilicas of Rome. It's the official seat of the Bishop of Rome, who also happens to be the Pope. So, for that reason, as a cathedral, it ranks above all other churches in the Catholic Church ... even St. Peter's! (Thanks Wikipedia!)

Strange to be writing this right now, realizing it's currently a church without a bishop! 

I took the metro system down there, because it was way too far to walk. I'd already walked around that morning, been to Sant'Andrea delle Fratte (to see Bernini's angels), snacked on some sort of salami I'd gotten at the little market, scarfed down a power bar  ... and I was off to St. John! 

I knew it would be big ... but it was HUGE. In the photo above, that I actually took on my way out, you can sort of see a silhouette of a person, next to the small, middle/left column. Yes, he's tiny. That's how big the Basilica is!

OK, here is some Italian Baroque to go with the post ...

This photo below is in the portico, before entering the basilica. Everyone say hello to Emperor Constantine! 

Constantine, Roman 4th Century

And this, below, is the nave. Imagine that there are also two big aisles on either side of this and then huge chapels off of those! I took so many pictures, I could have done several posts, just on this church. At one point, I narrowed it down and there were still 54 photos! I edited way down from that, so I guess you'll just have to visit someday! 

The original church was consecrated in 324! The Laterani family had owned the property and after somehow getting on the outs with Rome, had it confiscated. Emperor Constantine, who you just said hello to, gave the property to the church and allowed the Pope to set up shop here, after 312. O.K., "set up shop" isn't exactly the term but you get the picture. 

In case you're curious, the church measures 130 x 54 meters. (426 by 177 feet or ... 142 yards by 59 yards)

The current ceiling, you see here, was built in the 1700s.

Popes lived in the old Lateran palace next door, until pope Clement V, when the whole "Avignon drama" happened. He moved to Avignon, in what is now modern day France, in 1309. At least, it all seemed pretty dramatic in art history class. You might want to read up on that. Anyway, after that, when the papacy came back to Rome, it was to the Vatican Palace.

The church was built and rebuilt over the centuries, due to earthquakes, fires and upgrades. One of the big remodels was commissioned by Pope Innocent X, in 1649, when the whole place was ready to collapse. Fortunately, he had our old friend Francesco Borromini, who did work on Sant'Andrea delle Fratte and my personal favorite San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, to turn to!

The niches, which Borromini created in the nave, were later filled by huge sculptures of the Evangelists and Apostles, but not until during the time of Pope Clement XI. (1701-1721) 

Saint Phillip (check out his foot on the head of the dragon!) by Giuseepe Mazzuoli, 1715

Above each statue you can see a relief, depicting biblical scenes, done in the 1600s. Above each relief, are small oval paintings of the prophets. 

St. Matthew by Comillo Rusconi, 1715
Relief - Christ entering Limbo by G.F. Rossi

The Gothic high altar is quite beautiful and ornate, with lovely frescos and gilding. It was made in 1367 by Giovanni di Stefano. (Don't worry, there won't be a quiz!) In that area above,  that looks a bit like a birdcage, there is a relic chamber with the heads of St. Peter and Paul, and little statues of them. ... Although, I thought Peter was under St. Peter's ... but that must be his body?

Anyway, moving on! Isn't it so pretty?!

Frescos by Barna di Siena

Looking back from next to the altar, an incredible view ...

Organ designed by Luca Lasi and G.B Montano


Frescoed scenes of the Life of Constantine
Late 1500s by Pomeracio, Paris Nogari and G.B. Ricci

The Altar of the Blessed Sacrament, below, is said to enshrine the table from the last supper. I'm not sure how they figured this out, or who saved the table from going to a flea market, but they sure did a nice job on the shrine! 

So, make this story even wilder ... the columns were taken from the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitol, which had been recast in bronze, from the prows of Cleopatra's ships. (Courtesy of a battle with Emperor Augustus.) Crazy right? I love Rome.

Seriously, everything has a story here.

Altar of the Blessed Sacrament 
by Pier Paolo Olivieri 1600 


The floor was from the 14th century and paid for by the Colonna family and completed in 1425. Isn't it amazing?! I think that 's the family crest of the Colonna family, in the middle. 

I would venture to guess that Michelangelo's great friend Vittoria Colonna (a renaissance poet and writer) was from that same powerful family. She had some serious pull ... but that's another mini-series.

Borromini was smart to leave the floor. Just gorgeous.

Out the left side of the church, if you pay the 8 or so Euro for the headphones, you can go into the cloister as well, which dates to the 13th century. All around the cloister are Roman artifacts. I couldn't resist.

If I remember correctly, this chair was the first, literal seat of the pope but I'm guessing he had a pillow. Isn't it beautiful?

Here's a relic story for you. That red slab of stone, below? Apparently, Roman soldiers were placing bets, or playing a game of dice, for who would get Jesus' robes. I am going by memory, so I might be a little off, but basically that was the gist of it. 

I walked into this room, off the cloister. The photo's a little blurry, but I couldn't resist the Roman artifacts and vending machines together!

If you head across the street from the basilica, there is a building that houses something pretty amazing, and very important, to pilgrims who come from all over the world.

The Scala Santa

For me prayer is a surge of the heart, 
it is a simple look towards Heaven,
it is a cry of recognition and of love,
embracing both trial and joy.
~St. Therese of Lisieux

The Scala Santa, or Holy Staircase, is at the location that was the original papal palace from the time of Constantine, to the Pope's time in Avignon.

The stairs were brought here by Constantine's mother, Helena, from Pontius Pilate's house in Jerusalem in about 326. The 28 marble steps (now encased in wood) were climbed by Jesus, before he was crucified. There are places where there is glass, in place of the wood, in order to see his blood stains on the stairs. 

Pilgrims climb the steps, on their knees, in deep contemplation of the Passion. It was so moving to see all of these people move slowly up the steps. You can see the stories of Jesus, frescoed on the walls and the crucifiction at the top of the stairs.

These marble sculptures, are to the left an right of the Holy Steps

To the left and right of the Holy Steps, are stairways you can use to ascend on your feet, which is what I did. This takes you to the Sancta Sanctorum Chapel, which is directly behind that fresco at the top of the stairs.

Sancta Sanctorum

Above the altar it reads 
Non est in toto sactior orbe locus, 
There is no holier place in all the world.

There is more than one chapel in the building but this one is the oldest, and considered most holy. The Holy of Holies, it is called. 

I had to be escorted in and the lady stayed with me until I was ready to leave. I took my time and was waiting for a tour group to leave, so I could get up to the altar without getting in the way of their view. It never happened, and my companion told me to just go for it and get up there ... so I did.

Above the altar ...
9th Century Mosaic 

Part of the reason it is considered so holy, is that it was the place used as the papal relic treasury, and it held a multitude of important relics, some of which are still there. It was also the personal chapel to the early Popes.

 Cosmati Frescoes in the 12th Century.

As I sat looking up at the ceiling and around the walls of the chapel, the Frescoes reminded me of the basilica of Saint Francis, in Assisi. The guide, for the tour group, was speaking Italian but I heard her mention the basilica in Assisi and it's artist, Giotto, and something about it being popular and one influencing the other. It was a little frustrating getting bits and pieces so I just sat back and tried to take it all in!

After that, I decided to go back in to San Giovanni for one more look. Here you can see one of the long aisles, that are to the left and right of the nave. There are big chapels off these large aisles, as well. The place is huge.

You can see something here that screams Borromini, so I'm guessing they were from his time working on the place. See the little serifs or cherubim, above the arches?  This is something he used a lot of in his work and I love them!

One more view ...


Ceiling above the altar by Taddeo Landini, 1592
Preserved by Francesco Borromini 

I was standing just behind the altar so it's upside down, but if you look closely, you'll see the bust of Christ in the middle.

I turned to the statue of Saint Peter with his keys and took this photo, below. I looked down at my digital screen and saw the light. Literally! ... right toward his raised hand! Wow.

St. Peter by Pierre Monnot, 1706

Thank goodness for the Internet, to fill in the memory gaps and info I didn't pick up while I was there.  Much of the info I needed, I got from Churches of Rome Wiki,  Wikipedia , and Sacred Destinations which you can check out, if you haven't already had enough! ;) Great resources if you are planning to travel, as well.

This is pretty cool too ... you can do a virtual visit of San Giovanni on the Vatican Website ... see all the chapels and use your mouse to move around each room. After hitting the link, click on one of the places in the left hand column, to choose a room or space in the church. :)

Here's a little BBC slideshow of the Restoration of the Frescoes in the Scala Santa, if you are interested.

Sorry about the watermark signature on my photos. Hope they're not too annoying. It's a different world out there now and it just has to be done.

Pray, Hope and Don't Worry.
~St. Pio of Pietrelcino

Hope you all have a wonderful week. 
My next post is food and witches! ;)
Blessings and light!


Loree said...

May I say it again? - I miss Rome and I really would love to go back. What a lovely tour of St John's.

rjerdee said...

Wow, what a much to take in, so many details. Thank you for the link to the Vatican Website where I can take my own little tour!
Grazie, Becky

donna baker said...

Loved the pic of St. Peter reaching out to the light. I had never heard of Padre Pio before going to Rome. Even saw billboards of him and had to find out more. He bore the stigmata and was so beloved by Italians. I got to see the cloak and rope belt St. Francis of Assisi wore in Florence. Just so mouthdroppingly historic in Italy, not to mention beautiful.

Cristina Deboni said...

Wow ma è meraviglioso questo post, uno stupendo e completo reportage! Hai ragione la Chiesa è meravigliosa, così ricca nel su interno di sculture e decorazioni! Mi piace molto! complimenti, ciao Cri : )

Cobalt Violet said...

Thanks for the lovely comments! I don't think that I've ever spent so much time on a post!!!

Kerry O'Gorman said...

Wow! How impressive! Those Italians sure do it up right! The floor with the crest in the middle is simply gorgeous. Vivaldi rocks my world!

Tammie Lee said...

when prayer is a surge of the heart, that is so amazingly powerful and fast. from my experience that is when it bypasses the mind.

thank you for a gorgeous stroll through amazing beauty!

Joop Zand said...

So many good photo's from nice places in Rome...... thanks for this post.

Greetings and a nice weekend,


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Another great post of yours. The photos are wonderful and surely make justice to those gorgeous celings, walls or floors.

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