Feast of the Dedication of the
Lateran Basilica in Rome (9 November)


Jesus cleansing the Temple - by BASSANO, Jacopo - from National Gallery, London

 

John 2:13-22

As the Jewish Passover was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple precincts He came upon people engaged in selling oxen, sheep and doves, and others seated changing coins. He made a [kind of] whip of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, sheep and oxen alike, and knocked over the money-changers' tables, spilling their coins. He told those who were selling doves: "Get them out of here! Stop turning My Father's house into a marketplace!" His disciples recalled the words of Scripture: "Zeal for your house consumes me."

At this the Jews responded, "What sign can you show us authorizing you to do these things?" "Destroy this temple," was Jesus' answer, "and in three days I will raise it up." They retorted, "This temple took forty-six years to build, and You are going to 'raise it up in three days'!" Actually He was talking about the temple of His body. Only after Jesus had been raised from the dead did His disciples recall that He had said this, and come to believe the Scripture and the word He had spoken.

 

Feast of the Dedication of the
Lateran Basilica in Rome

lateranbasilica.jpg (9922 bytes)Known as "Christianity's first cathedral" and the "mother of all churches", the Lateran Basilica was the first church built by the Emperor Constantine after the Edict of Milan in 313. In 314 Constantine gave Pope Saint Miltiades the old palace on Monte Celio which had formerly been land owned by the patrician Laterani family.

Constantine also decreed that the popes should live in the Lateran palace which was called the Patriarchate. It would remain the pontifical residence until the 15th Century, but the basilica itself would be in peril throughout the centuries. The successor to Pope Miltiades was Pope Saint Sylvester I who officially consecrated the basilica in 324 and dedicated it to Christ the Savior with Constantine's blessings.

Eighty some years later the barbarian Alaric sacked the basilica; likewise the pagan Genseric in 455. It was the great Pope Saint Leo the Great who rebuilt it in 460. Three centuries later a devastating fire swept through the basilica and it was left to Pope Hadrian I in 785. A little over a century later an earthquake rocked Rome and practically destroyed the entire basilica. In 909 Pope Sergius III rebuilt the basilica and dedicated it to Saint John the Baptist. It was also dedicated to the other Saint John - Saint John the Evangelist by Pope Lucius II in 1144.

During the papacy of Pope Clement V the basilica was again heavily damaged by fire in 1308. No sooner was it rebuilt then another fire swept through in 1360 while Pope Innocent VI the 199th in the line of Peter, was pontiff. It was so devastating that when Pope Gregory XI returned from exile in Avignon in the 1370's, he moved both the residential palace and the head of the See from the Caelian Hill to Vatican Hill which the Roman Senate had donated to the Pope.

While the Lateran Basilica laid in ruins, Gregory gave special prominence to Saint Mary Major Basilica for gaining a jubilee indulgence, since people could not go on pilgrimage to the Lateran Basilica at that time. It was left to Pope Sixtus V to have the ruins of the Lateran torn down and in its place replaced them with late-Renaissance structures which he commissioned architect Domenico Fontana to construct.

The only structure not torn down was the Pope's private chapel which was saved. Sixtus was known as the builder of churches and urban renewal projects. He also had the Holy Stairs (Scala Santa), which had been brought to Rome from Jerusalem by Saint Helena in the 4th Century, moved from the old palace residence to the entrance of the Sancta Sanctorum (Pope's private, holy chapel). This staircase was believed to be the one Jesus ascended in the palace of Pontius Pilate.

In 1645 Pope Innocent X commissioned one of the leading Baroque architects Francesco Borromini, to complete the interior of Saint John Lateran's by the Jubilee Year of 1650. Nearly eighty years later, Pope Clement XII held a competition among architects to submit the best design for a new facade of the Lateran Basilica. Italian master Alessandro Gatilei completed the work in 1735.

The exterior of the Basilica today is a tribute to his work which aptly depicts a huge statue of Jesus holding the Cross of Redemption, the Cross which Helena found and which her son saw miraculously in the sky on the eve before his victory, and ultimate conversion. Flanking Our Lord at the top of the columned flat roof are 15 gigantic statues of Saints and Doctors of the Church. The main bronze door into the church was the original one that closed the senate house and was built by the Emperor Julius Caesar in 44 BC. The magnificent massive statues of the apostles, chiseled Italian master Gian Lorenzo Bernini, consume most of the columned side walls of the interior of the Basilica.

There have been
five Ecumenical Councils held over the centuries at the Lateran Basilica and numerous diocesan synods. The Lateran Pacts signed by Benito Mussolina on February 11, 1929 which defined the territory and status of the State of Vatican City, was signed at the Basilica.

Sadly, the devastation of this magnificent structure was not limited to the middle centuries, for on July 27, 1992 a bomb, planted by the Italian Mafia in retaliation of Pope John Paul II's stand against the crime organization, exploded at the Roman Vicariate of the Basilica, causing great damage. It was restored in January of this year and it was of special significance when our present Holy Father celebrated Holy Thursday liturgy there this past Lent, symbolically washing the feet of priests who had been chosen from all over the world in the Pope's display of what Jesus asks: to be the servant of the servants.

The November 9th date for celebrating the feast of the Dedication of this great Basilica evolves from early in the 1100's when almost all the churches dedicated to Jesus chose this date to celebrate a miraculous event that happened in Beirut, Lebanon prior to the Nicene Council there in 787. The phenomenon occurred when a crazed man struck a statue of Our Lord with a sword and the statue, though made of stone, bled profusely as blood poured out in torrents. It was not until 1565, that Pope Pius IV decreed it be celebrated throughout the Church. Since this was the first church of Christianity, it is considered the "mother of churches throughout the world" and served as the seat of Christianity for a thousand years.