Q. This weekend (November 9) we celebrate the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica. Where is this basilica and why is it important enough to appear on the Church’s liturgical calendar?
A. The full name of the church is the Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior and of Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist in the Lateran. It is the oldest public church in the city of Rome, and the oldest basilica in the Western world. Most importantly, it serves as the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Rome (not St. Peter’s, as is often assumed), so it is where the Pope presides as the Bishop of Rome.
The first basilica on the site was established in the fourth century when the Emperor Constantine donated the land (which had previously belonged to the Lateran family) to the Church. That structure, along with others that later occupied the site over the centuries, suffered the ravages of fire, earthquake, barbarian pillage, war, and neglect. But the Lateran has remained the cathedral of Rome.
The present structure was commissioned by Pope Innocent X in 1646. It contains a number of outstanding artistic and architectural features, including massive statues of the Apostles. Beneath its high altar, encased in stone, is an ancient wooden altar on which, according to tradition, the Apostle Peter himself celebrated Mass.
The universal Church has celebrated in her liturgical calendar the anniversary of the dedication of this basilica, called the “mother church of the world,” since the twelfth century.