Welcome! This blog celebrates both the local and the catholic -- that is, universal -- aspects of the Roman Catholic Church by sharing reflections on experiences of the Church in a variety of settings and cultures. Postings will come from around the world and around the corner. You don't have to be a Catholic to come along.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Mother Church

Earlier this week we celebrated the mother church of Christendom -- and it's not St. Peter's Basilica.

Since the 12th Century, November 9 has been the Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran in Rome. Erected by the Emperor Constantine in the early 4th Century and rebuilt many times, San Giovanni Laterano is the pope's cathedral in his capacity as bishop of Rome. (St. Peter's Basilica is not in Rome, of course, but in the Vatican City State.) Until the 14th Century, the attached Lateran Palace was the official residence of the pope.

The universal nature of the Church was brought home as I looked at the wooden confessional boxes around the church. Signs above listed languages of the confessors. For example, one polyglot priest could listen to and absolve sins in English, Italian and Irish Gaelic.

Candlesticks throughout the basilica ended in electric light bulbs instead of candles. Beneath the main alter lies the mortal remains of Pope Martin V, who died in 4131. For some reason, people throw coins and bills at it.

Like many of the great churches, St. John Lateran so is vast that's it's hard to appreciate all its wonders -- one masterpiece piled on top of another. The baldacchino over the papal altar, shown above, is decorated with 14th Century frescoes. Another fresco may be by Giotto.

But the most significant sight to me when we visited last month was the bishop's chair at the far end of the basilica, for that is the chair of Peter.

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