Lateran lătˈərən [key], name applied to a group of buildings of SE Rome facing the Piazza San Giovanni. They are on land once belonging to the Laterani; it was presented to the Church by Constantine. The Lateran basilica is the cathedral of Rome, the pope's church, the first-ranking church of the Roman Catholic Church. It is officially named the Basilica of the Savior, familiarly called St. John Lateran, from a monastery of St. John formerly nearby. The basilica, built perhaps before 311, was restored in the 5th and the 10th cent., rebuilt in the 14th and the 15th cent., and altered again in the 16th, the 17th, and the 18th cent.; the main facade was added in 1733–36. Much of the decoration dates from the Middle Ages and includes the mosaics of the apse, which are among the most celebrated. Frescoes by Gentile da Fabriano and Pisanello have disappeared. However, eight 13th-century frescoes in the Sancta Sanctorum chapel (St. Laurence's chapel), painted over and barred to the public in the 16th cent., were restored and opened to the public in 1995. The Lateran baptistery, built probably in the 4th cent., was much restored. The Lateran palace, the papal residence until the 14th cent., survived, greatly changed, until the 16th cent., when it was demolished to make way for the much smaller present palace. It now contains the pontifical museum of Christian antiquities. The older palace was the scene of the five Lateran Councils, and the new one of the signing of the Lateran Treaty.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Italian Physical Geography