Lateran Palace

The Lateran Palace, sometimes more formally known as the Apostolic Palace of the Lateran (Italian: "Palazzo Laterano"), is an ancient palace of the Roman Empire and later a Papal residence. Adjacent to the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano, the cathedral church of Rome, Italy, the Lateran Palace is now home of the Pontifical Museum of Christian Antiquities.

From the fourth century the Palace of the Lateran on Piazza San Giovanni in south-east Rome was the principal residence of the Popes, and continued so for about a thousand years.


The site on which the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano sits was occupied during the early Roman Empire by the "domus" of the Plautii Laterani family. The Laterani served as administrators for several emperors; Lucius Sextius Lateranus was the first plebeian to attain the rank of consul. One of the Laterani, Consul-designate Plautius Lateranus, became famous for being accused by Nero of conspiracy against the emperor. The accusation resulted in the confiscation and redistribution of his properties.

The "Domus Laterani" fell into the hands of the emperor when Constantine I married his second wife Fausta, sister of Maxentius. Known by that time as the "Domus Faustae" or "House of Fausta," the structure was eventually given to the Bishop of Rome by Constantine. The actual date of the gift is unknown but scholars believe it had to have been during the pontificate of Pope Miltiades, in time to host a synod of bishops in 313 that was convened to challenge the Donatist schism, declaring Donatism as heresy. The basilica of the "domus" was converted and extended, eventually becoming the cathedral of Rome, the seat of the popes as patriarchs of Rome: see Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano.

In the tenth Century Sergius III restored it after a disastrous fire, and later it was greatly embellished by Innocent III. This was the period of its greatest magnificence, when Dante speaks of it as beyond all human achievements. At this time the centre of the piazza in front, where now the obelisk stands, was occupied by the palace and tower of the Annibaldi family. Between this palace and the Lateran basilica was the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, then believed to represent Constantine, which now is at the Campidoglio. The whole of the front of the palace was taken up with the "Aula Concilii" ("Hall of the Councils"), a magnificent hall with eleven apses, in which were held the various Councils of the Lateran during the medieval period. The private apartments of the popes in this palace were situated between this "Triclinium" and the city walls.

The Lateran in disrepair

The fall of the palace from this position of glory was the result of the departure of the popes from Rome during the Avignon period.

Two destructive fires, in 1307 and 1361 respectively, did irreparable harm, and although vast sums were sent from Avignon for the rebuilding, the palace never again attained its former splendour. When the popes returned to Rome they resided first at Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere, then at Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, and lastly fixed their residence at the Vatican. Sixtus V, more concerned with rationalized urban planning than the preservation of antiquities, then destroyed what still remained of the ancient palace of the Lateran in 1586 and erected the present much smaller edifice in its place.

ixtus and Fontana

The architect he employed, immediately upon his election, was Domenico Fontana, who was engaged in alterations to the basilica at the same time. Fontana's strong restrained style, influenced by Giacomo Vignola and modelled upon Palazzo Farnese for its regular and harmonious if somewhat bland major façade, and Fontana's sound engineering basis and power of co-ordinating a complicated architectural program on a tightly constrained site, which Sixtus urged forward at top speed, are remarkable. A notice on 29 August 1589 announced that the work had been completed: "A great palace in Piazza Lateranese has been brought to completion by Sixtus V." [Ludwig von Pastor, "History of the Popes From the Close of the Middle Ages", vol. X p 616.] Fontana reapplied motifs of the Lateran Palace in the part of the Vatican Palace containing the present papal apartments, which he undertook later, and in his additions to the Quirinal Palace. The east front was finished under Clement XII, who surmounted it with his coat-of-arms in 1735.

From the old Lateran constructions three monuments survive, two of which are located in one building built by Domenico Fontana in 1589 opposite the Lateran Basilica. These monuments are the Scala Santa and the Chapel of the Sancta Sanctorum. Next to these is the third monument, the "Triclinium" of Leo III which survives as an apse lined with mosaics and open to the air. It was one of the most famous halls of the ancient palace, and was the state banqueting hall. The existing structure is not ancient, but it is possible that some portions of the original mosaics have been preserved in a three-part mosaic: In the centre Christ gives their mission to the Apostles, on the left he gives the keys to St. Sylvester and the Labarum to Constantine, while on the right St. Peter gives the stole to Leo III and the standard to Charlemagne.

Development of the modern Lateran Palace

The Lateran remained in a suburban environment, surrounded by gardens and vineyards, until the growth of modern Rome in the later nineteenth century. Its site was considered unhealthy in Rome's malarial summers, however. In the late seventeenth century Innocent XII sited in part of it a hospice for orphans, who were set to work in a little silk manufactury. In the nineteenth century Gregory XVI founded in it a museum of religious art and pagan culture for overflow from the Vatican galleries, which developed into the Museo Storico Vaticano. In 1926 Pius XI established an ethnographic museum devoted to artifacts sent back by missionaries. On 11 February 1929 the Lateran Treaty was signed here, at last regulating the relations between the Holy See and the Italian State and establishing that the basilica and Lateran Palace were integral exclaves of the Papal State.

Pope John XXIII returned to the palace some pastoral functions by fixing here the seat of the Vicariate and offices of the diocese of Rome.


External links

* [ palace] - map of piazza and plates (engravings)
* [,+italy&hl=en&t=h&ie=UTF8&om=0&ll=41.886161,12.506819&spn=0.003658,0.010428| Google satellite map]
* [ Riccardo Cigola, "St John Lateran"]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Lateran Palace — noun a palace that served as the residence of the popes until the 14th century • Instance Hypernyms: ↑palace • Part Holonyms: ↑Lateran * * * a palace in Rome used as the papal residence from the 4th century A.D. to the removal of the papal court… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Lateran Palace — a palace in Rome used as the papal residence from the 4th century A.D. to the removal of the papal court to Avignon, rebuilt in 1586, and now a museum for classical and Christian antiques. * * * …   Universalium

  • Lateran Palace — /lætərən ˈpæləs/ (say latuhruhn paluhs) noun a palace in Rome, the papal residence for nearly a thousand years; rebuilt in 1586 and now used as a museum …   Australian English dictionary

  • Lateran — and Laterano are the shared names of several architectural projects throughout Rome. The properties were once owned by the Lateranus family of the former Roman Empire. The Laterani lost their properties to Emperor Constantine who in turn gave it… …   Wikipedia

  • Lateran Councils — • A series of five important councils held at Rome from the twelfth to the sixteen century Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Lateran Councils     Lateran Councils      …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Lateran, Christian Museum of — • Established by Pius IX in 1854, in the Palazzo del Laterano erected by Sixtus V on the part of the site of the ancient Lateran palace destroyed by fire in 1308. In 1843 the profane Museum of the Lateran was founded by Gregory XVI, in whose… …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Lateran Council — Rom. Cath. Ch. any of the five ecumenical councils (1123, 1139, 1179, 1215, 1512 17) held in the Lateran Palace. * * * Any of five ecumenical councils of the Roman Catholic church held in the Lateran Palace in Rome. The First Lateran Council… …   Universalium

  • Lateran Museum — The statue of Sophocles in the Lateran Museum as pictured in 1905 The Lateran Museum (Museo Lateranense) was a museum founded by the Popes and housed in the Lateran Palace, adjacent to the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, Italy. It ceased to …   Wikipedia

  • Lateran council — The Lateran councils were ecclesiastical councils or synods of the Catholic Church held at Rome in the Lateran Palace next to the Lateran Basilica. Ranking as a papal cathedral, this became a much favored place of assembly for ecclesiastical… …   Wikipedia

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