Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"This is the house of God and the door to heaven"

  Lateran Basilica, Rome

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the dedication of the Lateran Basilica, which is the cathedral church of the bishop of Rome.  Usually, the dedication of a cathedral is celebrated only within that particular diocese, but because the bishop of Rome's authority extends over the entire Church, the entire Church takes part in this feast.  The basilica originally belonged to the Laterani family, from whom it was seized by the emperor Nero, and later gifted to the Church by Constantine.  In its very long history, the basilica has been sacked by the Vandals, burned several times, and heavily damaged by an earthquake.   The present basilica reflects a 17th century restoration (which the Catholic encyclopedia calls "tasteless") carried out by Borromini under the direction of Pope Innocent X. 

The altar of the basilica is unusual in that it does not contain a saintly relic, nor has it been erected over the tomb of a martyr.  Instead, the altar's marble encloses the wooden table at which St. Peter himself is believed to have celebrated Mass.  In addition, the baldacchino above the altar holds the heads of Saints Peter and Paul.

Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.

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