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Background: St. John Lateran, the Pope's cathedral May 06, 2005

On Saturday, May 7, Pope Benedict XVI will formally take possession of the basilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral of the Rome diocese.

Although it has not been the primary home of Roman Pontiffs since the 14th century-- St. Peter's Basilica is the site of most papal liturgical celebrations-- St. John Later remains the Pope's cathedral, and the Roman church par excellence. The name "Lateran" refers to the great patrician family of ancient Rome on his grounds the basilica now stands. For several centuries, the Roman Pontiff lived in the Lateran palace adjacent to the church itself. The massive bronze central doors were taken from the Roman Forum, where the Senate met.

It was in this basilica that Charlemagne was baptized on Easter Sunday in 774. And five councils took place at the basilica: Lateran I in 1123, Lateran II in 1139, Lateran III in 1179, Lateran Iv in 1215, and Lateran V in 1512. It was also at the Lateran Palace that the "Lateran Accords" were signed in 1929, establishing the terms of the agreement which-- with later amendments-- still governs relations between the Vatican city-state and the Italian republic.

Building was begun under the Emperor Constantine, and the basilica was originally consecrated by Pope Sylvester I in 324. Damaged during the sack of Rome by Alaric in 410, it was repaired, but demolished by an earthquake in 896. Rebuilt in the 10th century, it was again destroyed, this time by fire, in 1308. Rebuilt once again under Popes Clement V and John XXII in the early 14th century. It was damaged again by both earthquake and fire during that century, but restored each time. The current building-- with a massive nave that makes it second in size only to St. Peter's among the churches of Rome-- was refinished in the 17th and 18th centuries.

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