The Basilica of Saint John Lateran and The Catacombs





I have always been under the impression that Saint Peter’s basilica was the most important basilica to Christians. Therefore, finding out that it is actually Saint John’s basilica that is most important to Christians challenged me. If it is the most important basilica, I wonder why it does not receive the same hype and popularity as Saint Peter’s.

One aspect of the church that stood out to me first was the door that once belonged to the ancient Roman senate. My professor pointed out the irony in the fact that Christians once walked through those doors to receive their death sentence for being Christians, and now Christians walk through those doors to praise Christ. I thought this was interesting because those who are oppressed often have a way of taking something of their oppressors and reclaiming it as their own.

Another aspect of my experience at Saint John’s basilica that I enjoyed very much was learning the stories behind all of the sculptures of scenes that were above the apostles. All of the scenes on the right side if the church are from the Old Testament, and all of the scenes on the left side are from the New Testament. This really put Christianity into a new perspective for me because I did not know that the Old Testament is viewed as a foreshadowing of the New Testament. It was fascinating to learn about the stories of the Old Testament, like Moses freeing the slaves, and learning about their complementary story in the New Testament, like Christ freeing the souls from hell.

Touring the Christian catacomb was an unforgettable experience. Aside from feeling a little guilty for disrupting a place where people were meant to be put to rest, I found the tour very enriching. It is amazing that all of those little niches held a dead human body at one point and for a very long time. I am interested to see what other relics they discover once they dig all the way down to the bottom layer of the catacomb. Our host explained how important the date of one’s death is in Christianity because it is the date of their rebirth and new life.

I enjoyed seeing the different ways that the Christians symbolized Christ. Back then, they did not use the cross as a symbol of Christ because they thought it was disrespectful to use the very thing that killed Jesus as a symbol to praise him. Instead, they frequently used an anchor as a symbol of the cross and of hope, and fish were representative of Christians being “anchored” to the cross (i.e. anchored to their faith). I was surprised to learn that there are 67 Christian catacombs in Rome, but only 5 are open to the public. I can only imagine how many Christian bodies and martyrs are under Rome.

Below are pictures of the door that once belonged to the ancient Roman senate, and of the sculptured scene of the resurrection of Christ. Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed at the catacombs.