“So much of the Old Testament is found in the New, so much of the New Testament stems from the Old, and together they compose the beautiful story of God’s salvation history. The first book of the New Testament, the Gospel according to Matthew, proves this point in words, while St. John Lateran uses images to convey the same message.” Hannah King
Recently our New Testament in the Eternal City class made a visit to the basilica of St. John Lateran. We were studying Matthew’s gospel which includes a theology of the Church that is founded on Peter and the Apostles. Matthew also stresses the Church’s connection to the Old Testament and Judaism in general. This view of salvation history sees the Church as the “new Israel” and Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and theology.
We were able to study some of Matthew’s theological themes contained in the structure, mosaics, statuary, and paintings of the Basilica of the Lateran. Reading the “text” of the basilica the students discovered a salvation history similar to the one in Matthew’s gospel. Along the central nave leading to the main altar are statues of the 12 apostles, over which are base reliefs of alternating scenes from the Old Testament and the New Testament. Above these are oval portraits of the 12 Old Testament prophets. This artistic schema is not only beautiful and impressive, but tells the story of Jesus the Messiah, much as Matthew does, with his stress on Old Testament fulfillment.
Here are some excerpts from the students’ weekly essays:
“Both Matthew’s gospel in the New Testament and the St. John Lateran Basilica in Rome frequently reference the Old Testament, showing God working in human history to bring about our salvation.” Rose Muldoon
“In order to understand both St. John Lateran and the Gospel of Matthew one must be well versed in the Jewish scriptures. Therefore when one looks at the reliefs in St. John Lateran one can very much relate to the Jewish converts to Christianity who used their previous understanding of God in the Old Testament to foster a new relationship with Him and the Church.. by viewing the Basilica through the lens of Mathew’s Gospel one can further understand his or her own faith as well as understand Mathew’s Jewish-Christian audience.” Nick Totagrande
“The Basilica of St. John Lateran contains theological evidence and references that connect directly to the Old and New Testament, linking to the message Matthew preaches in order to fulfill the needs of the Jewish-Christians, proving that Jesus Christ is the Jewish Messiah leading all the way back to Israel.” Jenna Winn