“The Basilica of St. John Lateran is a useful guide to teach the lessons of the Bible. The intent of this Basilica is to lead the viewer on a visual journey through the Old and the New Testaments.” Elizabeth Kirby
Last week our New Testament in the Eternal City class made a visit to this 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.
“The Old Testament portrayals serve as a foreshadowing for the coming of Christ in the New Testament… It is this “Biblical Concordance” that showcases the history of salvation in the Basilica of St. John Lateran.” Ashley Alemian
The inscription on the façade of the Basilica of St. John Lateran reads: “The Most Holy Church of the Lateran, Mother and Head of all the Churches of the City and of the World”. This cathedral of Rome owes its origins to the Emperor Constantine in the 4th century and was where the Popes resided until the 14th century when the papacy became centralized at the Vatican.
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.
“The images on the left side of the nave represent salvation history in the Old Testament, while the right side represents fulfillment of these scenes through Jesus. The most important fulfillment, perhaps, is the depiction of Abraham being stopped by an angel from sacrificing his son Isaac, being fulfilled through the illustration of Christ’s crucifixion, marking the ultimate fulfillment of salvation history.” Luke Fitzgerald
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.
“The central nave of St. John Lateran shows the history of salvation within Christianity by depicting the twelve apostles and supporting them by twelve reliefs that truly show that the life of Jesus the Savior, prophesied in the Old Testament was fulfilled in the New Testament.” Rachel Reilly
“Water is repeatedly a symbol of life and birth especially in the New Testament as well as in Saint John Lateran where there is a large baptistery… The baptistery is in the shape of an octagon to symbolize 8 sides: the 7 days of creation, and the 8th day symbolizing eternity and immortality.” Sarah Viens