Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Saturday 24 July |
Saint of the Day: St. Sharbel Makhluf
home iconSpirituality
line break icon

The “mother church” of all Catholic churches is not one you would expect

St. John Lateran

pedro reis | CC BY-SA 2.5

Philip Kosloski - published on 11/09/19

Hint: It is NOT St. Peter's Basilica.

Even though St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City is now the primary church where the pope celebrates Mass, it is not the pope’s cathedral, nor is it the “mother church.”

Both of those honors belongs to St. John Lateran in the city of Rome, located outside the confines of Vatican City.

The land where the basilica now stands originally belonged to the Laterani family, but was eventually acquired by the wife of Emperor Constantine. It is said that he gave the land to the pope for his personal residence.

Pope Sylvester consecrated the church on November 9, 324, and it has played a vital role in the life of the Catholic Church for many centuries. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “It was dedicated to the Saviour, ‘Basilica Salvatoris,’ the dedication to St. John being of later date, and due to a Benedictine monastery of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist which adjoined the basilica and where members were charged at one period with the duty of maintaining the services in the church. This later dedication to St. John has now in popular usage altogether superseded the original one.”

Since the pope lived there, the church naturally became his cathedral, the place where his “cathedra” (bishop’s chair) was located. From this chair the pope would govern the Church and it remains the church where the pope, bishop of Rome, offers important Masses.

Read more:
Where does the pope live?

This long association with the pope and its early dedication is why it is regarded as the “mother church” for all other churches.  According to Zenit, “There is a formidable and significant stone inscription on the façade of the Basilica that reads: Sacrosancta Lateranensis ecclesia omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput, ‘Most Holy Lateran Church, of all the churches in the city and the world, the mother and head.‘”

However, in the past few centuries the pope moved his residence next to St. Peter’s Basilica, the location of the first pope’s tomb. St. Peter’s also became a more practical church because of its ability to hold many more thousands of people than the Lateran basilica.

Despite its decreased significance in recent years, St. John Lateran still holds a special place in the Catholic Church and is revered for its ancient history and close connection to the pope.


Read more:
Ancient Roman history revealed beneath St. John Lateran


Read more:
These two saints were seen saving the Church by Pope Innocent III

Church HistoryRome
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Cerith Gardiner
8 Powerful quotes from Nightbirde that will fill you with hope
Kathleen N. Hattrup
2 Bible verses when you’re weary down to the soul
John Burger
Alumni sue after this Catholic saint’s name was removed fro...
Philip Kosloski
Why is Latin the official language of the Church, instead of Aram...
Daniel Esparza
Who are the cherubim in the Bible?
Fr. Patrick Briscoe, OP
5 Questions (and answers) about Pope Francis’ changes to La...
Daniel Esparza
3 Legendary pilgrimages off the beaten path
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.