The Lateran Basilica has many names, referring to St. John the Baptist, St. John the Evangelist and even Jesus Christ the Savior.
One of the most confusing feast days of the year is November 9, the feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran. The feast honors the dedication of the pope’s original cathedral, where early popes lived for many centuries before establishing Vatican City.
What is most confusing about this feast is that the basilica has multiple names, each with its own history.
Basilica of Our Holy Savior
Pope St. Sylvester first consecrated this church on November 9, 324, under the title of Basilica of Our Savior. This name has been referred to in a number of ways, including the Basilica of Saint Savior, which simply means, “Holy Savior.”
The basilica is first and foremost dedicated to Jesus Christ, our savior.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “The site was, in ancient times, occupied by the palace of the family of the Laterani … The palace came eventually into the hands of Constantine, the first Christian emperor, through his wife Fausta, and it is from her that it derived the name by which it was then sometimes called, ‘Domus Faustæ.’ Constantine must have given it to the Church in the time of Pope Miltiades.”
In recognition of this history, the Lateran name continues to be associated with this ancient basilica.
Basilica of St. John
The name “John,” was later added to the basilica due to a Benedictine monastery of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist being established near the church.
It is also said that the baptistry that adjoins the basilica was named in honor of St. John the Baptist.
The names are frequently combined in a kind of shorthand, leading to a confusing “St. John Lateran” — who is not a saint at all.
Above all, this basilica has much history and remains the “mother of all churches,” and the official cathedral of the pope.