Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Mother Church of all Churches

Everyone who associates themselves with a particular parish church is familiar with the concept of the various dates that are of particular significance for their particular place of worship : the anniversary of dedication, the saint's day of the saint to whom the building is dedicated, the anniversary of the date on which their church obtained parish church status.....

Today is such a day par excellence.  Usually, the dedication of a church is a cause for parochial or at most local celebration, but today we mark with a Feast the Dedication of the Archbasilica of the Most Holy Saviour with Ss John the Baptist and John the Evangelist at the Lateran, a building more usually known as St John Lateran. 

This Archbasilica, and not the Basilica of St Peter's, is the Cathedral of Rome, where the Cathedra of the Bishop of Rome is situated.  St John Lateran is the mother and head church of all churches, as the following carved inscription that can be found on its front wall proclaims :

Sacrosancta Lateranensis ecclesia omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput.
The facts in that last paragraph are perhaps not universally known, but the Archbasilica is also noteworthy for many other reasons.  For example, inside the altar is said to be the remains of a wooden table on which St Peter himself said Mass.  Furthermore, the Archbasilica also contains the Scala Sancta, the marble steps brought by St Helena to Rome that had once formed part of the house of Pontius Pilate, and hence were walked upon by Our Lord.  For someone who spends as much time in France as I do, the little gem that Nicolas Sarkozy is, by dint of being French Head of State, the "First and Only Honorary Canon" of the Archbasilica is something that raises a slight smile. 

Regular readers of the blog will have noted that I have a weakness for archive footage.  I intend to indulge myself again today by including this film of Pope Pius XII visiting St John Lateran one Ascension Day.  Despite being whisked across Rome in a convoy of cars, Pope Pius XII does eventually appear on the sedia gestatoria, and at 1.55 gives the Apostolic Blessing. 

The obvious choice of some music at this point would be the well known setting of the Gradual for Mass today, Locus Iste, by Anton Bruckner.  However, I'm going to choose something a little more controversial,  the setting of verses from Psalm 84 by Brahms, Wie Lieblich sind Deine Wohnungen (How Lovely are Thy Dwellings Fair) here conducted by Herbert von Karajan.  Don't give up before the "Star Trek Moment" at 5.04.

St John the Evangelist, St John the Baptist pray for us.

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