Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Parish Pilgrimage - Day 10 - October 16

Today we awoke VERY early (3am) in order to catch our flight to Paris where we spent the day seeing all the typical sites of Paris - the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, etc...

But then, we also visited the church of St. Vincent de Paul where his body is above the altar.  Then we traveled to the Rue de Bac - the church where St. Catherine Laboure had the encounter with Our Lady - and she gave to her the Miraculous Medal.  It was here in this church that we celebrated Mass.

Then to the hotel for some rest, dinner, and a good night's sleep before our return flight to the US tomorrow.

See you all in the States!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Parish Pilgrimage - the Candlelight Rosary Procession

Here are some photos I took tonight during the Candlelight Procession.  Rather than joining the procession, tonight our group stood on the stairs above the lower basilica - so that we could get this view of things...  (I have a short video too, but I can't get it to upload here - I'll try again in Paris tomorrow).

Parish Pilgrimage - A Reflection on the Baths

One of our pilgrims, following the baths, shared this reflection for us:

Today, some of us had the opportunity to participate in the Miracle Baths.  I didn't know what to expect but I was looking forward to it.  Men were sent to the left and women to the right--this line was much longer.  People in wheelchairs and children had a separate entrance and they were taken in first.

The wait was very long--almost three hours--but it got me plenty of time for prayer and reflection.  At times we were led in prayer by one of the volunteers, Hail Mary... was said in different languages: French, German, Spanish, Italian, English and Latin.  I also started a conversation with the lady ahead of me, she was from Ireland.  She told me she had brought her 3-year old son to the baths 39 years ago.  He son had had an accident and had suffered burns on one side of his body.  This was her second time to Lourdes and she said she didn't plan on getting into the baths again, but when she arrived at the Grotto she changed her mind.  

The line began to move faster once they closed the men's side and soon I was first in line.  I was taken in to a waiting line inside.  There were ten "tents" that held six pilgrims each.  Signs outside the tents suggested prayers and what to do in the bath.  When I was called into "Tent # 7" I was asked what language I spoke and a volunteer was assigned to me.  Her name was Terese.  She used a cloth as a shield for privacy from the other five pilgrims inside and gave me instructions to remove my clothes.  Once I did she wrapped me in a cloth and I stood by the entrance to the actual bath.  

While I was waiting I kept praying and thinking of all the people on my "prayer list."  Everybody helping was a volunteer and they were very gentle and nice.  I'm sure they had been working for hours but it didn't show. 

I was first in line and couldn't wait to be called in.  

The curtains then opened and three more ladies helped me in.  I feared the water was going to be ice cold--coming from a spring on a mountain--but it wasn't.  Maybe it was because I was praying all that time or because it was such an emotional moment that the coldness did not matter.  The ladies with me prayed along with me and helped me get in and out of the large tub.  They also encouraged me for a few moments of reflection before I got out.

Now that I know what to expect, I'm thinking about doing it again tomorrow.  Taking a bath two days in a row doesn't hurt anyone...especially in the Miracle waters at the Grotto of Lourdes.

Parish Pilgrimage - Day 9 - October 15

Today is a day that was scheduled to be entirely free - so that our pilgrims could take a day to rest & pray on their experiences over the past week (or take time to go to the miraculous baths - something all of the ladies did on Monday).  Since it's a free day - there's really no photos - but here we are in the Chapel of St. Joan of Arc in the "Upper Basilica" of the Immaculate Conception, where we celebrated Mass this morning...

Here is some information on Lourdes & St. Bernadette to help you pray along with us today.  Click here.

And here are just a few more from our time here in Lourdes...

Our Pilgrims in front of the "Lower Basilica" of the Rosary
The Nighttime Procession as it winds around the Sanctuary

The Gave River from our Hotel rooms
The Sanctuary of the Church where Bernadette was baptized

Monday, October 14, 2013

Parish Pilgrimage - Day 8 - October 14

This morning, following breakfast, we went directly to the Grotto for Mass.  It was a Mass with a number of other English-speaking pilgrims from around the world.  Here are some photos from the Mass.  Then, following Mass, we went to visit the holy places of Lourdes.  Here is our group outside the upper & lower basilicas (the Upper Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, and the Lower Basilica of the Rosary).

Then, we began our journey through the town of Lourdes where we visited the place of St. Bernadette's birth, where she lived as a girl (where we prayed for all our families), where her family moved following the economic struggles at the family mill that caused them to move into a small room, and finally to visit the font where she was baptized (and we renewed our own baptismal promises).

The home where St. Bernadette was born
The single room where St. Bernadette lived with her family

the font in which St. Bernadette was baptized

Walking along the streets of Lourdes

Following lunch, there was free time to explore this wonderful, prayerful place on our own.  Some took advantage of the baths already!

Our afternoon is free.  But tonight: the Candlelight Procession!  (more to come...)

Here are some photos from tonight's very moving candlelight procession with the Rosary...

Here is some information about St. Bernadette:

On April 16, 1879, Bernadette -- or Sister Marie-Bernard, as she was known within her order -- died in the Sainte Croix (Holy Cross) Infirmary of the Convent of Saint-Gildard. She was thirty-five.

Born into a humble family which little by little fell into extreme poverty, Bernadette had always been a frail child. Quite young, she had already suffered from digestive trouble, then after having just escaped being a victim of the cholera epidemic of 1855, she experienced painful attacks of asthma, and her ill health almost caused her to be cut off for ever from the religious life. When asked by Monsignor Forcade to take Bernadette, Louise Ferrand, the Mother Superior of the Sisters of Nevers, replied: "Monsignor, she will be a pillar of the infirmary".

At least three times during her short life-time, she received the last Sacraments. She was gradually struck by other illnesses as well as asthma: among them, tuberculosis of the lung and a tubercular tumor on her right knee. On Wednesday, April 16, 1879, her pain got much worse. Shortly after eleven she seemed to be almost suffocating and was carried to an armchair, where she sat with her feet on a footstool in front of a blazing fire. She died at about 3.15 in the afternoon.

The civil authorities permitted her body to remain on view to be venerated by the public until Saturday, April 19. Then it was "placed in a double coffin of lead and oak which was sealed in the presence of witnesses who signed a record of the events". Among the witnesses were "inspector of the peace, Devraine, and constables Saget and Moyen".

The nuns of Saint-Gildard, with the support of the bishop of Nevers, applied to the civil authorities for permission to bury Bernadette's body in a small chapel dedicated to Saint Joseph which was within the confines of the convent. The permission was granted on April 25, 1879, and on April 30, the local Prefect pronounced his approval of the choice of the site for burial. Immediately they set to work on preparing the vault. On May 30, 1879, Bernadette's coffin was finally transferred to the crypt of the chapel of Saint Joseph. A very simple ceremony was held to commemorate the event.

Additional Info:
St. Bernadette was born at Lourdes, France. Her parents were very poor and she herself was in poor health. One Thursday, February 11, 1858, when she was sent with her younger sister and a friend to gather firewood, a very beautiful Lady appeared to her above a rose bush in a grotto called Massabielle. The lovely Lady was dressed in blue and white. She smiled at Bernadette and then made the sign of the cross with a rosary of ivory and gold. Bernadette fell on her knees, took out her own rosary and began to pray the rosary. The beautiful Lady was God's Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. She appeared to Bernadette seventeen other times and spoke with her. She told Bernadette that she should pray sinners, do penance and have a chapel built there in her honor. Many people did not believe Bernadette when she spoke of her vision. She had to suffer much. But one day Our Lady told Bernadette to dig in the mud. As she did, a spring of water began to flow. The next day it continued to grow larger and larger. Many miracles happened when people began to use this water. When Bernadette was older, she became a nun. She was always very humble. More than anything else, she desired not to be praised. Once a nun asked her if she had temptations of pride because she was favored by the Blessed Mother. "How can I?" she answered quickly. "The Blessed Virgin chose me only because I was the most ignorant." What humility! Herfeast day is April 16th.

Parish Pilgrimage - Day 7 - October 13

Today was a travel day - transitioning from Rome to Lourdes.  First, however, we attended Mass at Our Lady of Grace church very near to our hotel.  We had tried several other options to celebrate Mass, in English, as a group, but none of them seemed to work for our group.  So, we had the opportunity to experience the life of a local Roman parish church.

Then following Mass, we transferred from the hotel to the airport for our flight from Rome to Paris, then Paris to Pau - where we met our new guide and proceeded to the town of Lourdes.

On arrival at the hotel we had dinner, then a number of us walked to the grotto, where the candlelight procession had just ended.  We had the chance to visit the grotto in silence and darkness - a very beautiful and prayerful time.  Many of our pilgrimage took advantage of the light crowds to walk into the grotto, touch the walls, and see the spring which St. Bernadette dug out with her own hands - where water still flows.

Sorry.  Don't have any pictures for today...

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Parish Pilgrimage - Day 6 - Saturday, October 12

Today we began very early - in order to get to St. Peter's Basilica one more time - this time for the celebration of the Mass at the altar of the Apostles of Europe.  It was wonderful to be so close to Peter's tomb in the Vatican Grotto (underneath St. Peter's).  (Sorry, I didn't have my camera).

Then, because we are in the ancient city of Rome, we fist visited the church of St. Peter in Chains.  We remember the scripture where St. Peter had been arrested and chained in prison, and the angel of the Lord appeared to him, and the chains fell from his wrists and he walked out of the prison.  The tradition is that these very chains are here in this church in Rome.  The church also houses the very famous "Horned Moses" by Michelangelo.  It is called "horned" because the rays that come from Moses' head (after speaking to God face-to-face) appear to be more horns than rays.  Thus, the nick-name, the "Horned Moses."

Our Group outside the Church of St. Peter in Chains
The chains of St. Peter

Then, following our visit to the church, we visited some of the famous points in Rome: beginning with the the Colosseum.

Then we headed off to the famous Trevi Fountain (where many put "Three Coins in the Fountain" - as per the movie and tradition.

Following this we had a very nice lunch together, then walked with Fr. Bateman to the Pantheon and Piazza Navona - I couldn't bring them to Rome without seeing these two, great landmarks.  Then, after some free time, some decided to take a taxi back to the hotel for some rest before dinner.  Others decided that they would walk back.

As we walked back we went past St. Peter's Square one more time - only to discover that there was a large, evening celebration in honor of Our Lady of Fatima going on.  Tomorrow, Pope Francis will consecrate the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary - just as Mary requested at Fatima.  As we approached the Square we heard singing and saw a huge crowd.  As we got close to realized that THE statue of Our Lady of Fatima was being carried throughout the Square as people sang and prayed.  When I say THE statue, I mean that one in which John Paul II put the bullet that almost killed him on May 13, 1981.  So we were privileged to see this statue being carried throughout the square.

Photo of the statue of Our Lady of Faitma - the best I could get...
Then, after a little rest, we gathered for our "farewell to Rome dinner" at a local restaurant.  Music, wine, more music, more wine - it was a wonderful evening!

We had a wonderful time!  Chris Kostka even made some friends...

Tomorrow we begin our journey toward Lourdes, France.  The day is spent traveling, so won't be much to blog about.  But maybe I'll try to capture some photos of our journey...

Friday, October 11, 2013

Parish Pilgrimage - Day 5 - Friday, October 11

Today, we traveled 3 hours to the north to visit the town of Francis - Assisi.  It is a beautiful town nestled up in the Umbrian hills.  It was here that St. Francis lived and died - and founded the Franciscan Order (see a short history of Francis and the Franciscans below).

On arrival we took in the beautiful view from the hillside where we were able to take a quick group photo.

Then we visited the church of Saint Clare where we saw the Crucifix of San Damiano - the very one that "spoke" to St. Francis of Assisi--telling him to "rebuild my Church" (see below for an explanation), and we prayed the prayer St. Francis used to help him discern God's will: "Most High, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart.  Give me true faith, certain hope, and perfect charity, sense and knowledge that I may carry out Your Holy and true command.

The church of Saint Clare also houses her incorrupt body and several relics of both St. Clare and St. Francis (parts of their habits, locks of hair, St. Francis' cincture).  Then we visited the small chapel which is the place where St. Francis was born.

Then we were off to the Basilica of St. Francis, where we saw the beautiful frescos and visited St. Francis' tomb.  (sorry, not allowed to take photos there).  But I did find this You Tube video (not mine) that shows many of the things we saw today!

And a beautiful group shot in front of the Basilica (including Vincenzo, our guide for our week in Rome).

We then went for a very nice lunch at a local hotel.  I'm supposed to mention that Randy must have said something that offended all the ladies at his table, because they left him all alone...

 - then back to St. Francis Basilica where we celebrated Mass in the "Peace Chapel" in the convent of the Franciscans.

Following Mass we headed down the hill to the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli and the Portiuncula - where the Franciscan Order truly had its beginnings.  Before going in we paused for another group photo in front of the church.

Again, no photos are allowed, but I found another You Tube video that gives you a view of the church - although it's in Italian... but you can see what we saw today!  Here in the Basilica we prayed asking God's forgiveness for all the temporal punishment due to our sins: a Plenary Indulgence (called the Indulgence of the Forgiveness of Assisi)

Then, we were back onto the bus for our trip back to Rome.

Here follows a short history of Francis:

It was the 12th century when St. Francis lived.  His father, Pietro, was a wealthy merchant and wanted his son to follow in his footsteps.  Growing up, Francis did follow his father's plans, enjoying a very rich and easy life--amid the permissiveness of the times.  From the beginning everyone loved Francis.  He was constantly happy, charming, and born leader.  Because he was so well liked, no one really tried to control or teach him - they excused him instead.

As he grew, Francis became the leader of a crowd of young people who partied wildly all night.  He was the delight of his father for fulfilling all he had hoped for him.  But despite all his worldly success, Francis wanted more.  More than wealth alone.  But not holiness!  He didn't want that!  Francis wanted to be a knight! Battle was the place to win glory and honor, so following the declaration of war between Assisi and Perugia, Francis joined up.  

But most of the troops from Assisi were butchered in the battle.  Only those who had enough money to expect someone to pay a ransom were taken prisoner.  And so Francis found himself chained in a dungeon.  But even there they say that he never lost his happy demeanor.  After a year in the dungeon, he was ransomed.  But the experience didn't change him much.  He came home and resumed his same life of party and high society.  Nor did it change what he wanted in life: glory.  So Francis joined the 4th Crusade to go and fight.  But he never got any further than one day's journey from Assisi.  He had a dream: God told him he had it all wrong and told him to go back home - which he did - only to be called a coward by the people in the town.  

Slowly, Francis began his conversion.  He started to spend more time in prayer; he went off to a cave to weep for his many sins - but even there, God's mercy overwhelmed him with joy.  But Francis couldn't be bothered with all of this.  He had a business to run.

One day, riding through the countryside, Francis, the man who loved beauty, came face-to-face with a leper.  Repelled by his appearance and his smell, Francis nevertheless jumped down from his horse and kissed the leper's hand.  When his kiss was returned, Francis found himself filled with joy.  As he rode off, he turned to look at the leper once more - but he was gone.  He always reflected on this experience as a test from God - a test that he had passed.

His journey of conversion now led him to the ancient church of San Daminao, which was crumbling and in
bad repair.  While praying, he heard Christ on the crucifix speak to him: "Francis, repair my church."  He assumed God meant this building - so he took a great deal of money from his father's business and intended to repair the church structure.  His father saw this as theft and thought his son had gone mad.  His father dragged him to the bishop in front of the entire town - demanding that Francis return the stolen money and renounce all his rights as heir.

The kindly bishop told Francis to return to the money - trusting that God would provide.  That was what Francis needed to hear.  He not only gave back the money, but stripped off all his clothes and, in front of the stunned crowd, exclaimed: "Pietro Berardone is no longer my father.  From now on I can say with complete freedom 'Our Father who art in heaven.'"  And so, half naked, Francis went off into the woods, singing.  From here on, Francis has nothing... but he really had found everything.  

He went back to what he considered God's call.  He begged for stones and rebuilt the church of San Damiano with his own hands - not realizing that what God wanted was not for him to rebuild the church, but to rebuild the Church.  The Church was in a bad state: scandal, avarice, and many other difficulties.  

Francis began to preach (he was never a priest, though was later ordained a deacon - under protest).  What he preached was not reform, but return to God and obedience to the Church.  Someone once asked him if a priest who was known to be living with a woman was able to truly consecrate the Eucharist (or if, because of the great sin, the Eucharist was polluted), he went to the priest and kissed his consecrated hands - because they had held God - despite his personal sinfulness.  

Slowly Francis attracted others who wanted to follow his way of life: sleeping in the open, begging for garbage to eat, and loving God completely.  With these companions, Francis realized he now had to have some kind of direction, so opened the Bible.  He read the command to the rich young man to "sell all you have and give to the poor," he read the order to the apostles to take nothing on our journey, and he heard the demand to take up our cross daily and follow the Lord.  "Here is our rule," Francis said.  That was all it took to live by the Gospel  

This brotherhood that was formed included, not just his followers, but all of creation.  He felt that all of nature, all God's creatures, were part of his brotherhood: the sparrow as much his brother as the Pope.  One of the famous stories says that Francis intervened with a wolf that was eating the townspeople by talking to it and asking it never to kill again.  This wolf became a town pet who made sure it was always well-fed.

Francis and his brothers set out to preach as the Bible said: "Two by two."  At first people were skeptical of these men dressed in rags.  But even ran away from them thinking the insanity was contagious.   They didn't realize how right they were--it WAS contagious!  Soon, these same people began to notice that these barefoot beggars were filled with joy.  Soon, those who were afraid of them were greeting them with blls and smiles.    

Francis didn't try to eliminate poverty - but instead tried to make it holy.  They worked for what they needed and begged only if they had to.  But they could accept no money.  Possessing anything was the death of love for Francis.  And it was in this poverty that he found true freedom.  

Francis' final years were filled with suffering and humiliation.  Praying to share in Christ's passion he had a vision and received the Stigmata-the markes of the nails and the lance wound that Christ suffered.  

Years of poverty and wandering made Francis ill - even going blind.  And how did he respond to his suffering?  It was then that he wrote the famous Canticle of the Sun expressing his brotherhood with all creation in praising God.  He never recovered from his illness and died on October 4, 1226 at the age of 45. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Parish Pilgrimage - Day 4 - Thursday, October 10

Today our journey into Catholic Rome continues.  Yesterday we saw St. Peter's Basilica, and today we began with a visit to the Catacombs of Domitila.  The catacombs are fantastic!  They are vast, underground burial sites for pagans and Christians.  The excavations have revealed MANY Christians who were buried in these underground laberinths, including martyrs for the faith.  The early Christians would visit the catacombs, not to hide, but to be close to the human remains of the martyrs to ask for their intercession.  It was there, in the catacombs, that churches were built - because, being cemeteries, they were "safe havens" from the Romans.  This is why the legend developed that they were "hiding places."  They in fact were not, but were valid churches where the Christians would go to pray and to celebrate the Eucharist near the saints.  We ended our visit to the catacombs doing the same, celebrating Mass there.

Inside the Catacomb of Domitila

The Church inside the Catacomb.

Following our visit to the Catacomb, we visited the other 3 Papal Basilicas (as they are called): St. Paul outside the Walls, St. Mary Major, and St. John Lateran.  Each has a unique history and connection to our faith.  You can read about each of the places we visited today below.

When we finished visiting the churches, we had some time, so we arranged to stop once more near St. Peter's Basilica to explore a bit more (because we were rushed yesterday because of a scheduled Mass and the crowds visiting the Vatican Museum and the Basilica.  So we had some extra time today to visit.  We then met once again to walk back to the hotel for dinner - but stopped for ice cream (gelato) on the way home - and they insisted that I include this picture... and it was DELICIOUS!

Here are some other photos from today:

inside the church of St. Mary Major

Our group outside the Lateran Basilica - the Cathedral Church
of Rome and the entire world.

Inside the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls

St. Paul Outside the Walls:

At the beginning of the 4th century, with the end of the persecutions and the promulgation of the Edicts of Tolerance in favour of Christianity, Emperor Constantine ordered the excavation of the cella memoriae, the place where Christians venerated the memory of Saint Paul the Apostle, beheaded under Nero around 65-67 A.D. Above his grave, located along the Ostiense Way, about two kilometers outside the Aurelian Walls surrounding Rome, Constantine built a Basilica which was consecrated by Pope Sylvester in 324.

Between 384 and 395 the Basilica, under the emperors Theodosius, Valentinian II and Arcadius, was restored and enlarged according to an extensive project consisting of five naves opening out into an atrium (quadriportico), or courtyard with four rows of columns. Throughout the centuries the Basilica would not cease to be embellished and enhanced by the Popes. For example, the massive defensive wall was built to protect against invasions at the end of the ninth century, while the bell tower and the magnificent Byzantine door were constructed in the eleventh century. Other important additions include Pietro Cavallini’s mosaics in the fa├žade, the beautiful Vassalletto family’s cloister, Arnolfo di Cambio’s celebrated Gothic baldachin and the Candelabrum for the Paschal candle attributed to Nicola d’Angelo and Pietro Vassalletto of the thirteenth century. This historical period represents the golden age of what had been the biggest Basilica of Rome, until the consecration of the new Basilica of St. Peter in 1626. This sacred place of Christian pilgrimage was well-known for its artistic works.

On the night of July 15, 1823, a fire destroyed this unique testimony to the Paleo-Christian, Byzantine, Renaissance and Baroque periods. The Basilica was reconstructed identically to what it had been before, utilizing all the elements which had survived the fire. In 1840 Pope Gregory XVI consecrated the Altar of the Confession and the Transept.

Other embellishments followed the reconstruction. In 1928 the portico with 150 columns was added. Contemporary work in the Basilica has uncovered the tomb of the Apostle, while other important and beneficial works are carried out, as in the past, thanks to the generosity of Christians from all over the world.

In the fifth century under the Pontificate of Leo the Great, the Basilica became the home of a long series of medallions which would to this day depict all the popes throughout history. This testifies, in an extraordinary way, to “the very great, the very ancient and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul” (Saint Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 3, 3,2).

Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls constitutes an extra-territorial complex (Motu Proprio by Pope Benedict XVI, 30 May 2005), administered by an Archpriest.

In addition to the Papal Basilica, the entire complex includes a very ancient Benedictine Abbey, restored by Odon of Cluny in 936. This Abbey remains active even today under the direction of its Abbot who retains his ordinary jurisdiction intra septa monasterii. The Benedictine Monks of the ancient Abbey, founded near the tomb of the Apostle by Pope Gregory II (715-731), attend to the ministry of Reconciliation (or Penance) and the promotion of special ecumenical events.

It is in this Basilica that every year on the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, January 25, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity solemnly opens. The Pope has specified two privileged tasks for this Papal Basilica: the Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Penance) and the development and organization of ecumenical initiatives.

On June 28, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI visited the Basilica and announced that the following year would be designated the “Pauline Year” to commemorate the bimillennium of the birth of Saint Paul. Thus, the “Pauline Year” was run from June 28, 2008 to June 29, 2009.

Saint Mary Major:

If you'd like to do a "virtual tour" with us: go here:
First raised at the order of Pope Liberius in the mid-fourth century, the Liberian basilica was rebuilt by Pope Sixtus III shortly after the Council of Ephesus affirmed Mary’s title as Mother of God in 431. Rededicated at that time to the Mother of God, St. Mary Major is the largest church in the world honoring God through Mary. Standing atop one of Rome’s seven hills, the Esquiline, it has survived many restorations without losing its character as an early Roman basilica. Its interior retains three naves divided by colonnades in the style of Constantine’s era. Fifth-century mosaics on its walls testify to its antiquity.

St. Mary Major is one of the four Roman basilicas known as patriarchal cathedrals in memory of the first centers of the Church. St. John Lateran (November 9) represents Rome, the See of Peter; St. Paul Outside the Walls, the See of Alexandria, allegedly the see presided over by Mark (April 25); St. Peter’s, the See of Constantinople; and St. Mary’s, the See of Antioch, where Mary is supposed to have spent most of her life. 

One legend, unreported before the year 1000, gives another name to this feast: Our Lady of the Snows. According to that story, a wealthy Roman couple pledged their fortune to the Mother of God. In affirmation, she produced a miraculous summer snowfall and told them to build a church on the site. The legend was long celebrated by releasing a shower of white rose petals from the basilica’s dome every August 5.

St. John Lateran:

And again, here is another virtual tour:

It was to Pope Melchiade (311-314) that Constantine gave the palace on Monte Celio, formerly property of the patrician Laterani family (hence the basilica's appellation "Lateran"), which his second wife Fausta (Maxentius' sister) had brought to the marriage. Soon after, the Emperor razed the adjoining imperial horse-guards barracks (allegedly the equites singulares had supported Maxentius against Constantine) and commissioned the construction of the world's first Christian basilica on that site.

Henceforth, the Lateran palace, known as the Patriarchate, was the Pope's official residence until the fifteenth century. The basilica, consecrated in 324 by Melchiade's successor, Pope Sylvester I (314-335), was dedicated, by will of the Emperor, to Christ the Savior. In the tenth century, Pope Sergio III (904-911) added St. John the Baptist, and in the twelfth century, Pope Lucius (1144- 1145), St. John the Evangelist, to the basilica's dedication.
In the course of its history, St. John Lateran suffered just about as many disasters and revivals as the papacy it hosted. Sacked by Alaric in 408 and Genseric in 455, it was rebuilt by Pope Leo the Great (440-461), and centuries later by Pope Hadrian I (772-795). Almost entirely destroyed by an earthquake in 896, the basilica was again restored by Pope Sergius III (904-911). Later the church was heavily damaged by fires in 1308 and 1360.
When the Popes returned from their sojourn in Avignon, France (1304-1377), they found their basilica and palace in such disrepair, that they decided to transfer to the Vatican, near St. Peter's. (That basilica, also built by Constantine, had until then served primarily as a pilgrimage church.)

Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590), in one of his frenzied urban renewal projects, tore down St. John
Lateran's original buildings, replacing them with late-Renaissance structures by his favorite architect Domenico Fontana. Later, Pope Innocent X (1644-1655) engaged one of the Baroque's most brilliant architects, Francesco Borromini, to transform St. John Lateran's interior in time for the Jubilee of 1650. Finally, Pope Clement XII (17301740) launched a competition for the design of a new facade, which was completed by Alessandro Galilei in 1735.

Of the original Lateran basilica and palace, only the Popes' private chapel, the Sancta Sanctorum (See Inside the Vatican, August-September 1995) remains. Sixtus V removed this magnificently-frescoed shrine to what has become a grimy traffic island. As an approach to the chapel, Sixtus moved from the Lateran Palace the Scala Santa, the stair case which Jesus is believed to have ascended to Pontius Pilate's palace in Jerusalem, and according to tradition, was brought to Rome by St. Helena herself.

Many important historic events have taken place in St. John Lateran, including 5 Ecumenical Councils and many diocesan synods. In 1929 the Lateran Pacts, which established the territory and status of the State of Vatican City, were signed here between the Holy See and the Government of Italy.

The offices of the Cardinal Vicar of Rome now occupy the Lateran Palace. On July 27, 1992, a bomb explosion devastated the facade of the Rome Vicariate at St. John Lateran. The attack is widely assumed to have been the work of the Italian Mafia, a warning against Pope John Paul II's frequent anti-Mafia statements. Repairs were recently completed, in January 1996.

The Popes now reside at the Vatican, and since the fifteenth century, St. Peter's Basilica has hosted most important papal ceremonies. Every year, until this year, The Papal custom has been that during the Holy Thursday Liturgy, celebrated at the Lateran Basilica, the Holy Father symbolically washes the feet of priests chosen from various parts of the world.