The Basilica of St. John Lateran is a cathedral of a bishop of Rome- a pope. It is one of the four major basilicas.
The temple used to be a part of papal residences since 313. After transferring the Holy See to Perugia by Benedict XI and later to Avignon by Clemens V, the Lateran basilica was demolished. Because of that, while returning from Avignon, George XI transferred the pope's residence from Lateran to Vatican.
The main façade was designed in the classical style by Alessandro Galilei in the 18th century. The basilica consists of five naves, and because of a specific arrangement of pilasters and half-columns, it seems to be monumental and spacious. Beneath a cornice there is an inscription: "Omnium Ecclesiarum Urbis et Orbis Mater et Caput”, what means: 'The Mother and the Head of all churches of the city and the world'. It shows that the basilica is a cathedral of a current pope- the bishop of Rome and the Head of the Church. Among all of four papal basilicas, the temple of St. John Lateran is the most important one. It is the oldest church which has housed the papal residence. On the top of the façade there are fifteen 7-metre high sculptures located, which represent figures of Doctors of the Church, whereas the middle sculpture is Jesus Christ, as he is the main one in the Church.
The basilica is richly decorated. The middle entrance door was brought to that place from Curia which is next to the forum Romanum. The door on the right is called the Holy Gate. Entering the building we can notice a fragment of the fresco by Giotto which has remained on the first pillar. It presents the figure of Boniface VIII announcing the holy year. Inside the pillars sculptures of apostles are placed which were made by pupils of Bernini. The floor is in the arte cosmatesca style. Giacomo della Porta prepared papal coats of arms visible on the ceiling of the basilica. Beneath the altar there is a sepulchral plate of Marcus V. The apse closing the main nave is copiously decorated with mosaics made in the 13th century by Jacopo Torrti and Jacopo de Camerino. The main altar is covered with a Gothic canopy from the 14th century. The central part of the main nave is occupied by the Holy Cross, the Heavenly Mother on the left and a small image of the pope Nicholas IV, the founder of the mosaics.
Frescos adorning walls of the basilica are depicting the history of the temple and were made at the turn of the 15th and the 16th centuries. In most of the side chapels and aisles of the church there are resting places of popes and cardinals. The courtyard is surrounded by medieval cloisters made by masons from the Vassalletti family. They are considered to be in arte cosmatesca style(the Cosmati School) and were made in the beginning of the 13 century. They are characterised by many decorative mosaics and gilt ornaments on the columns.
The baptistery of St. John by the Spring is connected with the transept. It was built between 314 and 320 in the place of the previous thermal springs of the House of Faustine. Nowadays it is in the shape of octagon and the dome is supported by eight ornamented columns. Next to the outer aisle there are four chapels. Near the church there is a building where the previous papal chapel is located- Santa sanctorum with a painting of Christ Acheiropoieton. There is a legend saying that it was first painted by St. Luke himself and finished by angels. To the window, from which you can admire the painting, lead the Holy Stairs. They were brought to Rome from Jerusalem in 326 by St. Helen. According to the legend they come from the palace of Pontius Pilatus and Jesus Christ was walking them himself. The San Lorenzo chapel, where the stairs are now located, was built in the 16th century by order of Sykstus V. Today you can climb the stairs but only on your knees.