The Papal Archbasilica of St. John Lateran commonly known as San Giovanni in Laterno is the cathedral church of the Diocese of Rome and the official ecclesiastical seat of the Bishop of Rome, who is the Pope. It is the oldest and ranks first among the four Papal Basilicas of Rome and the oldest and most important church in the West. It claims the title of ecumenical mother church among Roman Catholics.
As the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, it ranks above all other churches in the Catholic Church, including St. Peter's Basilica. For that reason, unlike all other Roman Basilicas, it holds the title of Archbasilica. The archbasilica is located outside of the boundaries of Vatican City proper, although within the city of Rome. However, it enjoys extraterritorial status as one of the properties of the Holy See.
The site on which the Basilica sits was occupied during the early Roman Empire by the palace of the wealthy Plautii Laterani family. The Lateran Palace fell into the hands of the emperor when Constantine I married his second wife Fausta. Known by that time as the "Domus Faustae" or "House of Fausta," the Lateran Palace was eventually given to the Bishop of Rome by Constantine around 313 AD.
The palace basilica was converted and extended, becoming the residence of Pope Sylvester I, and eventually becoming the cathedral of Rome. The official dedication of the Basilica and the adjacent Lateran Palace was presided over by the Pope, who in 324, declared both to be Domus Dei or "House of God."
The Pope's cathedra ( throne )
In 897, it was almost totally destroyed by an earthquake - the damage was so extensive that it was difficult to trace the lines of the old building, but these were, in the main, respected and the new building was of the same dimensions as the old. This second church lasted for four hundred years, and then burned in 1308. It was rebuilt by Pope Clement V and Pope John XXII. It was burned down once more in 1360, and was rebuilt by Pope Urban V.
Every pope from Miltiades ( 311 AD ) occupied the Lateran Palace until the reign of the French Pope Clement V, who in 1309 decided to transfer the official seat of the Catholic Church to Avignon, a papal-owned region that was an enclave within France.
During the Avignon papacy, the Lateran Palace and the basilica began to decline. Two destructive fires ravaged the Palace and the basilica, in 1307 and 1361. In both cases, the Avignon papacy sent money to their bishops in Rome to cover the costs of reconstruction and maintenance, however, despite those actions the Lateran Palace and the basilica lost their former splendor.
When the Avignon papacy formally ended ( 1377 ) and the Pope again resided in Rome, the Lateran Palace and the basilica were deemed inadequate considering the accumulated damage, so the popes took up residency at the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere and later at the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.
Eventually, the Palace of the Vatican was built ( adjacent to the Basilica of St. Peter, that already existed at the Vatican since the time of Constantine ), and in 1589 the papacy moved in, where it remains to this day.
Further renovation on the interior of the basilica ensued under the direction of Francesco Borromini, commissioned by Pope Innocent X in the mid 1600s.
The twelve niches created by Borromini's architecture were left empty for decades. When late in 1702 Pope Clement XI and Benedetto Cardinal Pamphili, archpriests of the Lateran Basilica, announced their grand scheme for twelve over life-size sculptures of the Apostles to fill the niches, the project was open to all the premier sculptors of late baroque Rome. Each statue was to be sponsored by an illustrious prince with the pope himself taking on Saint Peter and Pamphili John the Evangelist. Most sculptors were provided with a sketch by Clement's favourite painter, Carlo Maratta, which they were to follow, the notable exception being Pierre Le Gros who successfully refused to work to Maratta's design and wasn't given a sketch
Bartholomew - Pierre Le Gros ( the younger ) - 1705
Saint Matthew - Camillo Rusconi - 1711
Saint Philip - Giuseppe Mazzuoli - 1705
James the Less - Giovanni de' Rossi - 1705
Saint Paul - Pierre-Etienne Monnot - 1704
Saint Simon - Francesco Moratti - 1704
The President of the French Republic, currently François Hollande, is ex officio the "first and only honorary canon" of the basilica, a title held by the heads of the French state since King Henry IV of France ( early 1600s ).
And a final message for peace marble inlay as you leave this grand cathedral ...