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We return today to the cathedral of Rome, Saint John Lateran. We were last here on Palm Sunday and we’ll be back on Holy Saturday.
Today, let’s start outside, beside the church. Near the side entrance stands the tallest and oldest authentic Egyptian obelisk in the world. This single block of Egyptian red granite stands over 100 feet tall. It first stood in the Temple of the Sun in Heliopolis today’s Egypt. The obelisk dates back to the fifteenth century, that’s fifteenth century, B.C. Because of the age and where it was located, it’s believed to have been seen by Moses. It’s been in Rome since the first century B.C. It was moved to the Lateran in 1588.
Before we go inside, let’s think about how an obelisk, one of thirteen here in Rome, got all the way here from Egypt. After moving into Egypt, the ancient Romans brought back obelisks as souvenirs. They put then up across Rome to show off the strength of the Empire. To do this they had to take them down, move them across land, over water, again over land, and put them up. Quite a task back in the B.C. years. Quite a task today! For the record, some of the obelisks in Rome are copies, or all together fakes. Only eight of the thirteen are believed to be authentic.
Let’s move to the front of the church. The central set of doors are from the Roman Senate House, the Curia. Coming from one of the most important buildings in ancient Rome, think of those who may have walked through these doors in the past: Caesar, Augustus, Mark Anthony, Cicero? I’ve heard that these massive bronze doors can be opened easily with just one hand, though I’ve never had the opportunity to try.
This was the first public church in Rome. As such, it was also the model for later churches. Based on the large ancient Roman public buildings, basilicas, the church was built with a large central aisle flanked by two smaller aisles on either side.
The nave of this church is lined with statues of the twelve Apostles. Above them are parallel scenes from the Old Testament and New Testament.
Near the back of the church, is the Altar of the Sacrament. Here, above the tabernacle, is a gold relief of the Last Supper. Behind this panel is a table that is traditionally thought to be the same one used by Christ at the Last Supper. Quite fitting that we are here today, the day we commemorate the institution of the Eucharist.
There’s still lots to see here. We’ll be back on Saturday.
Tomorrow we return to Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, but we’ll begin our Good Friday across the street from the cathedral at the Scala Santa.