When speaking of the Church, the Pope and Christianity in general, the first place we spontaneously think of is the Vatican, with its wonders and treasures. However, the oldest and most sacred place associated with the Church in the city of Rome is not the Vatican… but the Lateran. Here you can find the Sancta Sanctorum, the most sacred site in Rome. Come to Rome and take one of our tours. We’d like to take you away from the usual spots. We would like to show you the Sancta Sanctorum, the most sacred site in Rome.
THE SANCTA SANCTORUM’S HISTORY
This is in the area of San Giovanni in Laterano which was donated by the Emperor Constantine to Pope Sylvester. This Church was the first ‘official’ place of worship built in 314 A.D., and the great palace attached to the church was the first papal residence.
Today, very little remains of the original building: the first papal palace was in fact destroyed at the behest of Sixtus V, who commissioned Domenico Fontana to build it as you see it today. He also erected the large obelisk from the Circus Maximus in the square of San Giovanni in Laterano. The only remains, albeit remodelled, are the mosaic of the Leonian Triclinium and the Holy Staircase complex, which contains the city’s most sacred site: the ancient papal chapel dedicated to St Lawrence called the ‘Sancta Sanctorum’.
The small chapel, formerly visible only through a grate, is now open to the public, with its priceless heritage of medieval paintings, and with all the legendary and secular traditions surrounding it.
WHAT’S INSIDE THE CHAPEL
The most ancient and venerated object in the Sancta Sanctorum is the image of the Holy Saviour. Kept above the altar, it is referred to as the “Acheropita” (not made by human hands). Painted on a wooden panel, the image of the Saviour is represented sitting on a throne, blessing with his right hand and holding the scroll of the Gospel in his left hand. The origins of the image remain unknown. By the 8th Century, it was the subject of such veneration that, according to the Liber Pontificalis, Stephen II carried it on his shoulders during a procession to ward off the danger posed by the invasion of the Langobards in (735).
The Acheropìta was retouched and restored many times. Whatever its origin may be, the history of the icon is tied to over 1000 years of devotion. It is one of the most important relics of the faith which has remained till today.
So, when coming to Rome take one of our tours away from the usual spots. Take one of our TOURS and ask to go see the Lateran; the oldest and most sacred place associated with the Church. We will show you the Sancta Sanctorum; the most sacred site in Rome.