Thursday, 9 May 2013

More of the Lateran

Top: Loggia of Benedictions: Middle: Obelisk; Bottom Towards the Santa Scala.

As is well-known, the Lateran Basilica is the Pope's Cathedral Church. Fewer people are aware, however, of the fact that, for perhaps the greater part of its history, the Lateran Palace was the popes' principal residence in Rome- hence the Loggia of Benedictions from which the Urbi et Orbi blessing could be given. Of the former Lateran Palace only fragments remain and include the loggia and the building seen in the bottom photo the facade of which gives entry to the Santa Scala - the holy staircase believed to have been part of Pilate's residence in Jerusalem and trodden by Our Blessed Lord during His trial on that first Good Friday. It was brought to Rome by St Helena and formed part of the access to the Pope's private chapel - known as the Sancta Sanctorum or Holy of Holies owing to the vast number of sacred relics enshrined there. The actual stone staircase- the central one of three, is now, since the eighteenth century largely covered by a wooden casing for protection. The custom is to climb the twenty-eight steps on one's knees- which I can vouch is extremely painful. The heresiarch Martin Luther is said to have given up about half way up and walked down. This hopefully more loyal son of Holy Church made it to the top during my pilgrimage in 2000! I returned with the intention of making a second attempt, however, whether because it was lunchtime or a Sunday, I found the gates closed. My disappointment was somewhat ameliorated by a sense of relief as I do not think I have ever subjected myself to quite so much physical pain as on that day back in 2000.

The obelisk nearby, like several others in Rome, was acquired from Egypt by one of the old emperors and it rather takes one's breath away  to realise that it stood in Egypt even before Moses led the Israelites in the Exodus. It was, as I say, time for lunch and nearby I was able to get a panino with salami and mozzarella for three euros and very tasty it was indeed!

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