Currents News Staff
The Vatican is iconic for being the center of the Catholic Church and home of the pope. Yet for nearly a thousand years, popes used to live here, at the Lateran Apostolic Palace attached to the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral of Rome.
Reconstructed under Pope Sixtus V in the 16th century, today it houses the offices of the diocese of Rome, and its interior has only just been opened to the public through guided tours organized by the Missionaries of Divine Revelation.
“It was the wish of Pope Francis, who last February wrote a letter to the Cardinal Vicar to ask that the Lateran Apostolic Palace be opened to the public, especially so that new generations could learn the history that has taken place in these spaces, that has manifested itself here. The history of the Church but also the history of the city of Rome,” said Sr. Agnese Scavetta, Missionary of Divine Revelation.
Visitors can now see exclusive spaces of the popes’ residence, such as where heads of state would have been received, marked by impressive frescoes and priceless tapestries.
Or the throne room, known as the room of the seasons, since the frescoed ceiling depicts each of the four seasons—representing the Church’s everlasting nature through time. It also displays a papal throne constructed for Pope Pius IX.
The Palace’s most significant room is the Hall of Pontiffs, where the Lateran Treaty was signed between Pope Pius XI and Benito Mussolini, establishing the Holy See as a sovereign country.
“(It was) a dramatic moment in which the Church lost its temporal power. The signing of the Lateran Pacts puts an end to the Roman Question, in which the pope is considered a prisoner of the kingdom of Italy, and therefore the independence and full sovereignty of the Church is recognized with these Lateran Pacts,” said Sr. Scavetta.
The papal apartments contrast with the palace’s other rooms in their plain and sober style.
The pope’s study features gifts received by popes throughout the ages, including the bust which John F. Kennedy Jr. gave to Pope Paul VI in their meeting at the Vatican.
Finally, there is the pope’s private chapel, characterized by its modest nature to remind the pope of being a poor priest dependent on God.
“To go through these rooms, these halls, is to remember the significance of the pope insofar as he is the pastor of the universal Church, but also the pope as vicar of Christ, as the successor of Peter, and therefore as the bishop of Rome,” said Sr. Agnese.
The visit ends in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, which holds the seat of the bishop of Rome, and where the pope presides over ceremonies pertaining to his diocese, such as when ordaining new priests.
Now pilgrims and Romans alike can get a special glimpse behind the first church built after the legalization of Catholicism in the Roman empire, and the former residence of the popes.