Contrary to popular belief, St Peter’s Basilica isn’t the cathedral of Rome. This honor goes to “the Cathedral Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior and St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist at the Lateran.” Quite the mouthful, but the church is more commonly known as the St John Lateran’s Basilica or Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano. The basilica is the most important of the four major basilicas in Rome, and on top of that, it’s the seat of the Bishop of Rome—the Pope himself—and considered one of the most important Catholic church in the world.
Although one might think so, St John Lateran isn’t a person. The church is named after its location at the Lateran Palace, ancient seat of the noble Roman Laterni family and later the main papal residence. When the palace came into the hands of Constantine, the first Christian emperor, he soon donated the property to the church. Through fires, earthquakes, wars and much rebuilding, it remained the place where popes were consecrated. The present cathedral underwent a final remodeling in 1646, and although it has had a turbulent history, the church retained its original plan, which is made up by two aisles and a semi-circular apse.
Apart from the six remaining papal tombs and the inlay stonework in the medieval Cosmatesque style covering the church in intricate mosaics of glass and marble, the main features of St John Lateran’s Basilica are the 12 apostles. Twelve niches were created by the church’s architect Borromini and then filled with life-sized statues of the apostles by the most notable sculptors of the period.