In the Roman Catholic Church, November 9 is the feast of the dedication of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome. The original building was the first Roman church built after the Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity.
The site originally belonged to the members of a high-ranking Roman family known as the Laterani. During the 1st century, however, one of the family was accused of plotting against the Emperor Nero. Consequently, all his property was confiscated.
The property came to Constantine after he married Fausta Flavia Maxima (289-326). He, in turn, gave it to the Pope sometime around the year 311. The church was originally known as the Basilica Salvatoris or “Basilica of Our Savior”. It was later renamed after Saints John the Evangelist and John the Baptist when it was placed in the care of a nearby Benedictine monastery under the patronage of these saints.
The original Lateran Basilica no longer exists. In fact, several buildings on this site have been destroyed by vandals, fires, and earthquakes. The Basilica with its beautiful façade that can be seen today was completed during the early 18th century.
Most people mistakenly associated the Pope solely with Saint Peter’s Basilica. However, the Basilica of Saint John Lateran possesses the Papal cathedra or “chair”. Cathedra is a Latin and Greek term which, literally, refers to the official seat of a bishop. A church or basilica becomes a cathedral after the local bishop’s cathedra is installed in it. The Pope, as the Bishop of Rome, must also have a cathedra and his is within the Lateran Basilica.
For centuries, the Lateran Palace, which is now a Papal museum, was the primary residence of the Bishop of Rome. Also, from 928-1903, at least 24 Popes were entombed in the Lateran Basilica. After the death of Pope Leo XIII in 1903, they started being entombed in Saint Peter’s Basilica.
At first, the anniversary of the Basilica’s dedication was celebrated only in Rome. By the 12th century, however, the memorial on November 9 was placed the calendar for the entire Roman Catholic Church.
The Basilica of Saint John Lateran has rightly been called the “mother church of Christendom”. The anniversary of its dedication is not only a reminder of the blessing of religious freedom, but also of the office of the Holy Father.
Source: EWTN online article “Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome”