Rome, S Giovanni in Laterano, Baptistery, Chapel of St John the Evangelist

Era 5AD
Location Piazza di S. Giovanni in Laterano, 4, 00184 Roma RM, Italy

The church of S Giovanni in Laterano (St John Lateran – it has an entry of its own) is the cathedral church of Rome and indeed of the world! It is one of the earliest if not the earliest basilicas to have been built in Rome; its founder was Constantine the Great.

The Baptistery of the church is besides the north front of the church in the corner of the Piazza di S Giovanni in Laterano. It is an octagonal brick building, supposedly the work of Constantine, and according to legend the site of his actual baptism. Sixtus III (432-40) remodelled it, as did Hadrian III in 884. It was designed for total immersion – early Christian practice was that baptism involved submerging the whole body under water. The porphyry columns date to Sixtus and the foul seventeenth-century bits to Urban VIII. Several of the chapels have mosaics.

The Chapel of St John the Evangelist was founded by Pope Hilarius (461-68). It has always been shut when I’ve been to the Baptistery, but I’ve stuck bits of myself through the railings to take pictures to try and see what the mosaics look like. The surviving mosaic is mostly in the vaulted ceiling. There’s a Lamb of God inside a circular wreath framed with plants and floral garlands. Assorted birds stand either side of vessels of some sort (I know they look like toadstools but they can’t be). There are more of the same birds and vessels above the windows (but my photos are out of focus so I’ve put in the one that is a view of the chapel as I once saw it in 2010. I have no idea of the role of the penguin).


Do not confuse with the Chapel of St John the Baptist which I have never seen inside.

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