"Lateran Baptistery (Battistero lateranense) or San Giovanni in Fonte" submitted by RomeTour Editorial Team and last updated on Thursday 14th July 2011
The proper denomination should be its name: San Giovanni in Fonte(St John at the Font), also known as the Lateran Baptistery (Battistero Lateranense) or the Baptistery of Constantin. It was built in the fourth century by Constantine, together with the basilica of Saint John in Lateran, on top of a villa and a thermal building dating back to the second century. Later on it was restored and modified with various operations. It is the first Christian baptistery ever built and it served as a model for the greatest part of the baptisteries built after it. Because of its spiritual, historical and artistic significance it is one of the most important constructions in all the history of the Church.
This octagonal baptistery was built by Constantine in 315-324 as the place of his baptism as the first Christian emperor. It is a centrally planned octagonal building, although the original baptistery may have been circular. It was remodeled by St.Sixtus III in the 5th century and restored again by Hadrian III in 884. The present aspect of the baptistery was changed radically by Urban VIII in 1637.
Exterior was created according to the project of Borromini in the epoch of Alexander VII. In the interior are eight columns of porphyry erected by St.Sixtus III. In the center is the green basalt font, which served for the baptism and now is covered by bronze. The 17th century decorations were added by Urban VIII, and the frescoes of scenes from the life of St John the Baptist on the drum of the cupola are modern copies of works by A.Sacchi. There are four chapels in the baptistery. Highly interesting is the entrance with a fragment of Roman lintel.
The interior has an octagonal plan. In the center middle, there is an eight porphyry columns ring with Corinthian capitals supporting an octagonal lintel over which there is another order of smaller white marble columns. On the walls there are modern copies of Andrea Sacchi’s works depicting the stories of Giovanni Battista, under which there are frescoes of Constantine’s stories painted by A. Camassei, G. Gimignani and C. Maratta. In a smaller apse, a fifth century mosaic is worth to be mentioned. In the middle of a sixteenth century round closure is a font, a green basalt urn with a bronze cover, a work by Ciro Ferri (1634-1689).
The Chapel of Saint Rufina occupied the narthex of St Sixtus III, altered to its present form in 1154. Over the door is a relief of the Crucifixion after A.Bregno (1492). High up on the wall can be seen a fragment of the original marble intarsia decoration of the baptistery. In the north apse is a beautiful 5th century mosaic. A door leads out into a courtyard from where can be seen the outer face of the narthex with two beautiful, huge antique columns supporting a fine Roman architrave.
The Chapel of St Venantius, erected by John IV in 640 contains mosaics commissioned by pope Theodore I. Remains of the 2nd century Roman baths built above the 1st century villa may also be seen here. The structure of the original baptistery can be seen in the walls and beneath the apse.
The Chapel of St John the Evangelist, dedicated by pope St Hilary, with bronze door of 1196 executed by Uberto and Pietro da Piacenza, is decorated with the 5th century vault mosaics. The altar has alabaster columns.
The Chapel of St John the Baptist was also founded by St Hilary on the southwest side of the baptistery, still has its original pavement. It preserves its original doors, which resound musically when open. The highlight is the doors, which are said to be made of a mix of bronze, silver and gold and were once thought to have come from the Baths of Caracalla. They produce a powerful musical tone when opened, especially during the hotter months.
Lateran Baptistery (Battistero lateranense) or San Giovanni in Fonte
Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano, 4
00184, Rome, Lazio, Italy
Zone: Rione Monti (Colosseo - S.Giovanni - S.Maria Maggiore) (Roma centro)/ Rione Esquilino (Termini - Via Nazionale) (Roma centro)
Lateran Baptistery (Battistero lateranense) or San Giovanni in Fonte is Shown By "Map L Zone" As "13"
Hours: Every day 07.30am - 12.30pm 04pm - 7.30pm. Masses: Holidays: 11am 06pm, Weekdays: 08am 06pm.
Bus: 16 - 85 - 87 - 117 - 186 - 218 - 714 - 650 - 673 - 850
Metro: Metro A San Giovanni
Telephone: 0039 06 69886452
Fax: 0039 06 69886535
Also see: Basilica of St. Giovanni in Laterano (St John Lateran) - One of The seven Basilicas - Pilgrim Churches of Rome at Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano