Monday, October 13, 2014

Transformation of the Lateran

As a follow up to our post on Medieval Rome, I would like to bring to readers' attention these two images that depict the slow transformation of the cathedral of Rome. The first shows the change in lay out. The transepts were enlarged to accommodate the Blessed Sacrament chapel in the south and the expanded papal tombs to the north. Along the nave, to the south were added several chapels, including one dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi, and the sacristy to the north. The most drastic change was the drastic expansion of the choir behind the altar. The Roman tradition was for the Pope to sit on the throne directly behind the altar, surrounded by clergy seated on semi-circular benches to either side. Cardinal bishops and concelebrating priests would sit towards the top, the seven deacons of Rome on the next step—with the archdeacon closest to the Pope (retained in Papal Mass until 1964), and then the lower clergy. The district subdeacons, lectors, acolytes, and choir would be situated nearer the altar. The expanded, narrow choir reflects the influence of the monastic choir tradition, in which the brethren clergy face each other with the altar of God at the end of their of sight. It might also indicate that the Curia was becoming top-heavy.

The other image is of the archbasilica before the gilded ceiling was added by Pius IV and Pius V, and before Innocent X (the last Borgia, huzzah) made the columns of the nave into niches so he could add statues, completed in 1718. The current arrangement is imposing for its beauty, but I wonder if the older arrangement, with its open spaces, was more imposing in its scale.

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