Sancta Sanctorum (Lateran, Rome)

Last updated
Main altar of the Sancta Sanctorum, enshrining the Uronica. Sancta Sanctorum 1.jpg
Main altar of the Sancta Sanctorum, enshrining the Uronica.

The Sancta Sanctorum (Italian : Chiesa di San Lorenzo in Palatio ad Sancta Sanctorum) is a Roman Catholic chapel entered via the Scala Sancta (Holy Staircase) of the Lateran Palace in Rome. It was the original private chapel of the papacy before it moved to Avignon, and later to the Vatican Palace. The chapel is the only building from the old Lateran Palace that was not destroyed during its reconstruction.



The chapel acquired the Sancta Sanctorum sometime in the ninth century. [1] The spelling is Sancta, the neuter plural form of the Latin adjective "holy": this is a reference to the multiple relics preserved there (i.e. "the holy things") and to the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem, traditionally called in Latin both sanctum sanctorum (the singular form) or sancta sanctorum.


The founder of the chapel is unknown. It was originally dedicated to Saint Lawrence, and served as the pope's private oratory until the Renaissance. It is located at the top of the Scala Sancta, ("Holy Stairs"). The first mention of the chapel is found in the Liber Pontificalis, during the tenure of Pope Stephen III (†772). The antiquarian Marangoni along with Onofrio Panvinio quote documents that cite the acquisition in 583 by Pope Gregory of relics from Constantinople, including an arm of St Lawrence, that were housed in the church of St Lawrence in Lateran palace. [2]

It formed part of the Lateran Palace, headquarters of the public offices of the papal court throughout the Middle Ages. Gregory IV (†844) had a private apartment built near the chapel to allow him to pray there. [1] Later Pope Alexander III is mentioned as presiding here over the ceremony of the washing of the feet. It later became part of the Palace and Holy Steps complex commissioned by Sixtus V in 1586. [3] [4]


Sancta sanctorum, cosmatesque pavement from 1278 Sancta sanctorum, pavimento cosmatesco del 1278.jpg
Sancta sanctorum, cosmatesque pavement from 1278

The chapel is relatively small and rectangular, with a nave seven meters long and an apse nearly 6 meters wide. rectangular apse measuring 2.73 by 5.85 metres.

The main altar contains a cypress wood reliquary box, placed under the altar by Pope Leo III (†816). [5] [6] [7] It supposedly houses the bones of at least 13 saints (whereof the chapel derives the name "holy of holies"). The reliquary box itself is taken to represent the Ark of the Covenant in Solomon's Temple.

Over the course of time, other relics were added, including the cloisonné enameled cross commissioned by Paschal I (†824). [3]

The opus sectile floor dates from 1278. This style of intarsiated pavement was created in the 12th century by the Cosmati family of stonecutters and widely copied throughout Rome in the 13th century.

The chapel also houses the Uronica or Acheiropoieta Lateranese icon of Christ Pantocrator, known as the Veronica, that was supposedly begun by Saint Luke and finished as an acheiropoieta (which translates to "images not made by human hands") since finished by an angel. [8] [9] Other acheiropoieta include the image of Christ’s face that miraculously imprinted itself on the sudarium of Veronica. [10]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Saint Lawrence</span> Early Christian deacon of Rome and martyr

Saint Lawrence or Laurence was one of the seven deacons of the city of Rome under Pope Sixtus II who were martyred in the persecution of the Christians that the Roman Emperor Valerian ordered in 258.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran</span> Roman Catholic basilica, a landmark of Rome, Italy

The Archbasilica Cathedral of the Most Holy Savior and of Saints John the Baptist and the Evangelist in the Lateran is the Catholic cathedral church of the Diocese of Rome in the city of Rome, and serves as the seat of the bishop of Rome, the pope. The archbasilica lies outside of Vatican City proper, which is located approximately 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) to the northwest. Nevertheless, as properties of the Holy See, the archbasilica and its adjoining edifices enjoy an extraterritorial status from Italy, pursuant to the terms of the Lateran Treaty of 1929. Dedicated to the Christ, in honor of John the Baptist and John the Evangelist, the place name, Laterano (Lateran) comes from an ancient Roman family (gens), whose palace (domus) grounds occupied the site; the adjacent Lateran Palace was the primary residence of the pope until the Middle Ages.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Apostolic Palace</span> Official residence of the Pope located in Vatican City

The Apostolic Palace is the official residence of the Pope, the head of the Catholic Church, located in Vatican City. It is also known as the Papal Palace, the Palace of the Vatican and the Vatican Palace. The Vatican itself refers to the building as the Palace of Sixtus V, in honor of Pope Sixtus V, who built most of the present form of the palace.

A number of alleged relics associated with Jesus have been displayed throughout the history of Christianity. While some individuals believe in the authenticity of Jesus relics, others doubt their validity. For instance, the sixteenth-century philosopher Erasmus wrote about the proliferation of relics, and the number of buildings that could be constructed from wooden relics claimed to be from the crucifixion cross of Jesus. Similarly, at least thirty Holy Nails were venerated as relics across Europe in the early 20th century. Part of the relics are included in the so-called Arma Christi, or the Instruments of the Passion.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Santa Maria Maggiore</span> Catholic basilica and landmark in Rome

The Basilica of Saint Mary Major, or church of Santa Maria Maggiore, is a Major papal basilica as well as one of the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome and the largest Catholic Marian church in Rome, Italy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sebastiano Conca</span> Italian painter (1680–1764)

Sebastiano Conca was an Italian painter.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lateran</span> Location in Rome

Lateran and Laterano are the shared names of several buildings in Rome. The properties were once owned by the Lateranus family of the Roman Empire. The Laterani lost their properties to Emperor Constantine who gave them to the Catholic Church in 311.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lateran Palace</span> Ancient palace of the Roman Empire and the main papal residence in Rome

The Lateran Palace, formally the Apostolic Palace of the Lateran, is an ancient palace of the Roman Empire and later the main papal residence in southeast Rome.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Domenico Fontana</span> Italian architect born in todays Ticino (1543–1607)

Domenico Fontana was an Italian architect of the late Renaissance, born in today's Ticino. He worked primarily in Italy, at Rome and Naples.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Santa Maria in Ara Coeli</span> Roman Catholic basilica, a landmark of Rome, Italy

The Basilica of Saint Mary of the Altar in Heaven is a titular basilica in Rome, located on the highest summit of the Campidoglio. It is still the designated church of the city council of Rome, which uses the ancient title of Senatus Populusque Romanus. The present cardinal priest of the Titulus Sanctae Mariae de Aracoeli is Salvatore De Giorgi.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Santa Pudenziana</span> Church in Rome, Italy

Santa Pudenziana is a church of Rome, a basilica built in the 4th century and dedicated to Saint Pudentiana, sister of Praxedes and daughter of Pudens. It is one of the national churches in Rome, associated with Filipinos.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Santa Croce in Gerusalemme</span> Roman Catholic basilica, a landmark of Rome, Italy

The Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem or Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme is a Catholic Minor basilica and titular church in rione Esquilino, Rome, Italy. It is one of the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Scala Sancta</span> Stairs in Rome

The Scala Sancta are a set of 28 white marble steps located in an edifice on extraterritorial property of the Holy See in Rome, Italy proximate to the Archbasilica of Saint John in Laterano. Officially, the edifice is titled the Pontifical Sanctuary of the Holy Stairs, and incorporates part of the old Papal Lateran Palace. Replica stairs flank the original staircase, which may only be climbed on one's knees. The Holy Stairs lead to the Church of Saint Lawrence in Palatio ad Sancta Sanctorum or simply the "Sancta Sanctorum", which was the personal chapel of the early Popes.

<i>Acheiropoieta</i> Christian icon said to have come into existence miraculously

Acheiropoieta — also called icons made without hands — are Christian icons which are said to have come into existence miraculously; not created by a human. Invariably these are images of Jesus or the Virgin Mary. The most notable examples that are credited by tradition among the faithful are, in the Eastern church, the Mandylion, also known as the Image of Edessa, and the Hodegetria, and several Russian icons, and in the West the Shroud of Turin, Veil of Veronica, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the Manoppello Image. The term is also used of icons that are only regarded as normal human copies of a miraculously created original archetype.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cesare Nebbia</span> Italian painter

Cesare Nebbia (c.1536–c.1614) was an Italian Mannerist painter from Orvieto.

This is an index of Vatican City–related topics.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Abbey of Santa Giustina</span> 10th-century Benedictine abbey, Padua, Italy

The Abbey of Santa Giustina is a 10th-century Benedictine abbey complex located in front of the Prato della Valle in central Padua, region of Veneto, Italy. Adjacent to the former monastery is the basilica church of Santa Giustina, initially built in the 6th century, but whose present form derives from a 17th-century reconstruction.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Santa Maria della Sapienza</span>

Santa Maria della Sapienza is a Roman Catholic church, located on Via Costantinopoli in central Naples, Italy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">San Giovanni Addolorata Hospital</span> Hospital in Lazio, Italy

The Azienda Ospedaliera San Giovanni Addolorata in Rome (Italy) is one of the largest hospitals in central Italy; the current administrative designation refers to one of the largest and oldest hospitals in the city, commonly designated as San Giovanni hospital.

Giovanni Marangoni (1673–1753) was a Roman Catholic priest and antiquarian.


  1. 1 2 "The Sancta Sanctorum", Scala Santa di Roma
  2. Istoria dell'antichissimo oratorio, o Capella di San Lorenzo nel patriarchio lateranense, comunemente appellato Sancta Sanctorum, e della celebre immagine del SS. Salvatore detta Acheropita, che ivi conservasi , by Giovanni Marangoni, Stamperia San Michele, Rome, 1747.
  3. 1 2 "New Display of Sacred Objects from the Sancta Sanctorum", Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums, September 1, 2015
  4. Leonardo Mazzucconi, Memorie storiche della Scala Santa e dell'insigne santuario di Sancta Sanctorum, Ferretti, 1840
  5. Giovanni Diacono, De Ecclesia lateranensi, ed. J. Mabillon, Museum Italicum seu collectio veterum scriptorum ex bibliothecis italicis eruti, 2 vols, Paris, 1724.
  6. Il tesoro della cappella Sancta Sanctorum, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1941
  7. Salomoni Generoso, Memorie sacre della cappella di Sancta Sanctorum e della scala del palazzo di Pilato detta volgarmente la Scala Santa, Roma 1775
  8. Sancta sanctorum. Ediz. illustrata, Electa, 1995
  9. Paolo Mencacci, Alcune memorie sull'immagine Acheropita del SS. Salvatore di Sancta Sanctorum, Monaldi, 1863
  10. Belting, Hans (1990). Bild und Kult: eine Geschichte des Bildes vor dem Zeitalter der Kunst. München: C. H. Beck. pp. passim. ISBN   9783406343674.