Pope Francis has announced on Tuesday that the Lateran Palace found in southeast Rome will now be used as a museum and a cultural site. He entrusted the task of organizing these activities to the Vatican City State and the vicar of the Diocese of Rome, Cardinal Angelo De Donatis.
In a March 16 letter to Cardinal De Donatis, Pope Francis wrote that the decision comes in line with the Vatican’s efforts to promote and protect the Church’s beauty and cultural heritage. (Read: A Peek Inside the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican)
“This not only for the love of art, but also to safeguard the cultural heritage in the face of challenges and dangers that would have deprived it of its function and value,” the Pope wrote.
He said the move serves as the Church’s commitment to “making available the beauty and features of Goods and artistic heritage entrusted to his protection.”
Called the “Lateran Patriarchate” for hundreds of years, the Lateran Palace was built during the Roman Empire. At the time, it was known as the Domus Laterani, or the home of the Plautii Laterani family. (Read: World’s Oldest Cookbook Gives Glimpse at Ancient Roman Dining)
In the 4th century, the property was gifted by Emperor Constantine to the bishop of Rome. Since then, the palace had been used as a papal residence, as it is located near the Archbasilica of St. John— which is the cathedral church of Rome and the seat of the pope.
When the seat of the pope was transferred to the Vatican in the 14th century, the palace remained under the management of the Catholic Church. And with the signing of the Lateran Treaty in 1929, both the Lateran Palace and Archbasilica of St. John became extraterritorial properties of the Holy See.
Today, a part of the palace has been dedicated to the Vatican Historical Museum, which houses decades-old pieces such as the portraits of the popes, memorabilia of the Papal Military Corps, and papal household items no longer in use.
A part of the palace is also used for administrative offices of the Vicariate of Rome and the apartment of the Vicar of the Diocese of Rome.