Friday, August 5, 2016
Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
The Façade of Santa Maria Maggiore, Roma.
Today is the Feast of the Dedication of the Roman Archbasilica of St. Mary Major in Rome -- Santa Maria Maggiore -- on the Esquiline Hill in Rome. It bears the name "Major" as it is the oldest, largest, and most important Church dedicated to Our Lady in Rome. It is an extraterritorial possession of the Vatican City State. By title, the King of Spain is the proto-canon of this Basilica; traditionally, too, this was the titular Church of the Patriarch of Antioch.
Foundation of Santa Maria Maggiore, by Masolino, 15th century.
It also goes by the name of the Liberian Basilica, as a Church was first constructed on this site on the Esquiline Hill during the Pontificate of Pope Liberius (352-366AD) -- and it was during his Pontificate that there was the miraculous snowfall on the Hill on this date -- 5 August -- marking the site where a Church to Our Lady was to be built. This would be the origin, too, of the title of Our Lady of the Snows. The present basilica was constructed during the pontificate of Pope St. Sixtus III (432-440AD), making it one of the oldest major Churches dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Interior of Santa Maria Maggiore. ["Rom, Basilika Santa Maria Maggiore, Innenansicht" by Dnalor 01 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons]
The Basilica is constructed on a classic Basilica model, with a wide central aisle, leading to the apse and magnificent baldachino, pictured above. Although large and magnificent, this author, having visited several times, finds it has an approachable and motherly aspect compared to the other major basilicas. The wonderful apse mosaic of the coronation of the Blessed Virgin dates to the late 13th century and the pontificate of Pope Nicholas IV (1288-1292).
The ceiling, interestingly enough, boasts gold donated to Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503) by the Spanish crown -- this gold being the first fruits of the New World to the Spanish realm.
Reliquary of the Holy Crib in the Confessio.
In the confessio, below the main altar, there is the chapel of the Nativity, in which is housed the relics of the crib of Bethlehem.
The altar with the image of the Salus Populi Romani in the Borghese Chapel. ["Santamariamaggiore2b" by Ricardo André Frantz (User:Tetraktys) - taken by Ricardo André Frantz. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons]
To the left of the main altar is the Borghese Chapel which houses the famous Salus Populi Romani image of the Blessed Virgin, which, by tradition, is associated with St. Luke. This image is said to have been brought to Rome by St. Helen in the 4th century. Here, too, is buried Popes Paul V Borghese (1605-1621) and Clement VIII (1592-1605).
The tabernacle in the Sistine Chapel. The tomb of Pope St. Pius V is immediately to the left of this frame. ["Santa Maria Maggiore (Rome) 06" by User:MatthiasKabel - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons]
To the right of the main altar is the Sistine Chapel (not the famous one!), where Pope St. Pius V (1566-1572) and Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590) are buried.
Santa Maria Maggiore is also the resting place of St. Jerome and Gian Lorenzo Bernini!
For more information on Basilicas in general, you might note this site:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Basilicas
Finally, for yet more information on this Church in particular -- and a virtual tour -- check out the official site of the Basilica:
Official Site of Santa Maria Maggiore