One of Rome's greatest churches, Santa Maria Maggiore, traces its origins to the 4th century AD. It was commissioned by Pope Liberius, supposedly after seeing snow on the Esquiline Hill in the month of August, and was built on the same spot where the snow had been found. In 440 AD, Pope Sixtus III replaced the original church with the existing structure, which has been expanded and modified repeatedly over time. These successive additions over the centuries have turned Santa Maria Maggiore into an amazing mix of architectural styles: Roman, Byzantine, Romanesque, Renaissance and Baroque. The interior of the church has conserved many of the original features, including some mosaics and the colonnaded nave, though the Ionic columns themselves are thought to have been reused from earlier Roman temples. The astonishing mosaics in the apse and the beautiful marble floor are medieval, as is the Romanesque bell tower. The elaborate Baroque façades and domes were added in the 18th century, but the incredible mosaics covering the ceiling in the upper loggia of the front façade are in fact from the 13th century.
They say Santa Maria Maggiore is the fourth largest church in Rome and the only basilica which still retains its original shape. The basilica, which is also called Liberiana was built in the first half of the 5th century, in time of Pope Sixtus III. Its Romanesque bell tower is the tallest in Rome.
Santa Maria Maggiore is really very large church, its facade features portico with five openings. The interiors has three naves and double row of columns. The front part, where the altar is, is dominated by the great baldacchino, also work by Fuga. The ceiling is gilded by the gold and is work of Sangallo. There are some very important relics where high altar is, the crib of Presepio and the sarcophagus contains the bones of St. Matthew the Evangelist.
Do not miss this church! Founded in 356 AD, it is one of Rome's oldest churches, with mosaics dating from the 5th century. It houses La Sacra Culla, or Holy Cradle, which holds fragments of wood from Jesus' manger. There is beautiful statue of a pope kneeling in front of La Sacra Culla, which is enclosed in a glass case.
This is a beautiful church built over many centuries. The many ceiling mosaics were already made in the 5th century. These mosaics depict various biblical scenes and are the most important from this time. In the church is also a magnificient marble floor, and an altar canopy decorated with bronze cherubs.
This great building was built in the place a "signal" was received by the people in that times (snow falled in a summer just in that place). That occasion is conmemorated every year by throwing white rose petals -I don't remember the day-. Worth a visit. If you feel tired of art and churches, you can walk down Via Carlo Alberto to the Piazza Vittorio, where you find a dirty-cheap street market for clothes and such things... I recommend the church, in this case, anyway.
Of special interest to me in Santa Maria Maggiore was the tomb of Rome’s favorite sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini. It can be found on the right side of the high altar in the form of one of the steps. This was a bitter disappointment for me as I thought that such an artist that created so many wonderful sculptures and architectural structures for the city would have warranted something a little more than a step with his name on it.
Bernini’s tomb is not the only tomb in this church. The tombs of six popes and a couple cardinals are in the church, as well as the sister of Napoleon Bonaparte, Pauline Bonaparte (famous for her risqué pose in the Bernini sculpture on display at the Borghese Gallery) also are located here.
Through the centuries, some major artists and sculptures have had a hand in creating what we see today. Some of these are Carlo Rainaldi (tomb of Clement IX), Bernini (sculpture of Saint Cajetan), Ignazio Jacometti (bust of Pope Pius IX), and Arnolfo di Cambio (several sculptures). The wonderful mosaics were mostly done by unknown artists, although the mosaics clearly stand out as the best art in the church.
As I was staying just one block from this stunning church, one of the most important in all of Rome, this became the first attraction I visited in Rome.
The church dates from 420 AD and has had its exterior redesigned in a baroque manner. The interior is of Byzantine design and is mindboggling beautiful. Pity that the facade was covered with scaffolding when I visit the church so I took a photo of the rear instead.
One of the seven principal churches of Rome, Santa Maria Maggiore enjoys the same extraterritoriality as San Giovanni in Laterano, San Pietro in Vaticano and San Paolo fuori le mura. This essentially means that this church appertains to Vatican City rather than Rome. On the square just north of this basilica is one of Rome's fifteen obelisks, but the scattered parking lot around it makes photography somewhat adventurous.
The Romanesque bell-tower of Santa Maria Maggiore (south side of the church) is the highest in Rome at 75m and also dates from the 14th century. Views from this square are decidedly cramped, so getting a general photograph of this entrance and southern facade is difficult without a fishangle lens or the expedient of backing up down Via Merulana (which leads to San Giovanni in Laterano).
The interior of Santa Maria Maggiore is exceptionally dark. Many of the upper windows were covered over, but the ceiling is said to contain some of the first gold brought from the New World. Designs by Michelangelo and Bernini were incorporated into the renovations and completed by others.
Though the dome is generally the centerpiece of art and workmanship in a church interior, especially the churches of Rome, the view beneath the dome of Santa Maria Maggiore is among the most dimly lit spaces within the entire church.
The early 17th century Pauline Chapel on the left aisle contains papal members of the Borghese family, Paul V and Clement VIII in porphyry slabs. Like the other chapels on either aisle, these shrines receive the most light (and natural light at that) in this dim church - something of an oddity when chapels in many churches offer artificial illumination.
There are a lot of churches in Rome and they are all beautiful. Once you see St. Peter's, it can be difficult to decide which others you really need to see. I *highly* recommend checking out Santa Maria Maggiore (in Esquiline, not far from Termini Station) and San Giovanni in Laterano (walking distance from Santa Maria Maggiore, towards the Colosseum). These are both AMAZING and beautiful churches, filled with gorgeous art and details.
Santa Maria Maggiore was first built in 350 by the Pope Liberius. Legend has it that the plan for church was outlined by a miraculous summer snowfall. The legend is commemorated every year on August 5th, when white rose petals are dropped from the dome during Mass. The church has a large bell tower and a magnificent interior.
San Giovanni in Laterano is said to be the first cathedral of Rome. The Popes used to live in the Lateran Palace next door. The basilica has undergone many changes over the years (it was destroyed by fire in the 1300s and renovated many times) but today is a magnificent church, filled with exquisite detail and large, life-like statues. San Giovanni also has a large Papal Altar, where only the Pope may perform Mass.
Of all the great Roman Basilicas,Santa Maria has the most successful blend of different architectural styles.Its colonated tripple nave is part of original 5th century building.The Cosmatesque marble floor and delightful Romanesque bell tower,with the blue ceramic roundels are medieval.The Renaisance saw a new coffered ceiling,and the Baroque gave the church twin domes and its imposing fron and rear facades.The mosaics are Santa Maria's most famous feature.From the 5th century cme the biblical scenes in the nave and the spectacular mosaics on the triumphal arch.Medieval highlights include a 13th century enthroned Christ in he loggia.Coronation of the Virgin Mosaic is the central image of a series of wonderful apse mosaics of the Virgin by Jacopo Torriti (1295).The giled ceiling ,possible by Giuliano da sangallo.was a gift of Alexander VI Borgia at the end of the 15th century.The gold is said to be the first brought from America by Columbus. The columns of red porphyry and bronze were the woirk of Ferdinando Fuga. in front of the church there is an ancient marble column of the Virgin and Child,a bronze was added in 1615 and column itself came from the basilica of Constantine in the Forum. On the back side of the church there is Egiptian Obelisk that was erected by Pope Sixtus V in 1587 as a landmark for polgrims.
There are priests available if you wish to confess.I just fell in love with this church ,very magnificant and beautifull, peacefull at the same time as most of pilgrimage sites.Maybe that's way it has it's own legend of snow. In 356 Pope liberius had a dream in which the virgin told him to build a church on the spot where he found snow.When it fell on Esquiline,on the morning of august 5 in the middle of the baking Roman summer,he naturally obeyed.The miracle of the snow is commemorated each year by a service during which thousands of white petals float down from the ceiling of Santa Maria.It used to be roses ,but now it's dahilias.
“I went out to-day, and, going along the Via Felice and the Via delle Quattro Fontane, came unawares to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, on the summit of the Esquiline Hill. I entered it, without in the least knowing what church it was, and found myself in a broad and noble nave, both very simple and very grand. There was a long row of Ionic columns of marble, twenty or thereabouts on each side, supporting a flat roof. There were vaulted side-aisles, and, at the farther end, a bronze canopy over the high altar; and all along the length of the side-aisles were shrines with pictures, sculpture, and burning lamps; the whole church, too, was lined with marble: the roof was gilded; and yet the general effect of severe and noble simplicity triumphed over all the ornament.”
— from the 1858 “French and Italian Note-Books” of Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)
Santa Maria Maggiore, St. Mary Major, is one of the four Patriarchal Basilicas in Rome. Although the church has been improved over the centuries, its basic structure has remained unchanged. For example, the church building dates from AD 431; but its magnificent Baroque façade (see photo #1), the work of Ferdinand Fuga, was completed in 1741.
The church’s origins were revealed in a dream. The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Pope Liberius in a dream in AD 358; the Roman Patrician Giovanni had the same dream. In these nocturnal revelations Mary instructed that the Pope should build and Giovanni should pay for the new basilica; its location was also revealed. Extraordinary weather for the 5th of August, AD 358, snow covered Rome’s Esquiline Hill. In this snow, the Pope traced the outlined of the basilica. Each 5th of August at a special mass celebrating the dream of Pope Liberius white rose petals fall from the ceiling to carpet the church’s floor.
The church’s name combines two ideas of greatness (major), that of a papal (major) basilica and that of the largest (major) church in Rome dedicated to the Blessed Mother.
The Marian Column (see photo #3) in Piazza de Santa Maria Maggiore was erected in 1614; Carlo Maderno designed the column, which celebrates the icon of the Virgin Mary found in the Pauline chapel of the Basilica. The icon is known as Salus Populi Romani, or Health of the Roman People, because a miracle attributed to it helped keep Plague from the city. Marian columns were put up in Catholic countries in the 17th century giving thanks for secession of the Plague. Tradition teaches us that the icon was painted from life by St. Luke the Evangelist. And published material at the Basilica, offers radiocarbon dating evidence that fixes the age of the icon at 2,000 years, thus reinforcing its sacred tradition. The column itself came from Constantine’s Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine in the Roman Forum.
The ceiling (see photo #4) is coffered and was designed by Giuliano Sangallo but the work was completed by his brother, Antonio. The ceiling’s gilding was an offering from the Catholic Monarchs, Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain, to the Spanish Borgia pope, Alexander VI. This was some of the first gold brought from the New World.
The Crypt of the Nativity, also known as the Bethlehem Crypt, is underneath the sanctuary of Santa Maria Maggiore. This is the final resting place for the genius of the Baroque Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Each year at Christmas time relics of the Nativity crib are displayed at Santa Maria Maggiore.
At the rear of the Basilica is a square with a 49-foot-tall obelisk (see photo #2) from the Mausoleum of Augustus.