Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore

Rome, Italy

The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is a Papal major basilica and the largest Catholic Marian church in Rome. It is one of the only four churches that hold the title of 'major basilica' (all in Rome).

It is agreed that the present church was built under Pope Sixtus III (432-440). The dedicatory inscription on the triumphal arch, Sixtus Episcopus plebi Dei, ('Sixtus the bishop to the people of God') is an indication of that Pope's role in the construction. The church retains the core of its original structure, despite several additional construction projects and damage by the earthquake of 1348.

Santa Maria Maggiore, one of the first churches built in honour of the Virgin Mary, was erected in the immediate aftermath of the Council of Ephesus of 431, which proclaimed Mary Mother of God. Pope Sixtus III built it to commemorate this decision. The magnificent mosaics of the nave and triumphal arch depict scenes of her life and that of Christ, but also scenes from the Old Testament.

When the popes returned to Rome after the period of the Avignon papacy, the buildings of the basilica became a temporary Palace of the Popes due to the deteriorated state of the Lateran Palace. The papal residence was later moved to the Palace of the Vatican in what is now Vatican City.

The basilica was restored, redecorated and extended by various popes, including Eugene III (1145-1153), Nicholas IV (1288-92), Clement X (1670-76), and Benedict XIV (1740-58), who in the 1740s commissioned Ferdinando Fuga to build the present façade and to modify the interior. The interior of the Santa Maria Maggiore underwent a broad renovation encompassing all of its altars between the years 1575 and 1630.

Interior

The 5th century mosaics found in Santa Maria Maggiore are not just incredibly beautiful works of Late Antique art; they are also one of the oldest representations of the Virgin Mary in Christian Late Antiquity. The mosaics of the triumphal arch and the nave were the definition of impressionistic art during the time period and gave a model for the future representations of the Virgin Mary.

Under the high altar is the Crypt of the Nativity, with a crystal reliquary designed by Giuseppe Valadier said to contain wood from the Holy Crib of the nativity of Jesus Christ. Here is the burial place of Saint Jerome, the 4th-century Doctor of the Church who translated the Bible into the Latin language.

Beneath this altar is the Oratory or Chapel of the Nativity, on whose altar, at that time situated in the Crypt of the Nativity below the main altar of the church itself, Saint Ignatius of Loyola celebrated his first Mass as a priest on 25 December 1538.

Just outside the Sistine Chapel is the tomb of Gianlorenzo Bernini and his family.

The Mannerist interior decoration of the Sistine Chapel was completed (1587-1589) by a large team of artists, directed by Cesare Nebbia and Giovanni Guerra.

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Details

Founded: 432 AD
Category: Religious sites in Italy

Rating

4.7/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Natalia Dibbern (19 months ago)
Most amazing basilica I've been in Rome! This was more impactful for me than going into St. Peter's Basilica. It is just amazing. Most beautiful basilica in existance. You must visit this place where visiting Rome.
Samvel Khudoyan (19 months ago)
What an amazing decoration! This church is huge inside. It is very impressive, has separate halls at the back and the celling is a masterpiece. The entrance is free, but there's a security check.
Tanner Condie (19 months ago)
This was one of the more beautiful basilicas in all of Rome. The artwork in the ceiling was particularly impressive and is something to be seen. I also really enjoyed the sculpture of the pope praying. Get there early as there is often a line to get in. Definitely worth seeing.
Michael Winkler (20 months ago)
How to describe a church in the land of churches. Well let’s try like this, from all church I have seen outside the Vatican this was the most impressive one. The height and sizes are gigantic considering the age it blows your mind. Not less impressive then the colosseum, definitely worth to go!
Jes Jes (20 months ago)
This Basilica is part of the Vatican state located in Italy. It is afforded the status of diplomatic immunity if you want to think about it that way. The Pope comes here once every August to celebrate Mass. I consider this more stunning than St Peters in the Vatican. Looks ugly from the front only because it's been messed around with over the centuries. Inside is a different world. As with every chiesa in Rome, there's always something old and sacred, this Basilica is no different. It's quiet and contemplative. There are ancient ruins at crypt level. I hope this Basilica is never ever ever overrun with tourists.
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