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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Eketorp Fort

Eketorp is an Iron Age fort in southeastern Öland, which was extensively reconstructed and enlarged in the Middle Ages. Throughout the ages the fortification has served a variety of somewhat differing uses: from defensive ringfort, to medieval safe haven and thence a cavalry garrison. In the 20th century it was further reconstructed to become a heavily visited tourist site and a location for re-enactment of medieval battles. Eketorp is the only one of the 19 known prehistoric fortifications on Öland that has been completely excavated, yielding a total of over 24,000 individual artifacts. The entirety of southern Öland has been designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The Eketorp fortification is often referred to as Eketorp Castle.

The indigenous peoples of the Iron Age constructed the original fortification about 400 AD, a period known to have engendered contact between Öland natives with Romans and other Europeans. The ringfort in that era is thought to have been a gathering place for religious ceremonies and also a place of refuge for the local agricultural community when an outside enemy appeared. The circular design was believed to be chosen because the terrain is so level that attack from any side was equally likely. The original diameter of this circular stone fortification was about 57 metres. In the next century the stone was moved outward to construct a new circular structure of about 80 metres in diameter. At this juncture there were known to be about fifty individual cells or small structures within the fort as a whole. Some of these cells were in the center of the fortified ring, and some were actually built into the wall itself.

In the late 600s AD the ringfort was mysteriously abandoned, and it remained unused until the early 11th century. This 11th century work generally built upon the earlier fort, except that stone interior cells were replaced with timber structures, and a second outer defensive wall was erected.

Presently the fort is used as a tourist site for visitors to Öland to experience a medieval fortification for this region. A museum within the castle walls displays a few of the large number of artefacts retrieved by the National Heritage Board during the major decade long excavation ending in 1974. Inside the fort visitors are greeted by actors in medieval costumes who assume the roles of period artisans and merchants who might have lived there nine centuries earlier. There are also re-enactment scenes of skirmishes and other dramatic events of daily life from the Middle Ages.

Eketorp lies a few kilometers west of Route 136. There is an ample unpaved parking area situated approximately two kilometers west of the paved Öland perimeter highway. There is also a gift shop on site. During peak summer visitation, there are guided tours available. Visitors are assessed an admission charge.