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.
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.References:
The Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba, also known as the Great Mosque of Córdoba and the Mezquita is regarded as one of the most accomplished monuments of Moorish architecture.
According to a traditional account, a small Visigoth church, the Catholic Basilica of Saint Vincent of Lérins, originally stood on the site. In 784 Abd al-Rahman I ordered construction of the Great Mosque, which was considerably expanded by later Muslim rulers. The mosque underwent numerous subsequent changes: Abd al-Rahman II ordered a new minaret, while in 961 Al-Hakam II enlarged the building and enriched the Mihrab. The last of such reforms was carried out by Almanzor in 987. It was connected to the Caliph"s palace by a raised walkway, mosques within the palaces being the tradition for previous Islamic rulers – as well as Christian Kings who built their palaces adjacent to churches. The Mezquita reached its current dimensions in 987 with the completion of the outer naves and courtyard.
In 1236, Córdoba was conquered by King Ferdinand III of Castile, and the centre of the mosque was converted into a Catholic cathedral. Alfonso X oversaw the construction of the Villaviciosa Chapel and the Royal Chapel within the mosque. The kings who followed added further Christian features, such as King Henry II rebuilding the chapel in the 14th century. The minaret of the mosque was also converted to the bell tower of the cathedral. It was adorned with Santiago de Compostela"s captured cathedral bells. Following a windstorm in 1589, the former minaret was further reinforced by encasing it within a new structure.
The most significant alteration was the building of a Renaissance cathedral nave in the middle of the expansive structure. The insertion was constructed by permission of Charles V, king of Castile and Aragon. Artisans and architects continued to add to the existing structure until the late 18th century.
The building"s floor plan is seen to be parallel to some of the earliest mosques built from the very beginning of Islam. It had a rectangular prayer hall with aisles arranged perpendicular to the qibla, the direction towards which Muslims pray. The prayer hall was large and flat, with timber ceilings held up by arches of horseshoe-like appearance.
In planning the mosque, the architects incorporated a number of Roman columns with choice capitals. Some of the columns were already in the Gothic structure; others were sent from various regions of Iberia as presents from the governors of provinces. Ivory, jasper, porphyry, gold, silver, copper, and brass were used in the decorations. Marvellous mosaics and azulejos were designed. Later, the immense temple embodied all the styles of Morisco architecture into one composition.
The building is most notable for its arcaded hypostyle hall, with 856 columns of jasper, onyx, marble, granite and porphyry. These were made from pieces of the Roman temple that had occupied the site previously, as well as other Roman buildings, such as the Mérida amphitheatre. The double arches were an innovation, permitting higher ceilings than would otherwise be possible with relatively low columns. The double arches consist of a lower horseshoe arch and an upper semi-circular arch.