Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome

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The Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major (, ), known also by other names, is the largest Roman Catholic Marian church in Rome, Italy. There are other churches in Rome dedicated to Mary, such as Santa Maria in Trastevere, Santa Maria in Aracoeli, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, but the greater size of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major justifies the adjective by which it is distinguished from the other 25.

According to the 1929 Lateran Treaty, the basilica, located in Italian territory, is owned by the Holy See and enjoys extraterritorial status similar to that of foreign embassies. The building is patrolled internally by police agents of Vatican City State, not by Italian police.

Other names

The church is also called Our Lady of the Snow, or of the Snows, a name given to it in the Roman Missal from 1568 to 1969 in connection with the liturgical feast of the anniversary of its dedication on 5 August, a feast that was then denominated Dedicatio Sanctae Mariae ad Nives (Dedication of Saint Mary of the Snows). This name for the basilica had become popular in the 14th century in connection with a legend that the 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia reports thus: "During the pontificate of Liberius, the Roman patrician John and his wife, who were without heirs, made a vow to donate their possessions to the Virgin Mary. They prayed that she might make known to them how they were to dispose of their property in her honour. On 5 August, at the height of the Roman summer, snow fell during the night on the summit of the Esquiline Hill. In obedience to a vision of the Virgin Mary which they had the same night, the couple built a basilica in honour of Mary on the very spot which was covered with snow. From the fact that no mention whatever is made of this alleged miracle until a few hundred years later, not even by Sixtus III in his eight-line dedicatory inscription ... it would seem that the legend has no historical basis." The legend is first reported only after the year 1000. It may be implied in what the Liber Pontificalis, of the early 13th century, says of Pope Liberius: "He built the basilica of his own name (i.e. the Liberian Basilica) near the Macellum of Livia". Its prevalence in the 15th century is shown in the painting or the Miracle of the Snow by Masolino da Panicale.

The feast was originally called Dedicatio Sanctae Mariae (Dedication of Saint Mary's),

On the other hand, the name "Liberian Basilica" may be independent of the legend, since, according to Pius Parsch, Pope Liberius transformed a palace of the Sicinini family into a church, which was for that reason called the Sicinini Basilica. This building was then replaced under Pope Sixtus III (432-440) by the present structure dedicated to Mary. (The title of major basilica was once used more widely, being attached, for instance, to the basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels in Assisi.)All the other Catholic churches that, either by grant of the Pope or by immemorial custom, hold the title of basilica are minor basilicas.

Until 2006, the four major basilicas, together with the basilica of Saint Lawrence outside the Walls were referred to as the five "patriarchal basilicas" of Rome, associated with the five ancient patriarchal sees of Christendom (see Pentarchy). Saint Mary Major was associated with the Patriarchate of Antioch. In the same year, the title of "patriarchal" was also removed from the basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi.

The former five patriarchal basilicas with the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem and San Sebastiano fuori le mura formed the traditional Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome, which are visited by pilgrims during their pilgrimage to Rome following a 20 km itinerary established by St Philip Neri on the 25 February 1552, especially when seeking the plenary indulgence on Holy Years. For the Great Jubilee of 2000, Pope John Paul II replaced Saint Sebastian's church with the Shrine of Our Lady of Divine Love.

History of the present church

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.

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. Certainly, the atmosphere that generated the council gave rise also the mosaics that adorn the interior of the dedication: "whatever the precise connection was between council and church it is clear that the planners of the decoration belong to a period of concentrated debates on nature and status of the Virgin and incarnate Christ."

These mosaics gave historians insight into artistic, religious, and social movements during this time. As one scholar explains that mosaics in Santa Maria Maggiore had two goals: one to glorify the Virgin Mary as Theotokos, (God-Bearer); and the other as the scholar puts is “a systematic and comprehensive articulation of the relationship of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian scriptures as one in which the Hebrew Bible foreshadows Christianity.” This is explained by the dual images of Old Testament and New Testament events depicted in the mosaics of the triumphal arch and the nave. The mosaics also show the range of artistic expertise and refute the theory that mosaic technique during the time was based on copying from model books. The mosaics found in Santa Maria Maggiore are combinations of different styles of mosaic art during the time. As one scholar puts it “the range of artistic expertise and the actual complexities of production can hardly be reduced to a mentality of copying. A test case is given by the mosaics of S. Maria Maggiore in Rome”

Triumphal arch

The triumphal arch at the head of the nave was at first referred to as the apse arch, but was later it became known as the triumphal arch. The triumphal arch is illustrated with magnificent mosaics depicting different scenes of Christ and the Virgin Mary. There was a difference in the styles used in the triumphal arch mosaics compared to those of the nave; the style of the triumphal arch was much more linear and flat as one scholar describes it, not nearly as much action, emotion and movement in them as there were in the Old Testament mosaics of the nave. Another panel is known as the Adoration of the Magi and this mosaic depicts Infant Christ and The Virgin and the arrival of the three wise men, “mosaics illustrating Christ’s first coming and his youth covered the triumphal arch.” Here is the burial place of Saint Jerome, the 4th-century Doctor of the Church who translated the Bible into the Latin language (the Vulgate).

Fragments of the sculpture of the Nativity believed to be by 13th-century Arnolfo di Cambio were transferred to beneath the altar of the large Sistine Chapel

  • Romano (attested 1222)
  • Astor (attested 1244)
  • Pietro Capocci (?) (named in 1245?)
  • Romano (attested 1258)
  • Ottobono Fieschi (1262–1276)
  • Giacomo Colonna (1288–1297)
  • Francesco Napoleone Orsini (administrator 1298–1306)
  • Giacomo Colonna (again) (1306–1318)
  • Pietro Colonna (1318–1326)
  • Nicola Capocci (after 1350–1368)
  • Pierre Roger de Beaufort (1368–1370)
  • Marino Giudice (ca.1383–1385)
  • Marino Bulcani (1385–1394)
  • Stefano Palosio (1394–1396)
  • Enrico Minutoli (1396–1412)
  • Rinaldo Brancaccio (1412–1427)
  • Francesco Lando (1427)
  • Jean de la Rochetaillée (1428–1437)
  • Antonio Casini (1437–1439)
  • Giovanni Viteleschi (1439–1440)
  • Nicola Albergati (1440–1443)
  • Guillaume d'Estouteville (1443–1483)
  • Rodrigo Borgia (1483–1492)
  • Giovanni Battista Savelli (1492–1498)
  • Giovanni Battista Orsini (1498–1503)
  • Giuliano Cesarini iuniore (1503–1510)
  • Pedro Luis Borja Lanzol de Romani (1510–1511)
  • Robert Guibe (1511)
  • Francisco de Remolins (1511–1518)
  • Leonardo Grosso della Rovere (1518–1520)
  • Andrea della Valle (1520–1534)
  • Paolo Emilio Cesi (1534–1537)
  • Alessandro Farnese (1537–1543)
  • Guido Ascanio Sforza (1543–1564)
  • Carlo Borromeo (1564–1572)
  • Alessandro Sforza (1572–1581)
  • Filippo Boncompagni (1581–1586)
  • Decio Azzolini (1586–1587)
  • Domenico Pinelli (1587–1611)
  • Michalangelo Tonti (1611–1622)
  • Giovanni Garzia Millini (1622–1629)
  • Francesco Barberini (1629–1633)
  • Antonio Barberini (1633–1671)
  • Giacomo Rospigliosi (1671–1684)
  • Felice Rospigliosi (1684–1688)
  • Philip Thomas Howard (1689–1694)
  • Benedetto Pamphili (1694–1699)
  • Giacomo Antonio Morigia (1699–1701)
  • Pietro Ottoboni (1702–1730)
  • Ludovico Pico de Mirandola (1730–1743)
  • Girolamo Colonna di Sciarra (1743–1763)
  • Marcantonio Colonna (1763–1793)
  • Giovanni Francesco Albani (1793–1803)
  • Antonio Despuig y Dameto (28 December 1803 – 2 May 1813)
  • Giovanni Gallarati Scotti (1814 – 6 October 1819)
  • Annibale Francesco Della Genga (10 February 1821 – 28 September 1823)
  • Benedetto Naro (1 January 1824 – 6 October 1832)
  • Carlo Odescalchi (1832 – 21 November 1834)
  • Giuseppe Sala (11 December 1838 – 23 August 1839)
  • Luigi del Drago (29 August 1839 – 28 April 1845)
  • Costantino Patrizi Naro (24 April 1845 – 21 September 1867)
  • Gustav Adolf Hohenlohe (15 July 1878 – 30 October 1896)
  • Vincenzo Vannutelli (16 December 1896 – 9 July 1930)
  • Bonaventura Cerretti (16 July 1930 – 8 May 1933)
  • Angelo Dolci (22 May 1933 – 13 September 1939)
  • Alessandro Verde (11 October 1939 – 29 March 1958)
  • Carlo Confalonieri (16 November 1959 – 25 February 1973)
  • Luigi Dadaglio (15 December 1986 – 22 August 1990)
  • Ugo Poletti (17 January 1991 – 25 February 1997)
  • Carlo Furno (29 September 1997 – 27 May 2004)
  • Bernard Francis Law (27 May 2004–21 November 2011)
  • Santos Abril y Castelló (since 21 November 2011)

List of major works of art in the basilica

  • Early Christian mosaic cycle depicting Old Testament events, 5th century
  • The Salus Populi Romani, a much venerated early icon of the Virgin and Child.
  • Funerary monument of Clement IX (1671) by Carlo Rainaldi with the papal bust is by Domenico Guidi.
  • Temporary catafalque for Philip IV of Spain designed in 1665 by Rainaldi
  • Funerary monument of Pope Nicholas IV, designed by Domenico Fontana in 1574.
  • Bust of Costanzo Patrizi by Algardi.
  • Sacristy frescoes by Passignano and Giuseppe Puglia,
  • Saint Cajetan holding the Holy Child, by Bernini.
  • High altar sculpture by Pietro Bracci, (c. 1750).
  • Bust of Pius IX (1880) by Ignazio Jacometti.
  • Pauline Chapel frescoes, by Guido Reni
  • Frescoes for the monument of Clement VIII, Lanfranco
  • Cesi Chapel tombs by Guglielmo della Porta
  • Altar, confessio and Presepio (crib) sculptures by Arnolfo di Cambio, about 1290

Burials in the church

  • Gian Lorenzo Bernini
  • Pauline Bonaparte
  • Archbishop Domenico Caloyera O.P.
  • Pope Clement VIII
  • Pope Honorius III (no longer extant)
  • Pope Clement IX
  • Saint Jerome, relics
  • Pope Nicholas IV
  • Saint Pope Pius V
  • Cardinal Ugo Poletti
  • Gigi Sabani
  • Pope Sixtus V
  • Guido Ascanio Sforza di Santa Fiora

See also

  • Properties of the Holy See
  • Roman Catholic Marian churches
  • Dedication of Saint Mary Major




External links