Cities of Italy

Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome

The Temple of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome is one of the four Great Papal Basilicas. This is the highest title that can be assigned to the temple, and he submits to the pope himself. And the church is one of the seven pilgrimage basilica of Rome, the list of which is officially approved by the pontiff. BlogoItaliano will tell you about the features of the Basilica and how to visit it in this article.

Basilica history

The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore is named after the Madonna, and this temple is dedicated to her. The current prefix "Maggiore" - "great", most likely, went to the basilica, since it is the largest and oldest among all the churches of Our Lady.

But the basilica is also known by other names. They called her and Liberian by the name of the founder, and Santa Maria ad Praisepem in honor of the manger of Christ, one of the shrines of the church, and Santa Maria della Neve - Our Lady of the Snow.

The main facade of the basilica was rebuilt at the end of the 18th century.

The latter name arose due to the legend associated with the foundation of the basilica. One August night of 352, the then Bishop Liberius had a dream. The Virgin Mary appeared to him with an order to build a temple where the snow would fall the next day. Imagine that on the morning of August 5, the Romans really saw the snowy hill of Esquiline. This is even a surprise for our latitudes, and even a miracle for the southern shores.

It turned out that not only Liberius saw the Virgin Mary that night. The same dream was visited by one wealthy patrician named Giovanni. By the way, he didn’t have children, and the seigneur bequeathed the property to the Virgin Mary for a long time. Well, now, thanks to providence, he already knew exactly how to manage his fortune. The bishop hastened with Giovanni to Cispius - the very peak of Esquiline - and with his own hand drew the outlines of the future church on the snow.

The building of the basilica, which has survived to this day, was laid down somewhat later than the events described in the legend in the 5th century. under Pope Sixtus III. It is believed that the new temple was erected on the site already built earlier by Liberia, but in reality this is not entirely true.

The bell tower, built in 1378, is considered the tallest in Rome

Archaeologists have found that under the basilica are supposedly the ruins of the villa Neratsi, dated I century. But they didn’t find anything like church buildings. Perhaps the first Santa Maria Maggiore was somewhere nearby.

Now the appearance of the temple is very far from the original. Just as a tree trunk is overgrown with annual rings, the basilica is overgrown with more and more annexes, because every high-ranking clergyman, whether pope, cardinal or bishop, wanted to contribute to her story.

Over time, it expanded, was completed and restored. However, despite this, the design features still survived, which gives an idea of ​​the simplicity and harmony that was inherent in the early Christian sanctuaries.

Sculpture of Pope Pius IX in front of the Holy manger

Pope John Paul II opened in 2001 a museum dedicated to the history of the basilica and the Christian religion as a whole. It contains works of art, church utensils, books, documents, papal clothes and other treasures. The museum is located in the basement of the temple.

Exterior of Santa Maria Maggiore

Significant changes in the appearance of Santa Maria Maggiore began to be introduced in the 9th century, and there were so many that there was no way to list everything. By the way, almost always the list of work done was immortalized on the walls of the church itself. If you look closely, then on the facades you can see shields with a description of the reconstruction. There are such, for example, on the apse and the walls adjacent to it.

The main facade, in the form that we see today, was designed and built by the architect Ferdinando Fuga at the end of the 18th century. commissioned by Pope Benedict XIV. The new facade was hidden by an older one, decorated with beautiful mosaics of the 13th century. with the image of Christ Pantocrator (ruler of everything) and plots from the legend about the foundation of the basilica. But it can be considered by going inside.

The eastern facade was created by the architect Rainaldi in 1673

Fugue decided to remake the portico and build on it a loggia, which was called the Loggia of the Blessing, since it was from her that the pontiff blesses the laity when he holds masses. A statue of the Virgin Mary with the Baby rises above the central portal of the loggia, and behind it are four statues of popes (perhaps this is Benedict XIV, Gregory the Great, Sixtus III and Paschal I).

Each one entering over the portals is greeted by cherubs sitting on their sides on triangular gables, and two statues in the center are allegorical incarnations of chastity and humility.

On the right is a brick bell tower in the Romanesque style, which is the highest in the city - it rises as much as 75 m, which roughly corresponds to the height of a 25-storey building! The bell tower was built by 1378 on the site of the old, severely damaged by the earthquake.

However, her suffering did not end there: due to its height, the tower during thunderstorms often attracted electric discharges, and therefore it had to be constantly restored, until the beginning of the XIX century. Pope Pius VII did not order to finally install a lightning rod.

Mosaic fresco Coronation of the Virgin Mary (13th century) on the half-dome of the apse

By the way, up to the 20th century. on this campaign hung hung cast in the XIII century. bell called La Sperduta (lost). Another legend is connected with this. Once upon a time, a blind shepherd lived on Esquiline Hill. And then one evening she was lost. Then, to help find her way home, the townspeople decided to call from the bell tower. But the woman never returned.

According to the second version of the legend, a blind pilgrim was lost, and in response to her prayers, Madonna sounded a bell. Upon returning home, the grateful pilgrim donated money to the temple and asked that the bell continue to ring at the same time. Since then, every day at 9 o'clock in the evening a bell ringing from the Campanile. And that old bell is now in the Vatican Museums.

The eastern façade, opposite the main one, was created by the architect Rainaldi in 1673, and he, perhaps, makes an even stronger impression. In the center - a semicircular ledge - the apse, where the altar is located. Two domes rising above the roof on the right and left side crown the largest chapels of the cathedral.

Basilica interior

The interior of Santa Maria Maggiore impresses with its wealth and luxury. Basically, all the decorations belong to a later time, but something has survived since the foundation of the temple.

The arches of the central nave (or, more simply, the main hall) support the ancient columns. Also from the V century. preserved mosaics over the columns, illustrating scenes from the Old Testament. On the one hand, there are plots from the life of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and on the other, the story of the wanderings of Moses. And if you look even higher, above the mosaics you will see murals with scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary.

The interior of the basilica is striking in its wealth and luxury.

The space above the apse also fills a mosaic panel on biblical themes. It is dated to the 13th century. authored by Franciscan monk Jacopo Torriti. He also owns the mosaic on the half-dome of the apse, which depicts the coronation of the Madonna.

The carved wooden ceiling of the central nave with caissons (rectangular indentations) completes all this splendor. They say that in its decoration originally used Peruvian gold brought by Columbus. Alas, that gold is now gone. The ceiling has been restored several times, and therefore the gold on it is now the most common.

Carved wooden ceiling of the basilica decorated with gold

And now again we lower our eyes down and admire the amazingly beautiful floor resembling a mosaic. Once there were simple marble slabs, but in the XII century. patterns of small multi-colored pieces of marble were laid on top of them. This technique was called "cosmatesco" from the family name of Cosmati - the founders of this decorative trend.

Chapels and shrines

Main shrine the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore - particles of a manger in which the newborn Jesus lay. They are stored in a silver reliquary casket with crystal windows indoors under the main altar - the crypt. Two staircases lead to the crypt, descending along one of which you will see Pope Pius IX bending his knee in prayer before the Holy manger.

The shrine contains particles of a manger in which the newborn Jesus lay.

How this relic got into the temple and whether it is genuine is not known today. According to one version, in 638, Pope Theodore I brought it from Jerusalem. However, a church book dated to the 6th century contains an account of a woman named Flavia Xantippa donated “ad Praesepem” (crib). It may well be such that these are pieces of a cradle left from the first den, arranged in the basilica in honor of Christmas.

On the altar itself is a porphyry urn containing the relics of the Apostle Matthias, as well as the relics of five other Christian saints revered by both Catholics and Orthodox (St. Lawrence, Stephen the First Martyr, Roman martyrs Simplicius, Faustin and Beatrice).

The second most important relic of the basilica is an ancient icon, which, presumably, is about 1000 years old, is stored in the Borghese chapel. There are several chapels in Santa Maria Maggiore, but three of them are most interesting:

  • The Sistine Chapel or chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. It was laid by Pope Sixtus V in 1584. Its decoration is in no way inferior to the basilica itself: magnificent mosaics, murals, stucco moldings, gilded vaults and sculptures. The relics of Pope Pius V and the relics of five Innocent babies (presumably) are stored here. The founder of the chapel himself also rests right there.

Bronze Altar in the Sistine Chapel of the Basilica

  • Paolin Chapel or chapel of the Borghese. Built a little later than the Sistine (in 1611) by analogy with it under the auspices of Pope Paul V, who came from the Borghese family. Subsequently, the chapel became the tomb of this kind. As mentioned above, a very significant icon for the Romans is stored here - Our Lady of Salvation of the Roman people. It is believed that she saved Rome from the plague in the VI century, whence came her name.
  • Chapel of the Sforza. Compared to the chapels of Borghese and Sistine, it looks quite modest. But this simple solemnity and naturalness impresses even more. Inside, everything is decorated with light marble, only the wall of the altar and two apses on the sides, decorated with frescoes and sculptures, stand out. There is evidence that Michelangelo worked on the project of the chapel, however, he did not take part directly in the construction of the structure.

It is believed that this icon saved Rome from the plague in the VI century

Opening hours of the basilica and how to get

The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore is open to visitors daily from 7:00 to 19:00 daily. Entrance to the Basilica itself is free.

In addition, the Museum operates at the Basilica, which is also open daily from 9:00 to 18:30. Entrance to the museum is by tickets - the ticket office is located inside the temple right at the entrance.

The address of the Basilica: 42 Piazza di Santa Maria Maggiore. The easiest way to get to it is by metro, getting off at Termini station and walking along it via Via Cavour to the cathedral. It is impossible to pass by the Basilica.

Interesting Related Article

  • The most interesting excursions in the Vatican
  • Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums: Things to Know
  • St. Peter's Basilica: must see in Rome
  • Vatican Museums: what to visit first

Photos by:, Bluffton University, Berthold Werner, Agenpress, Port Mobility,, Felipe Rodriguez Photographer, Tango7174, it: Utente: Riccardov,, Depositphotos.

Watch the video: Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (December 2019).


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