Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary Major) and Its Museum

"Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary Major) and Its Museum" submitted by RomeTour Editorial Team and last updated on Thursday 19th May 2011

Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary Major) and Its Museum

This is one of the four major patriarchal basilicas in Rome. The basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary Major) is the most important of the Roman churches dedicated to the Madonna. It rises on top of the Cispio (the highest of the three ramifications that make the Esquiline Hill) on the ruins of a complex founded in the Augustan age and successively enlarged and decorated with frescoes.

History

Its history begins from a little church built by pope St.Liberius in the middle of the 4th century. According to a 13th century legend, the Virgin Mary appeared to the pope telling him to build a church on the Esquiline hill on the site where they would find in the morning of August 5, 356 a patch of snow covering the exact area to be built over. So it was, and originally the church had been dedicated to Santa Maria della Neve (of snow), and was often called Basilica Liberiana after the pope who founded it. But in reality the basilica in its present aspect and forms was built by pope St.Sixtus III in the 5th century to celebrate the conclusions obtained at the Ephesus Council in 431 which proclaimed Mary "mother of God". Nicolas IV added the polygonal apse and transepts in the end of the 13th century, Clement X rebuilt the apse in the second half of the 17th century, and Benedict XIV had F.Fuga to carry out further transformation and to add the main facade.
nave of Santa Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary Major) inside column architecture of Santa Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary Major)
Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore had also another two names (apart from S.Maria della Neve and Basilica Liberiana): Basilica Sicinni (after anti-pope Ursicino who reigned for a short period in 366) and Santa Maria del Presepe (after a precious relic of the Crib of the Infant Jesus).

Excavations of 1967-1972 beneath the nave revealed a large Roman building with remains of frescoes including a remarkable rural calendar with illustrations for each month.

Two important ceremonies are held in the basilica annually. On August 5 the legend of miraculous fall of snow is commemorated in a pontifical Mass in the Cappella Borghese. On Christmas morning there is a procession in honour of the Santa Culla, or Holy Crib of the Infant Jesus, which culminates in the exposure of the relic on the high altar.

Exterior.

The fine campanile is the highest in Rome with its 75m, and is the last Romanesque bell-tower in the city as it was given its present form late, only in 1377; in 1445-1483 it was reconstructed by Guiglielmo di Estoutevill. The apsidal facade on Piazza dell'Esquilino was completed in 1673. The right-hand section with the dome is by F.Ponzio; the central and left sections by C.Rainaldi; the left-hand dome by D.Fontana. the main facade, masking one of the 12th century, was designed by F.Fuga in 1743. The portico is surmounted by a loggia of three arches, above which are statues. In the portico is a bronze statue of Philip IV of Spain, on a model by G.L.Bernini. A monumental staircase leads to the upper loggia past a bronze statue of Paul V by Paolo Sanquirico (1605). From here could be seen the mosaics on the earlier facade, dating from the time of Nicholas IV. The upper part is depicted by F.Rusuti. The four 18th century statues of angels by P.Bracci were originally over the high altar of the church.
ceiling overhead interior surface of Santa Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary Major) outer view of Santa Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary Major)

Interior.

The vast well-proportioned interior is 76m long and 32m wide. It still preserves its basilican form. It is divided into nave and aisles by 36 columns of shining Hymettian marble and four of granite all rearranged by F.Fuga. Over the triumphal arch and in the nave are 47 panels with mosaics dating from the time of St.Sixtus III (the 5th century), the most important mosaic cycle in Rome of this period. The caisson ceiling, attributed to G.da Sangallo, was traditionally thought to have been gilded with the first gold brought from America by C.Columbus, presented to Alexander VI Borgia by King Ferdinand of Aragon and his wife Isabella I. The Borgia emblems are prominent. The fine Cosmatesque pavement dates from 1150. To the right of the entrance is a monument to Clement IX (1671) by C.Rainaldi, D.Guidi, C.Fancelli and E.Ferrata. To the left of the entrance is a tomb of Nicholas IV (1575) with sculptures by Leonardo Sormani, designed by D.Fontana.

Right aisle:

inside architecture of Santa Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary Major) 1 inside architecture of Santa Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary Major) 2
The confessio in the end of the nave, was reconstructed by V.Vespignani, and contains a kneeling statue of Pius IX (1880) by I.Iacometti. The baldacchino over the high altar is by F.Fuga; a porphyry sarcophagus which contains the relics of St Matthew and other martyrs serves as the high altar, the fragment of the Crib of the Infant Jesus is kept below in the Confessio in a reliquary.

At the foot of the sanctuary steps, in the right aisle, is the simple pavement tomb of the Bernini family, including Gian Lorenzo.

The mosaic of the apse dating from 1290-1295 is signed by J.Torriti, and represents the Coronation of the Virgin.

Left aisle:

The sacristy of the chapel can be accessed from the right of the altar. The sacristy leads to another chamber, where a Madonna with Child by Beccafumi and a Slope to the Calvary by Antonio Bazzi called the Sodoma are kept. Members of the Borghese family are buried in the cellars of the Pauline Chapel, including Pauline Bonapart, sister of Napoleon the First. Proceeding down the left nave there is the spectacular Sforza Chapel with an elliptical plan designed by Michelangelo and built by Tiberio Calcagni and Giacomo della Porta between 1564 and 1573.

Also See: Basilica of St. Maria Maggiore - The Seven Basilicas - Pilgrim Churches of Rome

Museo della Patriarcale Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (Museum of The Patriarchal Basilica Of Saint Mary Major)

The museum’s collection consists of the most precious objects of the Basilica, also called the “Bethlehem of the West”, such as holy relics, chalices, ostensories and liturgical vestments. The items are exhibited in eight rooms and are grouped according to theme, from the Basilica’s history to the people who played an important part in it, such as Carlo Borromeo or Pope Pius IX. The paintings include the “Salita al Calvario” by Sodoma and three works by Beccafumi: the “Madonna con Bambino”, “Sant’Antonio da Padova” and “Santa Caterina”. Other interesting exhibits are the old music scores of the Music Chapel and an autograph of Pierluigi da Palestrina. The Museum was inaugurated and blessed by John Paul II last December 8, 2001, for the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. The most important and precious objects belonging to the Basilica were exhibited in the Museum.
collection in the Museum of The Patriarchal Basilica Of Saint Mary Major

Address:
Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary Major) and Its Museum
Piazza di Santa Maria Maggiore, Via Liberiana, 27
00185, Rome, Lazio, Italy
Zone: Rione Monti (Colosseo-S.Giovanni-S.Maria Maggiore) (Roma centro)
Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary Major) and Its Museum is Shown By "Map F Zone" As "20"
Bus: 16 - 70 - 71 - 75 - 84 - 105 - 150 - 360 - 590 - 649 - 714 - 204 (Holiday)
Metro: Metro A e B Termini
Transit: Napoleone III (154 m NE)
Tram: 5 - 14
Contact Church/ Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary Major):
Church Hours: Daily: 7.00 am - 7.00 pm, Church Office: Daily: 7.00 am - 12.30 pm and 3.00 pm - 6.30 pm.
Mass Schedule: Weekdays: 7.00 am, 8.00 am, 9.00 am, 10.00 am, 11.00 am, 12.00 pm, 6.00 pm; and Holidays: 7.00 am, 8.00 am, 9.00 am, 10.00 am, 11.15 am, 12.00 pm, 6.00 pm. Visits are not allowed during Masses. Schedules are subject to change. Please contact the church before visiting.
Tel. +39 06 698 86800
Fax: +39 06 698 86817
Email: sagr...@org.va
Official Website of The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary Major): http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/sm_maggiore/index_en.html
Contact Santa Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary Major) Museum:
Museum Hour: The Museum is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. It is also possible to visit the "Loggia delle Benedizioni" and the "Presepe of Arnolfo di Cambio" in the Sistine Chapel with a tour guide.
Tel/fax - 06-69886802
Entrance Fee: Single ticket - €4.00
Email: muse...@basilica.va
Museum website: http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/sm_maggiore/en/museo/museo.htm

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