Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Santa Maria Maggiore

The station church for today is one of the four major (papal) basilicas in Rome, Santa Maria Maggiore (or Mary Major, or Our Lady of the Snows). Though we had to endure a bit of rain towards the end of our rather long walk this morning, it is always worth the effort. This basilica has quite a history, a number of fascinating things to see, and a beautiful Byzantine style. Cardinal Law was the main celebrant and our rector, Msgr. Checchio concelebrated.

Among the many gems in the basilica, Mary Major boasts a relic of the presepe, or Holy Crib in which held Jesus Christ after His Birth. There is also a famous image of Our Lady called Salus Populi Romani because it was said to have saved the city from the plague. This image is also said to have been painted by St. Luke due to its antiquity and the fact that Luke is said to have had close familiarity with Our Lady. Along the main nave, there are mosaics beautifully preserved from the 5th century, as are the mosaics on the triumphal arch. The gold that adorns the coffered ceiling is said to have been a gift from Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain - the first gold brought back from the Americas. More importantly, this basilica contains the remains of St. Jerome and the Apostle St. Matthias, whose feast day is today on the old liturgical calendar. The apse mosaic, depicting the Coronation of the Virgin, is from the late 13th century.Below I have posted more detailed information on the history and description of the basilica, taken from

Founded in the 4th century, the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is one of the five great ancient basilicas of Rome. It stands on the site of a temple to the goddess Cybele. According to a 13th-century legend, the first church was built here by Pope Liberius (352-66), on the site of an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The legend has it that the Virgin appeared to Pope Liberius and the patrician Giovanni Patrizio on August 4, 352 (or 358), instructing them to build a church on the Esquiline Hill. That night, the floor plan was outlined by a miraculous snowfall [Hence its other title "Our Lady of the Snows"]. Archaeological evidence, on the other hand, indicates that the church was probably first built in the early 400s and completed under Pope Sixtus III (432-440). This was a time when churches dedicated to Mary were beginning to spring up all over the empire, prompted by devotion to the Virgin and the official acceptance of her title "Theotokos" (Mother of God) at the Council of Ephesus in 431.
The exterior facade of the Basilica. The belltower you see here is the tallest in Rome.
This is the icon Salus Populi Romani (Health of the Roman People) which is said to have been painted by St. Luke the Evangelist, and which saved the city of Rome from the plague.
This is one of the 5th century icons along the main nave. You can see how wonderfully it has been preserved. The scene represented here is Jacob receiving Isaac's blessing.

A part of the magnificent apse mosaic depicting the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The reliquary containing the relic of the Holy Crib of Jesus from Bethlehem.

A shot of the main nave. The columns you see are the oldest remaining part of the basilica. They either come from the original basilica or an ancient Roman building.

A shot of the triumphal arch with 5th century mosaics depicting scenes from the lives of Jesus and Mary. Go here for a more detailed description and a better look.

Reading I- Jon 3:1-10 Responsorial Psalm - 51:3-4, 12-13, 18-19 Gospel - Lk 11:29-32

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