Basilica of St. Mary Major 

Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore

 

Piazza di S. Maria Maggiore, 42 

Transport: 

Metro Line B – Cavour. 

Hours: 

Open daily from 7:00 to 18:45h. Free entrance. 

Pope Sixtus III was Pope from 432 to 440 and he attended the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431. The Council declared Mary the Mother of God and when Sixtus III became Pope he decided to build the Church of St. Mary Major to honor her. The present church evolved through the ages and was made larger and more beautiful. The front façade was the work of Fernando Fuga and was created in 1741. It has a portico of five arcades on the lower story and three arches in the upper loggia. On top of the façade there are statues showing Popes, St. Charles Borromeo and the Blessed Nicholas Albergati. Over all are the figures of the Madonna and Child. The bell tower was Romanesque and built in the 14th century, and now is the tallest bell tower in Rome, with a pyramidal spire and with a height of 75 meters. The belfry contains five bells. In front of the church is a tall marble Corinthian column which Pope Paul V had transferred from the Basilica of Constantine located near the Colosseum. An elegant fountain was placed at its base. The façade of the apse at the back of the church was the work of Carlos Rainaldi. 

The interior has three naves and the central nave has a coffered ceiling in gilt wood designed by Giuliano Sangallo in 1450. It is flanked by large monolithic columns with Ionic capitals. Over these one finds 36 mosaics from the 5th century that show Biblical scenes. The floor has a Cosmatesque pavement donated by the Roman nobleman Scoto Paparone and his son in 1288. The floor was designed by the marble masters of the Cosmati family in the thirteenth century. At the end of the nave there is a triumphal arch and the central portion has a mosaic showing the Savior on His Throne. Below the triumphal arch there is a baldaquin which was the work of Fernando Fuga. It is located over the main altar.  The upper part of the apse has a mosaic created by Jaime Torreti in 1295. It represents the Triumph of Mary. Jesus crowns Mary, both sitting on the throne. Beside them are many angels and saints watching the scene.  

The Sistine Chapel was the work of Domingo Fontana in the second half of the 16th century. It is named for Pope Sixtus V. It is in the shape of a Greek cross that is topped with a cupola decorated with frescoes. The central altar has a gilded bronze tabernacle held up by four angels and this was the work of Giovanni Battista Ricci. There are also the tombs of Sixtus V and his predecessor Pius V. 

The Confession is the reliquary crypt which lies before the main altar, and this was constructed by Virginio Vespignani by order of Pope Pius IX to contain the sacred relic of the Holy Crib. The crystal reliquary, shaped like a crib, contains pieces of ancient wood which tradition holds to be part of the manger where the Baby Jesus was laid. Portugal donated the reliquary which was designed by Giuseppe Valadier. The statue of Pius IX, the Pope of the Immaculate Conception, was sculpted by Ignazio Jacometti and placed in the crypt by Leo XIII.

 

The front façade.

 

 

The façade of the apse.

 

The main nave.

 

The baldaquin.

 

The gilded bronze tabernacle in the Sistine Chapel.

 

The statue of Pius IX praying.

 

Another view of Pius IX.

 

The crystal reliquary contains the sacred relic of the Holy Crib.