Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore

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The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is a Catholic basilica. Considered to be the largest of the 26 churches in Rome dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The four major Basilicas, including Santa Maria Maggiore, are under the direct jurisdiction of the Pope. It is located within Italian territory and not in the Vatican City. However, since the Holy See fully owns the Basilica, Italy is legally obligated to recognize its full ownership and the immunity they are granted carries over to Santa Maria Maggiore. Because of this the Santa Maria Maggiore is policed by guards from Vatican City, not by Italian police.

Virgin Mary in Rome

The Legend of Santa Maria Maggiore

Legend states that during the pontificate of Pope Liberius, the Roman patrician John and his wife 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 August 5th, 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 earliest building on the site was the Liberian Basilica or Santa Maria Liberiana, after Pope Liberius (352–366). The name may have originated from the legend. Santa Maria Maggiore is located at the top of Cispius, the highest part of the Esquiline Hill. Esquiline Hill is the highest of the seven hills of Rome. The medieval bell tower of the basilica is also the tallest in Rome, at 75 meters (about 246 feet). Once again making it the largest of the churches in Rome dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Crypt of the Nativity

Crypt of the Nativity

Under the high altar of the basilica is the Crypt of the Nativity or Bethlehem CryptA crystal reliquary designed by Giuseppe Valadier said to contain wood from the Holy Crib of the nativity of Jesus Christ. It is also the burial place of Saint Jerome, the 4th-century Doctor of the Church who translated the Bible into the Latin language. Sorry the image is pretty blown out, it was hard to get a good photo of.

Mosaics and Gold Ceilings

You’ll notice the immense about of ceiling work inside the Basilica. It is said that the gold on them is the first gold brought from the new world. The floor in some places has varied designs, and one that stuck out was a Jewish star. Although the Basillica of Santa Maria Maggiore is an early Christian Church, it views itself as the new Jerusalem. So that is why the Jewish star is in the floor designs.

Santa Maria Maggiore Mass Times

The Basilica is open everyday from 7:00 am until 6:45 pm

The Sacristy is open from 7:00 am – 12:30 pm, and from 3:00 pm (3:30 on Sundays and Holidays) – 6:30 pm.

Holy Mass Times:

Weekdays: 7:00 – 8:00 – 9:00 (in the Sforza Chapel) – 10:00 – 11:00 – 12:00 pm – 6:00 pm

Sundays & Holidays: (in the Paolina Chapel) 7:00 – 8:00 – 9:00 (on the Papal Altar) 10:00 (in Latin) – 12:00 – 6:00 pm

Sundays and Feasts:
9:00 am – Liturgy of the Hours
10:00 am – Holy Mass of the Canons (in Latin)
4:40 pm – Holy Rosary
5:15 pm – Vespers

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