Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore

The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore or church of Santa Maria Maggiore, is a Papal major basilica and the largest Catholic Marian church in Rome, Italy, from which size it receives the appellation “major” an dmakes it one of the top attractions in all of Rome.

The Basilica of Saint Mary Major (Italian: Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Italian pronunciation: [ˈsanta maˈriːa madˈdʒoːre]; Latin: Basilica Sanctae Mariae Maioris; Latin: Basilica Sanctae Mariae ad Nives), or church of Santa Maria Maggiore (also referred to as Santa Maria delle Neve from its Latin origin Sanctae Mariae ad Nives), is a Major papal basilica as well as one of the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome and the largest Catholic Marian church in Rome, Italy.

The basilica enshrines the venerated image of Salus Populi Romani, depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary as the health and protectress of the Roman people, which was granted a Canonical coronation by Pope Gregory XVI on 15 August 1838 accompanied by his Papal bull Cælestis Regina.

Pursuant to the Lateran Treaty of 1929 between the Holy See and Italy, the Basilica is within Italian territory and not the territory of the Vatican City State. However, the Holy See fully owns the Basilica, and Italy is legally obligated to recognize its full ownership thereof and to concede to it “the immunity granted by International Law to the headquarters of the diplomatic agents of foreign States.” In other words, the complex of buildings has a status somewhat similar to a foreign embassy.

The Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore, commonly known as the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, is one of the four major basilicas in Rome and one of the oldest churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Here are some key points about this significant religious and historical site:


  1. History:
    • The Basilica of Saint Mary Major is believed to have been founded in the 5th century, around the year 431, by Pope Sixtus III.
    • According to legend, the location of the basilica was determined by a miraculous snowfall in August, guiding Pope Liberius and a wealthy Roman named John to build a church on the site where the snow fell.
  2. Architecture:
    • The basilica features a blend of architectural styles due to renovations and additions over the centuries. It includes elements of Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, and Neoclassical architecture.
    • The façade was redesigned by Pope Paul V in the early 17th century, and the interior has beautiful mosaics, frescoes, and chapels.
  3. Art and Decoration:
    • The interior of the basilica is renowned for its rich decoration, including intricate mosaics and numerous chapels dedicated to various saints.
    • The Sistine Chapel, not to be confused with the one in the Vatican, is located within the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. It is known for its beautiful decorations, including a mosaic depicting the Coronation of the Virgin Mary.
  4. Religious Significance:
    • The basilica holds significant religious importance as a Marian shrine, and it is a popular pilgrimage site for Catholics.
    • It is also one of the churches in Rome where the Salus Populi Romani icon, believed to have been painted by St. Luke, is venerated.
  5. Papal Basilica:
    • As a Papal Basilica, Santa Maria Maggiore is under the direct jurisdiction of the Pope and holds a special status among Roman Catholic churches.
  6. Major Events:
    • The basilica has been the site of important events throughout history, including papal coronations and other liturgical celebrations.
  7. Location:
    • The Basilica of Saint Mary Major is located on the Esquiline Hill in Rome, near the Termini train station.

The Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore remains not only a significant religious site but also a treasure trove of art and history, drawing visitors from around the world to admire its architectural beauty and spiritual significance.

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