The Papal Basilica of St Mary Major Rome – Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore

Bazilika Marija Snežna, Piazza di S. Maria Maggiore, 42, Rim, Italija

Website of the Sanctuary

+39 06 698 868 00

Every day: from 7.00 am to 6.45 pm

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Papal Audience are held on Wednesdays if the Pope is in Rome, giving pilgrims and visitors the chance to “see the Pope” and receive the Papal Blessing or Apostolic Blessing from the successor of the Apostle Peter during their visit. Get tickets HERE

The Basilica of St Mary Major – Basilica di 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”.

The Patriarchal Basilica of St Mary Major reigns as an authentic jewel in the crown of Roman churches. Its beautiful treasures are of inestimable value, and represent the Church’s role as the cradle of Christian artistic civilization in Rome.

For nearly sixteen centuries, Basilica of St Mary Major has held its position as a Marian shrine par excellence and has been a magnet for pilgrims from all over the world who have come to the Eternal City to experience the beauty, grandeur and holiness of the of Basilica of St Mary Major.


See our Top 15 catholic shrines around the world.

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The Holy Crib

In the crypt under the high altar lies the celebrated relic known as the Holy Crib. A statue of Pope Pius IX kneeling before the ancient wooden pieces of the manger serves as an example to the faithful who come to see the first humble crib of the Savior.

Pius IX’s devotion to the Holy Crib led him to commission the crypt chapel, and his coat of arms is visible above the altar. The precious crystal urn trimmed in silver, through which the faithful can venerate the relic, was designed by Giuseppe Valadier.

The Basilica of Saint Mary Major

Salus Populi Romani

Protectress of the Roman People —  venerated image of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Rome. The 5th century Byzantine icon of the Madonna and Child features holding a handkerchief and Gospel book and is permanently enshrined within the Borghese Chapel of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major.

The Basilica of Saint Mary Major

The Façade of the Basilica of St Mary Major

The façade is the magnificent work of Ferdinand Fuga (1741), and faces east, opening in a portico of five arcades on the lower story and three arches in the upper loggia, which covers the thirteenth-century mosaics of the previous façade.

Like precious gems set into the façade, the mosaics illustrate the origin of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major.

In the first scene, the Blessed Virgin appears to Pope Liberius and the Roman Patrician John in the dream that will inspire the location of the new basilica. An exceptional event would confirm the divine will – on August 5, 358, a snowfall covered the Esquiline Hill and in this snow, the Pope traced the perimeter of the future basilica.

The Basilica of Saint Mary Major

Filippo Rusuti’s majestic mosaics welcome visitors, arousing sentiments which draw man closer to the greatness of God. These precious remnants can only be visited through a special guided tour that gratifies the interest of those who contemplate these works of art.

Both in the loggia and in the façade, Fuga’s Baroque tastes and vivid sense of space are amply demonstrated by his architecture. The lower five arches form the portico and support the triple arch of the loggia. This play of open space lightens the heaviness of the columns and their decorative capitals, entablatures, cornices, garlands and cherubs.

History of Basilica of Saint Mary Major

Among the Patriarchal Basilicas of Rome, Basilica of Saint Mary Major is the only one to have kept its original structure, though it has been enhanced over the course of years.

Special details within the church render it unique including:

  • the fifth century mosaics of the central nave,
  • the triumphal arch dating back to the pontificate of Pope Sixtus III (432-440) and
  • the apsidal mosaic executed by the Franciscan friar Jacopo Torriti at the order of Pope Nicholas IV (1288-1292).

Other gems of the church include:

  • the Cosmatesque pavement donated by the Roman nobleman Scoto Paparone and his son in 1288,
  • Arnolfo di Cambio’s Nativity scene from the thirteenth century and
  • the coffered ceiling in gilt wood designed by Giuliano Sangallo in 1450.

The numerous chapels, from the most ornate to the most humble, constructed by popes, cardinals and pious confraternities, the high altar begun by Ferdinando Fuga and later enriched by the genius of Valadier, the Baptistery and finally the relic of the Holy Crib complete the array of splendors contained within these walls. Every column, painting, sculpture and ornament of this basilica resonates with history and pious sentiment.

From the devout pilgrim absorbed in prayer to the studious art-lover, every visitor to St. Mary Major finds both spiritual and visual fulfillment in this holy place. A visit to the Liberian basilica, as it is also called in honor of Pope Liberius, enriches both the mind and soul.

Every August 5th, a solemn celebration recalls the Miracle of the Snows. Before the amazed eyes of the congregation, a cascade of white petals descends from the coffered ceiling, blanketing the hypogeum. From the very beginning of his pontificate, Pope John Paul II requested that an oil lamp burn day and night under the icon of the Salus Populi Romani, as witness to his great devotion to the Madonna.

This same Pope, on the eighth of December 2001, inaugurated another precious jewel of the basilica – the museum, where a modern structure would house ancient masterpieces offering visitors a unique perspective of the history of the Basilica.

The numerous treasures contained in the museum render the Basilica of Saint Mary Major a place where art and spirituality combine in a perfect union, offering visitors a unique experience in contemplating the great works of man inspired by God.

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The Holy Crib

In the crypt under the high altar lies the celebrated relic known as the Holy Crib. A statue of Pope Pius IX kneeling before the ancient wooden pieces of the manger serves as an example to the faithful who come to see the first humble crib of the Savior. Pius IX’s devotion to the Holy Crib led him to commission the crypt chapel, and his coat of arms is visible above the altar. The precious crystal urn trimmed in silver, through which the faithful can venerate the relic, was designed by Giuseppe Valadier.

History of Basilica of Saint Mary Major

The Patriarchal Basilica of Saint Mary Major reigns as an authentic jewel in the crown of Roman churches. Its beautiful treasures are of inestimable value, and represent the Church’s role as the cradle of Christian artistic civilization in Rome. For nearly sixteen centuries, St. Mary Major has held its position as a Marian shrine par excellence and has been a magnet for pilgrims from all over the world who have come to the Eternal City to experience the beauty, grandeur and holiness of the of Saint Mary Major.

Among the Patriarchal Basilicas of Rome, Basilica of Saint Mary Major is the only one to have kept its original structure, though it has been enhanced over the course of years. Special details within the church render it unique including the fifth century mosaics of the central nave, the triumphal arch dating back to the pontificate of Pope Sixtus III (432-440) and the apsidal mosaic executed by the Franciscan friar Jacopo Torriti at the order of Pope Nicholas IV (1288-1292). Other gems of the church include the Cosmatesque pavement donated by the Roman nobleman Scoto Paparone and his son in 1288, Arnolfo di Cambio’s Nativity scene from the thirteenth century and the coffered ceiling in gilt wood designed by Giuliano Sangallo in 1450. The numerous chapels, from the most ornate to the most humble, constructed by popes, cardinals and pious confraternities, the high altar begun by Ferdinando Fuga and later enriched by the genius of Valadier, the Baptistery and finally the relic of the Holy Crib complete the array of splendors contained within these walls. Every column, painting, sculpture and ornament of this basilica resonates with history and pious sentiment.

 

From the devout pilgrim absorbed in prayer to the studious art-lover, every visitor to St. Mary Major finds both spiritual and visual fulfillment in this holy place. A visit to the Liberian basilica, as it is also called in honor of Pope Liberius, enriches both the mind and soul. Indeed, it is not uncommon to see visitors rapt in admiration before the spellbinding beauty of the artwork nor, at the same time, to observe the devotion of all those engrossed in prayer in search of comfort and assistance before the image of Mary, who is venerated here under the beloved title of Salus Populi Romani.

Every August 5th, a solemn celebration recalls the Miracle of the Snows. Before the amazed eyes of the congregation, a cascade of white petals descends from the coffered ceiling, blanketing the hypogeum. From the very beginning of his pontificate, Pope John Paul II requested that an oil lamp burn day and night under the icon of the Salus Populi Romani, as witness to his great devotion to the Madonna.

This same Pope, on the eighth of December 2001, inaugurated another precious jewel of the basilica – the museum, where a modern structure would house ancient masterpieces offering visitors a unique perspective of the history of the Basilica.

The numerous treasures contained in the museum render the Basilica of Saint Mary Major a place where art and spirituality combine in a perfect union, offering visitors a unique experience in contemplating the great works of man inspired by God.

The Façade

The façade is the magnificent work of Ferdinand Fuga (1741), and faces east, opening in a portico of five arcades on the lower story and three arches in the upper loggia, which covers the thirteenth-century mosaics of the previous façade.

Like precious gems set into the façade, the mosaics illustrate the origin of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. In the first scene, the Blessed Virgin appears to Pope Liberius and the Roman Patrician John in the dream that will inspire the location of the new basilica. An exceptional event would confirm the divine will – on August 5, 358, a snowfall covered the Esquiline Hill and in this snow, the Pope traced the perimeter of the future basilica.

Filippo Rusuti’s majestic mosaics welcome visitors, arousing sentiments which draw man closer to the greatness of God. These precious remnants can only be visited through a special guided tour that gratifies the interest of those who contemplate these works of art.

Both in the loggia and in the façade, Fuga’s Baroque tastes and vivid sense of space are amply demonstrated by his architecture. The lower five arches form the portico and support the triple arch of the loggia. This play of open space lightens the heaviness of the columns and their decorative capitals, entablatures, cornices, garlands and cherubs.

The statues accentuating the outline of the façade represent saintly Popes, as well as Saint Charles Borromeo and the Blessed Nicholas Albergati. Crowning the ensemble, as if hovering over from Heaven above, are the Madonna and Child. The façade seems almost like a tabernacle, allowing glimpses of the shimmering, polychrome mosaic concealed behind it.

The foundation stone for this façade was laid on March 4, 1741 by Pope Benedict XIV. Many eighteenth-century sculptors contributed to this remarkable project. The works both within and outside of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major were completed just in time for the Jubilee Year 1750.

One hundred and fifty years separate the construction of the two palaces flanking the façade. Flaminio Ponzio built the structure on the right in 1605, while the second building was designed by Ferdinando Fuga in 1743 to give an overall uniformity to the site. Two graceful allegorical statues surmount the central entrance – Virginity by Giovanni Battista Maini, and Humility, carved by Pietro Bracci, who is also known for his sculptures at the Trevi Fountain.

Posted in Europe, Italy and Top Shrines