10 May 2016

Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome (continued)




Santa Maria Maggiore is one of the four papal basilicas of Rome and is also Vatican territory. Legend has it  - based on a few lines in an old document - that it was built at the top of the Esquiline Hill because of a dream. (Excavations under the present building have found the remains of Roman walls, important 2nd and 3rd century AD objects and some evidence of the earliest church on the site).  In this dream Liberius, a 4th century pope, was visited by an angel who told him to build a church on the top of a hill where snow would fall the next day. This was in the middle of August.  The Pope woke up and saw snow on the top of the Esquiline Hill. On further investigation Liberius found that the owner of the land had had the same dream and so the church was built there.  Every August 5th the event is commemorated with a service in the basilica when white flower petals float down from the ceiling.

Santa Maria Maggiore is both medieval and Baroque in style.  From the front it can be observed that the newer, baroque facade is built around the older one. The campanile is 14th century Romanesque and is the highest bell tower in Rome.  The belfry contains five bells, one of which is called 'La Sperduta' or 'The Lost One'.  Every evening the five bells ring out with a distinctive sound which goes back to an old tradition of helping lost visitors find their orientation in this area of the city.



In the entrance portico is a statue of Philip IV one of the basilica's benefactors.  The clay model was created by Gian Lorenzo Bernini although his pupil, Girolamo Lucenti, carved the finished work. (Bernini is buried in Santa Maria Maggiore, but I missed what apparently is a simple memorial plaque which marks his resting place.  It's one of the reasons I would like to return some day, the other is to look more closely at the medieval mosaics).


The basilica is divided into the central nave with wide side aisles on either side. There are 40 columns, 36 made of bianco greco marble and 4 of granite.  The 13th century pavement floor consists of marble stones inlaid to form intricate patterns and was designed by the Cosmati family.  Above the nave are 5th century mosaics recounting four cycles of Old Testament history featuring Abraham, Jacob, Moses and Joshua.  More mosaics depicting scenes from the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary decorate the arch at the head of the nave.

The High Altar

Steps lead down to the crypt.  There a reliquary urn made of crystal glass and silver
contains fragments of wood believed by the faithful to be from the manger used at Christ's birth.
The crypt was reconstructed on the site of the 5th century 'Holy Cave' which is modelled
 on a similar one in the church in Bethlehem which was built on the site of the Nativity. 

Also under the high altar are relics of St. Jerome, 4th century Doctor of the Church, who translated the Bible into Latin (the Vulgate).


The equally ornate Sistine Chapel was named after Pope Sixtus V  (not after Sixtus IV who commissioned the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican).  Pope Sixtus V and Pope Pius V are buried here.

The tomb of Sixtus V

The ornate altar of the Sistine Chapel

Looking up to the gilded ceiling of the chapel, paintings of biblical scenes and characters
 and one of the two cupolas at the east end of the basilica.

The Annunciation to the Virgin Mary by the angel Gabriel

This painting which seems to be of a lady presenting her child to Mary is in oils and was harder to photograph.
I like the dynamic-looking sculptures, one angel with a joyful expression.

The Chapel of St. Michael and St. Peter in Chains



There are several doors through which the visitor enters and exits the basilica.  In the centre is the Holy Door which is opened by a pope during a special ceremony at the beginning of a Jubilee Year (2016 being one of them). 

This rose window in stained glass was created by Giovanni Hajnal in 1995.
The seven branched candle represents the Old Testament.  The cross and Eucharistic chalice
represents the New Testament.  Mary as the mother of Jesus Christ links both eras because of her family lineage.


In an outside courtyard I found this interesting old well.  It fascinated me as it would have been an important water resource for those who lived on the Esquiline Hill.  Perhaps it belonged to the monastic community which settled next to the basilica, perhaps it's even older? There seemed to be ancient objects fixed to the niche in the wall.




In the Piazza stands an ancient marble column which originally stood in the Roman Forum.
 A bronze Virgin and Child was added in 1615.

The streets in the area near the Termini train station.






Back to the train station to find my husband. Usually I have a browse in the bookshop and buy some gifts for the grandchildren, but not this time as the special express train to Fiumicino Airport was due. (The shuttle train comes and goes every 30 minutes so no problem, but it's always good to get to the airport, have some lunch and relax for a while until our flight departs).




25 comments:

  1. What an amazing post, you took us on an amazing tour it was certainly a feast for the eyes.

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed seeing more of Santa Maria Maggiore and area. Thank you for leaving a comment.

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  2. It was lovely to see this post as it is many many years since I was in Santa Maria Maggiore but I do recall an overwhelming feeling of being surrounded by gold. It must look stunning in August when the white petals fall from the ceiling.
    I didn't realise that Rome had those supersonic looking trams, they are obviously new since I was last in Rome.
    I must return.

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    1. I always think a first visit to such a place stays vividly in the memory, but it would be good to return. I walk around the streets of Rome discreetly trying to take photos and it's interesting what one captures. I like the old style trams as they remind me of past times travelling in the city.

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  3. What a wonderful building thank you so much for taking us there. No wonder you want to return as there is so much to take in in one visit. I love the story about the dream and the snow and the white petals and also the bell ringing to help guide people. The old well looks facinating and what a lot of history there is on that site and in that building:)

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    1. So much to take in visually that touches the heart and mind. With further reading I begin to appreciate the history of such places and then want to return.

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  4. Such a beautiful building, and those ceilings, wow! And to think it may not have been there had it not been for that dream. There's such a lot to see, I would think you'd need to make more than one visit to take it all in.

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    1. There are so many churches and other sites of interest in the city I've missed out this one. I'm glad I visited if only for a short time.

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  5. Good Morning Linda, Such a beautiful church. I have read of the years it took to build these great churches and cathedrals. Amazing to think of the love, the patience and dedication to God it took to accomplish it. Blessings to you and Mr. P.

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    1. Thank you, Gloriade, for your visit and comment so well expressed about places of worship built to the glory of God. I'm still reflecting on my visit to Santa Maria Maggiore and how it touched me in unexpected ways, which is a good thing. Every blessing to you and yours.

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  6. some of these photos give new meaning to the word ornate. so much detail. i like the angels holding up the painting. they are incredible and beautiful. that must have been some dream... it truly is beautiful

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    1. I don't know who sculpted those angels, but they're certainly expressive and beautiful.

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  7. Italian churches really are in a league of their own aren't they. The architecture and details are so incredible. It was wonderful to see more of them in your post. Thank you so much for taking us along with you!

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    1. Thank you Amy. The Baroque style is certainly very ornate and striking. I like the Medieval and Renaissance styles as expressed in mosaics and frescoes, but I appreciate being able to visit Rome's historic centre and surrounding area and share what I see.

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  8. Dear Linda,

    Such a magnificent Church and I loved seeing your wonderful photos. You must have been in awe looking at all the gold, the paintings, and ornate statues. Thank you for taking us along.
    Hope you are having a lovely week
    hugs
    Carolyn

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    1. Santa Maria Maggiore is a beautiful church. I'm thankful to have had the opportunity to make a visit there and to have been touched by the experience. My week is going well thank you and I hope yours is also.

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  9. WOW! I am always so impressed and dumbfounded by what people built so long ago with bare hands and hand tools and their brains, knowing they would never see the completed project. The well fascinates me too!
    Thank you for the tour. ~Jody

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    1. It's fascinating to see architectural styles and expressions of faith from different periods of history all in one building and think of those who built the foundations, those who came after and used their God-given talents to create beautiful religious artwork. I'm glad you enjoyed the tour Jody.

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  10. Complimenti Linda per il magnifico reportage, non conoscevo la leggenda, quando tornerò a visitarla ti penserò. Un abbraccio
    Emi

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    1. Dear Emi. Thank you for your visit. I will write in English as I know you can use Google Translate to convert into Italian. The legend is a beautiful one and it would be a wonderful experience to attend the service on the 5th August when it's remembered in such a spectacular way with the floating white petals representing the falling snow. Un abbraccio, Linda.

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  11. An incredible place Linda, truly magnificent! Thank you for sharing these wonderful photos.

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    1. Hello Denise. Thank you for your visit, your interest and kind comment.

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  12. Lovely photos and historical information. Isn't it amazing what they were able to build so long ago? So much detail and artistry involved. I have been to the church in Bethlehem a couple of times. When I saw the photo where you mention the manager, it did sort of remind me of that though of course it is quite different.

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    1. The artistry in the construction and decoration of such buildings is impressive. I remember vividly my visit to the grotto in the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem although it was many years ago when I was there with friends. I hope you've settled back after your recent trip.

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  13. I can't even fathom being able to imagine creating such amazing spaces!

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