Every pilgrim visiting Rome knows the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (Mother of God the Greater). It is one of the four main basilicas of the Eternal City. “Maggiore” means bigger, and indeed it is the largest of the numerous Marian Churches in Rome. What is its history?
Everything started in the year 363. According to the story, the childless, rich senator John was going to make the Blessed Virgin the heiress of his estate. It was then, that he and the Pope of that time, Liberius, had a dream on the night of August 5, in which the Mother of God appeared, asking that a church built in her honor on the Equilina hill (one of the seven Roman hills) on a site where there will be snow in the morning.
The Senator and the Pope went in the morning to a place where they really found a snow covered square in the summer. Historians have considered this story a legend. However, it is still passed under the name: “Santa Maria ad Nives” (Saint Mary of the Snow). After the Council in Ephesus (431), on which the dogma of God’s motherhood (Theotocos) was defined, Pope Situs III ordered the reconstruction and extension of the church. It has survived to this day, although over the centuries it has been constantly modernized and expanded. The façade with five portals and mosaics from the 14th century have a great impression on the visitors. In the interior (length: 85m, width: 18m) the eye is caught by the richness of ornaments made in marble, 36 ancient columns that separate the central aisle from the side ones, magnificent mosaics showing scenes from Mary’s life and a coffered ceiling. All this reminds the pilgrims of the truth about Mary’s motherhood and Her carnal entry into heaven.
Under the main altar in the reliquary there is a crib, in which Mary was to place the Child. Hence the other name of the church: “Santa Maria ad Praesepe” (Marian church with a crib). Among the numerous chapels, the most magnificent and the most known is Capella Borghese, named after its founder – Pope Paolo Borghese (1605-1620).
Above the altar there is a miraculous image of the “pilgrim Church”: “Maria, Salus Populi Romani” (Mary, Rescue of the Roman Nation).
The pious legend attributes the authorship of this painting to Evangelist Luke. Certainly, the painting is of Byzantine origin and depicts the Mother of God wrapped in a dark red cloak. She holds the Child Jesus who has a book in his left hand and raises the right one for blessing. Millions of faithful have prayed in front of this painting, including many popes and saints. Starting from the 16th century, it was copied. More or less faithful copies are found in many Catholic churches. This painting is often called “Maria of the Snow”, but also “Three Wonderful Mother”. The magnificent Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore shows the faithful the greatness and magnificence of Mary.