The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is one of Rome's four Papal major basilicas and is renowned for its stunning architectural features and historical significance. Standing atop the Esquiline Hill, it has been a symbol of the Catholic faith for over a millennium and a half, and its history is rich with religious, cultural, and artistic significance.
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According to legend, the basilica's founding dates back to the 5th century when Pope Liberius had a vision of the Virgin Mary. She instructed him to build a church where snow would fall in August. On August 5th, snow fell on the Esquiline Hill, and the Pope outlined the church's dimensions in the snow itself. To this day, the miraculous event is commemorated annually in the Feast of Our Lady of the Snows.
The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore's architectural style evolved over time, reflecting various periods of artistic influence. The original structure featured a classical basilica plan with a nave, two aisles, and a transept. The 5th-century mosaics in the nave, depicting Old Testament scenes, remain largely intact and are some of the oldest examples of Christian art in Rome. The 12th-century bell tower, standing at 75 meters, is the tallest in Rome, and the Renaissance coffered ceiling, gilded with gold brought from the New World, adds to the basilica's grandeur.
In the 17th century, Pope Paul V of the Borghese family commissioned the construction of the Cappella Paolina, or Borghese Chapel, to house the icon of the Salus Populi Romani, believed to be painted by St. Luke the Evangelist. The chapel is a masterpiece of Baroque art, with contributions from renowned artists such as Giovanni Lanfranco and Guido Reni.
The basilica is home to numerous relics and artifacts, including the Crypt of the Nativity, which contains wood from Christ's crib. The tomb of the beloved Pope Pius V and the remarkable Marian column, erected by Pope Paul V, also add to the church's historical and religious significance.
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