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Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore

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In Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christianity, Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is the largest and most important place of worship dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore — also known as the Basilica di Santa Maria della Neve and Basilica Liberiana in the Italian language and Saint Mary Major Basilica in the English language — is one of five churches considered to be the great ancient basilicas of Rome in Italy. The Roman Catholic Church counts among them St. John Lateran, St. Lawrence outside the Walls, St. Peter and St. Paul outside the Walls. Built over the pagan temple of Cybele, Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is the only Roman basilica that retained the core of its original structure, left intact despite several additional construction projects and damage from the earthquake of 1348.

The name of the church reflects two basic ideas. First, the name of the church reflects its importance as a major basilica as opposed to a minor basilica. Second, the name reflects Roman Catholic doctrine of Mary as the true Mother of God. In the Greek language this doctrine is called Theotokos, officially adopted at the Council of Ephesus in 431. Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is the largest and most important place of prayer dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

After the Avignon papacy formally ended and the popes reclaimed the title of Bishop of Rome, Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore became a temporary Palace of the Popes. They later moved into the Palace of the Vatican in present-day Vatican City.

Contents

Archpriest

The current archpriest of Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is American Bernard Cardinal Law. In this photo, he escorts Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo into the basilica.
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The current archpriest of Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is American Bernard Cardinal Law. In this photo, he escorts Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo into the basilica.

A patriarchal basilica, it is often personally used by the pope. Most notably, the pope presides over the annual Feast of the Assumption of Mary, celebrated each August 15 at Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. A high, canopied altar dedicated to the pope is used by the pope alone — except for a choice few priests including the archpriest. The pope gives charge of Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore to an archpriest, usually an archbishop made cardinal in consistory. The archpriest was once called the Latin Patriarch of Antioch, a title abolished in 1964. The current archpriest of Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is Bernard Cardinal Law, former prelate of the Archdiocese of Boston in the United States.

In addition to the archpriest and his servant priests, a chapter of canons are resident in Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. In addition, Redemptorist and Dominican priests serve the church daily — offering confessions and administering other sacraments.

Apparition

Pope Liberius commissioned the construction of the first Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore circa 360. He wanted a shrine built at the site where an appartion of the Blessed Virgin Mary manifest herself before a local patrician and his wife. According to tradition, the outline of the church was physically laid out on the ground by a miraculous snowfall that took place on August 5, 358. Dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of the Snows, local Roman Catholics commemorate the miracle on each anniversary by dropping white rose petals from the dome during the feast mass.

Architecture

Considered by many to be the most beautiful church in Rome after St Peter's, the present building dates from the time of Pope Sixtus III, (432 - 440), and contains many ancient mosaics from this period. The Athenian marble columns supporting the nave are even older, and either come from the first basilica, or from an antique Roman building. The medieval bell tower is the highest in Rome at 240 feet, (about 75 m.). The apse mosaic, the Coronation of the Virgin, is from the late 13th century, by Franciscan friar, Jacopo Torriti.

In the Pauline chapel is the famous icon of the Virgin Mary known as Salus Populi Romani, or Health of the Roman People, due to a miracle in which the icon helped keep plague from the city. The icon is at least a thousand years old, and tradition holds that it was painted from life by St Luke the Evangelist. (According to published material at the Basilica, radiocarbon dating establishes the age of the icon to be approximately 2,000 years, thus establishing this tradition as scientifically plausible.)

Bethlehem Crypt

Below the sanctuary of Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is the Bethlehem Crypt where many significant figures in the history of the Roman Catholic Church are buried. The crypt is furnished with an altar and seating for the celebration of the Eucharist. A relic of the crib believed to be used in the nativity of Jesus is protected within the crypt. Devoted to the nativity, Saint Ignatius of Loyola presided over his first mass as a priest in the Bethlehem crypt on December 25, 1538. He would later establish the Society of Jesus.

Among the famous buried in the crypt is Saint Jerome, Doctor of the Church. In the 4th century, Saint Jerome translated the Vulgate Bible into the Latin language. Artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini also rests in the basilica.

Sources

pl:Bazylika Santa Maria Maggiore w Rzymie

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