Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome

Of all the great Roman Basilicas, Santa Maria Maggiore has the most successful blend for different architectural styles. Its colonnaded nave is part of the original 5th century building. The Cosmatesque marble floor and delightful Romanesque bell tower are medieval. 

The Renaissance saw a new coffered ceiling, whilst the Baroque gave the church twin domes and its imposing front and rear facades. Nevertheless, what stands out in this magnificent church are its mosaics.

There is also a legend entangled in the building of this church, known as the “Legend of the Snow”. In 356 A.D., Pope Liberius had a dream in which the Virgin Mary told him to build a church on the spot where he found snow. When it fell on the Esquiline (which is the largest and highest of Rome’s seven hills), on the morning of 5th August in the middle of a hot Roman summer day, he obeyed.

The miracle of the snow is commemorated each year by a service during which thousands of white petals float down from the ceiling of the Papal Basilica. Originally, roses were used; however, nowadays the petals are more usually taken from dahlias.  Due to this legend the church is also known as Santa Maria ad Nives, i.e. of the Snows. 

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