The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, also known as Saint Mary of the snow or as the Liberian Basilica (from the name of the traditional founder, Pope Liberius, is one of the four patriarchal basilicas of Rome. Placed on top of the Esquiline Hill, is the only one to have kept the original structure early Christian, albeit enriched by successive additions.
It was built by Pope Sixtus III between 432 and 440 and by him dedicated to the cult of the Virgin Mary, the dogma of the divine motherhood which had just been sanctioned by the Council of Ephesus (431).
It was built on a previous church, which wants a widespread tradition has been to inspire the Lady herself appearing in a dream to Pope Liberius and the patrician John and suggesting that the appropriate place would be miraculously indicated. So when the morning of August 5,
an unusual snowfall whitened the Esquiline Pope Liberius would track in the snow the perimeter of the new basilica, built with funding then John. Of this ancient building remains only one step of the Liber Pontificalis, which says that Liberius fecit basilicam appoint its juxta macellum Liviae.
Anyway, the 5th of August each year, in memory of Our Lady of the Snows, there is the re-enactment of the so-called "miracle of the snow " during an evocative celebration will be dropped from the ceiling a cascade of white petals.
Already before 1000 the church of Santa Maria Maggiore had a cover caisson. Characterize this type of coverage the diagonal beams that meet at an intersection point, on which were placed the shell tiles. According to tradition, the current coverage was made with the first gold brought from the Americas at the time of Pope Alexander VI.
Inside one of the main works is the beautiful mosaic cycle with scenes from the Old and New Testament, dating from the fifth century, soon after the Council of Ephesus, which still shows the stylistic characteristics of art Late Antiquity : shading, gradients with steps color gradual, realistic depiction of space and volume, etc. More hieratic, and are already closer to Byzantine mosaics of the triumphal arch, with scenes of childhood of Christ drawn from the Apocrypha.
The transept was added in the Middle Ages; Cosmati floor dates back to the twelfth century. In the fourteenth century during the pontificate of Nicholas IV (late thirteenth century) was also rebuilt the apse mosaic, the Coronation of Mary, by Jacopo Torriti. The same period are the mosaics on the facade, designed by Philip Rusuti.
Among the works added over the centuries indicate the fourteenth-century Chapel of the Nativity of Arnolfo di Cambio (destroyed) and the Sforza Chapel performed on a design by Michelangelo. In the late sixteenth century Sixtus V had run a series of frescoes on the walls tamponarono that some of the early Christian windows.
The apse exterior, facing the square of the Esquiline, is the work of Carlo Rainaldi, who presented to Pope Clement IX a less expensive than the contemporary Bernini that would, among other things, led to the destruction of the mosaics of the apse, the work of fourteenth century by Jacopo Torriti and would have arrived almost at the back of the obelisk.
The main facade features a portico and a loggia for the blessings, was carried out between 1741 and 1743, during the pontificate of Benedict XIV, by Ferdinando Fuga.
The building of the Basilica, including exterior stairs, is extraterritorial area in favor of the Holy See. It is not that the territory of the Vatican, as is commonly believed, but the Italian territory with the privilege of the right of extraterritoriality. The wide stairway in the crowning of the apse, which is also extraterritorial, is currently limited by a high iron railing, which prevents the rest of the tourists or citizens, that could result in difficulties for police officers Italians, who have absolutely got banned the access to this area.
In June 1605 Pope Paul V decided the construction of the Cappella Paolina, a Greek cross and the size of a small church. The architectural part was given to Flaminio Ponzio, bound in the plant from the chapel of Sixtus V. speculate completed the structure in 1611, the decorative part, with colored marble, gold and precious stones, was completed at the end of 1616. Alle Side walls are placed the two tombs of the popes Clement VIII and Paul V, contained in an architecture triumphal arch in the center the statue of their paintings and bas-reliefs.
The sculptural part was built between 1608 and 1615 by a diverse group of artists from Viggiù Silla, which had the greater part of the work making the two statues papal Bonvicino, Vasoldo, Christopher states, Nicholas Cordieri, Hippolytus Búzio, Camillo Mariani Pietro Bernini, Stefano Maderno and Francesco Mochi.
The direction of the pictorial work was entrusted to the Cavalier D' Arpino relizzo the pendentives of the dome and the lunette above the altar. Ludovico Cigoli built the dome while Guido Reni was the lead author of the individual figures of saints to which they put the hand also Passignano, Giovanni Baglione and Baldassare Croce; later Lanfranco, according Bellori, transforming an angel intervened in Virgo.
The first crib
It is still preserved in the Basilica of the history of the first nativity scene made with statues. It is due to Pope Nicholas IV in 1288 commissioned Arnolfo di Cambio, a depiction of the "Nativity". The tradition of this sacred representation originated at the 432 when Pope Sixtus III ( 432-440 ) created in the primitive basilica a "cave of the Nativity" similar to Bethlehem. The Basilica of Santa Maria took the name to praesepem (from Latin: praesepium = manger). The many pilgrims who were returning to Rome from the Holy Land, brought the gift of precious fragments of the wood of the Holy Crib (cunabulum) today kept in the golden casket of Confession.