Tuesday, March 11, 2014


What a wonderful basilica this is:  the latest of the 4 "major basilicas" (after St John Lateran, St Peter's and St Paul's Outside the Walls), built in the 5th century to mark the declaration (at the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD) of Mary as Theotokos, "Mother of God."  It is not the oldest Roman church dedicated to Mary, but it is the largest, and the first dedicated to her under this special title.
It was built on the top of the Esquiline Hill, the highest of the "Seven Hills of Rome"--if you have any doubt of that, just walk up Via Cavour from the Forum to the back of the basilica (shown here).  This picture shows the modifications made by Popes Sixtus V and Paul V--side chapels added and topped by the two domes.  The first of these, unfortunately, is also called "The Sistine Chapel" in some guidebooks, and when I was helping chaperone our Archdiocesan group during World Youth Day in 2000 I had to inform a couple of Americans that this wasn't "the" Sistine Chapel, and it was going to be a LONG walk to the far side of St Peter's, to the entrance of the Vatican Museums, if they wanted to see the famous one.  Oh, well...
Inside this basilica is artwork of the highest quality and of great age:  important mosaics from the 5th century and the 12th century are featured, honoring the Blessed Mother. 
Of note also, in this church, is the very humble grave of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, just along the right side of the sanctuary of the main altar.
The Dominicans who regularly hear confessions in this basilica are legendarily some of the harshest in all of Rome.  But I have never found that to be the case, and whenever I am in Rome the Sacrament of Reconciliation in this church is always on my "Do List."  I have always found these monks to be gentle, understanding and helpful in my spiritual walk. 
When I brought my Mother to Rome in 1994, we paid a special visit to Santa Maria Maggiore so she could fulfill a promise to say a prayer and light a candle for a dear friend of hers back in Chicago.  In my Mom's honor and memory, I do the same, at the same vigil candle shrine--which (just as it was in 1994) features electric (!) "candles"!!!

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