Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore
The church of Santa Maria Maggiore is the largest Catholic Marian church in Rome.
Founded in the 4th century, the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (Basilica of Saint Mary Major) is one of the five great ancient basilicas of Rome . Its 18th-century exterior conceals one of the best-preserved Byzantine interiors in the city.
Santa Maria Maggiore stands on the site of a temple to the goddess Cybele. According to a 13th-century legend, the first church was built here by Pope Liberius (352-66), on the site of an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The legend has it that the Virgin appeared to Pope Liberius and the patrician Giovanni Patrizio on August 4, 352 (or 358), instructing them to build a church on the Esquiline Hill. That night, the floor plan was outlined by a miraculous snowfall.
Archaeological evidence, on the other hand, indicates that the church was probably first built in the early 400s and completed under Pope Sixtus III (432-440). This was a time when churches dedicated to Mary were beginning to spring up all over the empire, prompted by an increasingly popular devotion to the Virgin and the official acceptance of her title "Theotokos" (Mother of God) at the Council of Ephesus in 431.
The church has had many names over the years: first Santa Maria della Neve (St. Mary of the Snow) after the snowfall, then Santa Maria Liberiana after Pope Liberius. After the basilica obtained a relic of the Holy Crib, it was called Santa Maria Del Presepe (St. Mary of the Crib). It was finally named Santa Maria Maggiore (St. Mary Major) because it is the largest of the 26 churches in Rome dedicated to the Virgin Mary .
Santa Maria Maggiore was fully restored and renovated in the 18th century - the facade and most of the interior decorations date from this period. Today, the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore is served by Redemptorist and Dominican fathers and remains very popular with pilgrims and tourists alike.
The development of the city has taken away the impact of Santa Maria Maggiore's commanding position on the summit of the Esquiline Hill, but the church is still considered by many to be the most beautiful church in Rome after Saint Peter's Basilica.