Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore: Rest in Peace, Bernini

My favorite view of the basilica - from the back

My favorite view of the basilica – from the back

When Pope Francis spoke from the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica the night that he was elected, he said he would go to pray to Mary. The next morning he did, praying at the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome’s largest of the four Catholic churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary. I love the setting for Santa Maria Maggiore atop Esquiline Hill, even though the view caused me to get lost in June 2011. I was so busy ogling the church that I missed my turn! I finally visited the inside of the church for the first time a couple of weeks ago.

P1110090As you know, I love churches, and this one is beautiful. One of the things I like most about Santa Maria Maggiore is the tomb of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the famous Italian sculptor, artist, and architect from the mid-1600s who is credited with creating the Baroque style of sculpture and architecture. His tomb and his family’s is just to the right of the crypt under the main altar.

River Ganges from the Four Rivers Fountain in Piazza Navona

River Ganges from the Four Rivers Fountain in Piazza Navona

During his 82 years, Bernini designed hundreds of works, many of which are among the most popular sights in Rome: the Four Rivers Fountain in Piazza Navona; the throne of St. Peter behind the altar, the baldachin over the altar, and many other works inside St. Peter’s Basilica; the Piazza San Pietro in front of St. Peter’s Basilica and the colonnades on both sides; the Obelisk of Santa Maria sopra Minerva near the Pantheon; the Ecstasy of St. Therese at Santa Maria della Vittoria; and the Ponte Sant’Angelo (my second favorite bridge over the Tevere). One of my favorite works is his breathtaking Apollo and Daphne, which now stands in the Galleria Borghese (no photos allowed) along with some of his other masterpieces.

P1110101

Baldachin over the main altar

As for the church, Santa Maria Maggiore is stunning. One of the oldest and most important Christian churches, it was built from 432 to 440 AD, immediately after Mary was proclaimed the mother of God (in 431). It is one of the first churches built in honor of the Virgin Mary (Santa Maria in Trastevere was built a century earlier) and one of the four highest-ranking Catholic churches to hold the title of major basilica (the other three are St. Peter, St. John Lateran, and St. Paul outside the Walls—all in Rome). It’s well worth a trip, as are the other three major basilicas, and I will return.

In the meantime, rest in peace, Bernini. I pass your magnificent work every day, and they make my heart happy!

Ciao!

Detail of the canopy of the baldachin

Detail of the canopy of the baldachin

Chapel to the right of the main altar

Chapel to the right of the main altar

Detail of the top of a wall in the chapel to the right of the main altar

Detail of the top of a wall in the chapel to the right of the main altar

The entrance to the chapel to the left of the main altar

The entrance to the chapel to the left of the main altar

Rose window above the entrance

Rose window above the entrance

Art in the baptistery - I don't know what it is, but it's beautiful!

Art in the baptistery – I don’t know what it is, but it’s beautiful!

Detail of the beautiful ceiling (dates from 1450) and the frescos atop the walls of the nave

Detail of the ceiling (dates from 1450) and the frescos atop the walls of the nave

Cosmatesque floor (dates from 1288)

Cosmatesque floor (dates from 1288)

Front of the basilica. The bell tower is the tallest in Rome.

Front of the basilica. The bell tower is the tallest in Rome.

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