Gypsy's Travels

Friday, July 5, 2013

An Afternoon Expedition Continued - Santa Maria Maggiore

The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, on Piazza del Esuilino, is located in Italian territory but belongs to the Vatican State and enjoys the same benefits as an embassy. It is currently one of only four "major basilicas."
The core of the present church was built 432- 440 when Rome was considered not only the center of the Roman Empire, but the center of the Christian world. The foundation stone for the fa├žade was laid on March 4, 1741. The external architecture of the Basilica is a stark contrast to our previously visited S.M. dei Angelei.

The interior was constructed according to Vitruvius' canon of rhythmic elegance and immediately inspires awe on entering. Frescoes, statues, carvings, and 5th century mosaics decorate almost every surface. The symbols and crests of some influential patrons are mixed with the religious work.


Even the most beautiful churches have a "drawing card" and since there is no line for the 5th century mosaics, we follow the people to discover the relic . The line leads down the stairs to a small chapel. It is almost dark, only faintly lit by overhead lights. This area represents the "cave of the Nativity." The focus, and primary source of light, emanates from a niche at one end of the room. There, pilgrims kneel in ardent prayer and adoration.

In the brightly lighted area, there is an ornate container, a crystal urn trimmed in silver,  of obvious importance. This is the "celebrated" relic known as the Holy Crib.
Close inspection reveals four boards of sycamore wood believed to have been brought to the church by pilgrims 640-649. They are believed to be from the manger of the Christ Child.


 Again, I am drawn to the beautiful patterns on the floor of the church. Intricately inlaid stones pave the way like gorgeous carpets. These were designed by the marble masters of the Cosmati family in the thirteenth century. The patterns would make splendid quilts!

This is the end of our first day in Rome. It is hard to believe we have seen so much in just one afternoon. We buy some salami, bread, cheese, and drinks, for dinner in our room. It is an early night at the end of our 48 hour day......

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