Santa Maria Maggiore

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Main facade of the basilica from the east

Santa Maria Maggiore ( Latin Basilica Sanctae Mariae Maioris , German  Groß Sankt Marien ), also Santa Maria della Neve ( Our Lady of the Snow ), Santa Maria ad praesepe ("St. Mary at the crib") or Basilica Liberii is one of the four papal basilicas in Rome with the rank of basilica maior and one of the seven pilgrim churches . It is located in the extra-territorial district of the Vatican State and is in the center of Rome not far from the Roma Termini train station .

The current archpriest is Cardinal Stanisław Ryłko and protocanon is the King of Spain, currently Felipe VI.

Giovanni Paolo Pannini: Santa Maria Maggiore and the Marian Column, painting around 1745
External view of the apse side with the Obelisco Esquilino


Basilica Liberii

Arch of Gallienus (Porta Esquilina) and apse of the Church of SS. Vito e Modesto in Via di S. Vito
Mathis Gothart Nithart called Grünewald: Founding of the Basilica Liberii, altar panel from 1517 in the Augustinermuseum Freiburg
Masolino da Panicale: Foundation of the Basilica Liberii, around 1428

The Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore was built on the Esquiline under Pope Celestine I (422–432) . It is said to have had a predecessor building called Basilica Liberii (or Basilica Liberiana ) about 100 years older , which was built after 352 at the behest of Pope Liberius (352-366). However, recent archaeological investigations have not revealed any traces of an older church building under the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore. In addition, historical sources show that Pope Liberius built “a basilica with his name near the Livia market” ( hic fecit basilicam nomini suo iuxta macellum Liviae ). This location is a few hundred meters southeast of the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore, between Via Merulana and the ancient Arch of Gallienus in Via di San Vito, a little north of the current church of Santi Vito, Modesto e Crescentia as the successor to the medieval church of S. Vitus in macello (Liviae) . The rather precise localization and the negative excavation results under the St. Mary's Basilica rule out that the Basilica Liberii was the predecessor of the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore. A contrary message from the 6th century ( Liber Pontificalis I, 88, 232f.) Is not credible with regard to the location; This message would be correct if it were to express that the Marienbasilika was supposed to replace the Basilica Liberii from 352 "according to contemporary demands in liturgy and function" after the latter went up in flames during the sacking of Rome (410) .

As a papal foundation, the Basilica Liberii must have been a representative basilica church building that also played an important role in the history of the early Christian community in Rome. According to recent research, the Basilica Liberii is considered to be identical to the Basilica Sicinini ; the first name should be traced back to the church founder Pope Liberius, the second to the urban area Sicinium on the Mons Cispius at the beginning of the Via Merulana. The Basilica Liberii was after the election of 'I. Damasus bishop of Rome in 366 also the scene of street fighting between supporters of Damasus and the followers of about the same time elected deacon Ursinus (or Ursicinus), known from the Libellus precum .

There is a legend about the consecration day of the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore on August 5, 434 , which does not refer to this date of foundation, but to August 5, 352 (or 358). According to this, the Mother of God is said to have appeared to the Roman patrician John and his wife on the night of August 5th, 358 and promised that her wish for a son would come true if a church was built in her honor on the spot where on next morning snow lay. The couple then went to see Pope Liberius, who was reported to have had the same dream. On the morning of August 5th, the highest elevation of the Esquiline hill was colored white by snow. This is why the Marienkirche still bears the name Santa Maria ad Nives ( Our Lady of the Snow ). A painting by Masolino da Panicale , originally part of the Pala Colonna polyptych , shows the laying of the foundation stone of the church with the Pope in front of the snow-covered area; after removal from the church, this sequence of images was divided; the painting mentioned is now in the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples. Also Matthias Grünewald introduced in 1517 on an altar panel called the Snow Wonderland is; the picture is meanwhile in the Augustinermuseum in Freiburg.

In 354, Pope Liberius set the date for celebrating Christmas on December 25th. He was buried in the Catacombs of Priscilla on Via Salaria in 366 . He is considered the only one of the early bishops of Rome who was not venerated as a saint. In Liber Pontificalis this Pope is a separate chapter.

Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore

Today's basilica is the most important of the forty or so Marian churches in Rome; she is therefore called Maria Maggiore . According to the latest research, it was already under the predecessor of Pope Sixtus III. , namely by Pope Celestine I (422-432) erected. It was consecrated by Pope Sixtus III. on August 5, 434 as Ecclesia Sanctae Mariae . The popes of the beginning of the 5th century were faced with the task of giving the formerly pagan metropolis of Rome a Christian face. The Eternal City was characterized by its world-famous pagan buildings, especially at the Roman Forum . Now, in succession to the Roman emperors and the Roman senate, the popes had the sole authority and power to change the cityscape. These plans began under Pope Celestine I in the twenties of the 5th century. The magnificent basilica on the highest elevation of the Esquiline should have a decisive influence on the face of Christian Rome as the center of the church and as the center of the Roman Empire .

Santa Maria Maggiore is considered to be the first church dedicated to the Virgin Mary in the west and is also the oldest Church of Mary in Rome. The basilica Santa Maria in Trastevere was founded as early as the middle of the 4th century as Titulus sancti Iulii et Callixti , but it was not before St. Mary consecrated as Titulus sanctae Mariae . The church of Santa Maria Antiqua , previously a Byzantine imperial official building, was consecrated to the patronage of Mary before 579; the late antique pantheon was consecrated as Sancta Maria ad Martyres in 607 .

Santa Maria Maggiore is also the first early Christian basilica that was no longer commissioned by the emperor or the imperial family, but by the Roman bishop as a votive church . In addition, its size (79 m long, 35 m wide and 18 m high) exceeds most of the titular churches of that time. Hugo Brandenburg emphasized the special importance of this basilica. However, the Marian orientation of the station services for late antiquity is not documented.


The new building of the 5th century was partly based on the foundations of late Roman predecessor buildings. It was a three-aisled basilica without a transept , with a large apse facing northwest , an open roof in the central nave and side aisles, as well as with a narthex and vestibule. In the central nave, twenty marble columns with Ionic capitals each carried an architrave . According to local tradition, the columns come from the Temple of Juno on the Aventine . Half of the large arched windows above each intercolumny, i.e. the space between two columns, were walled up in the 8th century. According to the Liber Pontificalis , Pope Sixtus III. also donated a baptistery . Under Pope Eugene III. (1145–1153) a new vestibule was built in front of the church facade and a marble floor was laid in the nave. Pope Nicholas IV (1288–1292) had the old apse demolished so that a transept could be built at this point; the original apse mosaic was replaced by the mosaic by Jacopo Torriti that is visible today in the attached new apse. In the period from 1294 to 1308 Filippo Rusuti's mosaics were made on the eastern facade of the church. In 1377 the campanile was built using old components; it is the last and at 75 m tallest of all Romanesque towers in Rome.

In the years 1584–1590, the Cappella Sistina , donated by Sixtus V and designed by Domenico Fontana , was added to the transept. The Cappella Paolina by the architect Flaminio Ponzio , donated by Pope Paul V (Borghese), followed in 1613 . Both make the transept appear clearer. This cannot be seen from the outside, however, as the church building appears today as a single block due to the other additions such as the Baptistery (1605), the Cappella Sforza (1564–1573) and the Cappella Cesi (around 1550).

In 1587, Pope Sixtus V had the obelisk from the Augustus mausoleum ( Obelisco Esquilino ) put up again in front of the choir in the west . From 1673 to 1687, Carlo Rainaldi redesigned the west part of the basilica as a tribune facade; the apse, which was moved around 1290, was encased and had a cascade of 30 steps. The main facade in the east was given a new design by Ferdinando Fuga on behalf of Pope Benedict XIV from 1741: the east facade with the mosaics of the 13th / 14th centuries. Century was a late baroque portico with five inputs added, about one in three arched opening loggia with a benediction loggia in the middle.

In the large square in front of the church, where the atrium of the 5th century was probably located, there is a monumental Marian column , the Colonna della pace. It was built in 1614 by Carlo Maderno on behalf of Pope Paul V as thanks for the end of a plague epidemic. The approximately 14 m high fluted marble column with a Corinthian capital (around 313) comes from the Maxentius basilica at the Roman Forum and is the only one of the original eight cipollino columns still preserved . The bronze statue of the Madonna was created by Guillaume Berthélot (1580–1648). On the pedestal stand the eagle and dragon, the heraldic animals of the Papal Borghese family . Together with the base and statue, the Marian column reaches a height of 42 m. In the following years she became a model for numerous Marian columns, u. a. in Munich (1638), Vienna (1646), Freising (1674), Konstanz (1683) and Freiburg im Breisgau (1719).


Interior of the basilica

Building elements

Of the early Christian mosaics from around 432 in the original apse and on the triumphal arch (the earlier apse arch) and on the longitudinal walls of the central nave, only the mosaic pictures on the triumphal arch and in the central nave have survived. The entrance mosaic with the titulus and the apse mosaic are no longer available. It is more likely that an image of Christ is to be expected in the early Christian apse than an image of Mary, because an autonomous image of Mary in Rome was not found until the 9th century (S. Maria in Domnica) and the early Christian framing of the apse (Christogram with alpha and omega ) indicates an image of Christ. (Steigerwald ibid. 158–160). The banner: Do it Christ Filius Dei Vivi (Mt 16, 16) = You are Christ, the Son of the living God, which Torriti gave to Peter in the new apse mosaic, appears on the theme of the early Christian triumphal mosaic cycle, the demonstration the deity of Christ.

Jacopo Torriti created the apse mosaic around 1296. It shows the coronation of Mary in heaven. The Mother of God sits on the right hand of her son on a golden, splendidly decorated and red-ground upholstered throne bench. The figures are slightly facing each other and at the same time direct their gaze to the viewer of the scene. The artist designed the faces of mother and son strikingly similar. Both pairs of feet rest on blue padded footstools, which in turn stand on a red-colored threshold. Underneath, the stars, the moon and the sun float in front of the blue sky. Above the embroidered figures of Jesus Christ and his mother, dressed in three-dimensionally shaped, antiqued robes, stars appear in front of the firmament in the form of a dark blue aureole. The blue aureole contains 89 eight-pointed stars. The number symbols 8 and 9 indicate September 8th, the feast of the birth of Mary. The aureole is surrounded by a greenish, also star-studded border.

In his left hand Christ holds an open book with the opening words of the antiphon Veni electa mea : VENI ELECTA MEA ET PONAM IN TE THRONUM MEUM [quia concupivit Rex speciem tuam] (“Come, my chosen one, and I will put you on my throne [then the king asks for your beauty] ”) from Ps 45 : 11-12  EU . With his right hand Christ has already placed a jeweled, golden crown on the head of Mary and is still holding it. With her hands raised, Mary seems to respond reverently to Jesus' actions by pointing the viewer to Jesus. The text on the lower hem of the apse explains the heavenly coronation scene: MARIA VIRGO ASSUMPTA EST AD ETHERNUM THALAMUM IN QUO REX REGUM STELLATO SEDET SOLIO ("The Virgin Mary is received into the heavenly chamber in which the King of Kings sits on his star-studded throne" )

Christ and Mary are surrounded by two choirs of angels. The hll approach sideways with raised hands. Peter , Paul and Francis from the left as well as St. John the Baptist , John Evangelista and Anthony of Padua from right. The founders Pope Nicholas IV and Cardinal Jacopo Colonna kneel in front of them as little figures . In the register below, the artist has depicted five scenes from the life of Mary between the four windows of the apse: the Annunciation and the birth of the Lord, the Dormition of Mary, the adoration of the three wise men and the offering in the temple (from left). Contrary to the chronology, the Dormition of Mary occupies the center here because of the coronation in heaven above. In the apse there is also an oil painting with the birth of Jesus Christ by Francesco Mancini (around 1750).

The canopy over the papal altar by Ferdinando Fuga with its composite porphyry columns was probably inspired by the ciborium of Gian Lorenzo Bernini in St. Peter's Basilica . Below is the Confessio .

The interior is made up of the floor with marble inlay in the cosmatic style from the time of Pope Eugene III. (1145-1153) minted. Around 1593, frescoes with stations from the lives of Jesus and Mary were added above the mosaics of the central nave between the windows. The coffered ceiling was commissioned by Pope Alexander VI. Executed by Giuliano da Sangallo and his brother Antonio from 1493 to 1498. The original design may come from Leon Battista Alberti , who commissioned Pope Kalixt III. made. The coats of arms of both popes are depicted on the ceiling. According to tradition, the ceiling was covered with the first gold that the Spaniards brought from America and that Queen Isabella of Castile donated to the Pope. The Holy Door is on the left in the vestibule .

The early Christian mosaic jewelry

Triumphal arch mosaic cycle
Inscription of Pope Sixtus III. on the triumphal arch
Left side of the triumphal arch
Annunciation to Mary and Joseph (above) and the homage of the magicians (below)
Order to murder children in Bethlehem
The city of Jerusalem with six sheep

State of preservation

The mosaic decoration is the only, almost completely preserved, early Christian church from the 4th and 5th centuries. It is unique because, as in the other early Christian sacred buildings, it not only adorned the apse and the apse front wall (triumphal arch), but also the two walls of the nave and the inside of the entrance wall. The apse and entrance wall mosaic with the titulus can no longer be seen. This dedicatory inscription was lost during the renovation work in 1593; but the wording has been handed down.

Image program

The mosaics illustrate biblical themes: those of the triumphal arch are New Testament ones, the ship mosaics are Old Testament ones. The ship mosaics are linear.

The triumphal mosaic cycle is divided into four superimposed strips and is dedicated to Jesus Christ primarily with the theme of his deity, here in the stages of his childhood, beginning at the top left at his conception with the annunciation to Mary and Joseph. Opposite is the depiction of Jesus in the temple and the request of Joseph to flee to Egypt, in the next strip the homage of the magicians and the encounter of Emperor Augustus and Virgil with the baby Jesus (earlier Aphrodisis scene), in the third strip the order to murder children in Bethlehem and on on the other hand, the audience of the magicians and the high priests with Herod. The whole is based on the city of Jerusalem in the lowest strip as the place of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ and opposite the city of Bethlehem as the place of Christ's birth. The representation of the stations of the life of Jesus is crowned by the crown mosaic with the elevation of the crucified and risen Christ (in the symbol of the gem cross) on the heavenly throne.

The ship mosaics, on the other hand, have the people of God as their theme, its beginning with the calling of Abraham, its further development under Isaac and Jacob and its becoming a people under the lawgiver Moses with the liberation from Egypt and the leadership into the promised land under Joshua.

Their sequence begins on the left hand side with pictures of Abraham , Isaac and Jacob and continues on the right hand side with pictures of Moses and Joshua . The most important scenes of the 30 pictures still preserved (from originally 42) are: Left side: Melchizedek's sacrifice at the meeting with Abraham, Abraham and the three men, Abraham's separation from Lot, Isaac blesses Jacob, Jacob's admission to Laban, Jacob's advertisement about Rachel, Jacob's wedding with Rachel, Jacob's negotiations with Laban and division of the flocks, Jacob's cunning with the staffs and God who orders the return home, Jacob's encounter with Esau, Shechem and Hemor woo Dina, Shechem and Hemor negotiate with Jacob and Dinas Brothers. Right page: Little Moses is returned to Pharaoh's daughter, Moses disputes with the Egyptian wise men, marriage and calling of Moses, Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh, Moses explains the Passover meal, Moses orders the slaughter of the lambs, passage through the Red Sea, Moses speaks to God, transformation of bitter water, Amalekite battle, return of the spies and foiled stoning of Moses, death of Moses and priest with ark, ark crosses the Jordan, Joshua before the angel, capture of Jerichos, siege of Gibeon and Joshua's conversation with God, victory Joshuas over the Amorites, sun and moon stand still over Gideon, condemnation of the Amorite kings and distribution of the booty.


The style of the mosaics is not uniform: the images of the triumphal arch are characterized by a monumental style. It shows itself in large, solemn ceremonial figures that are grouped together in calm, representative groups. It continues in the first mosaics on both walls of the nave. The style of the other mosaics of the nave forms a stark contrast to this: Here the figures can be seen smaller, more moving, more lively in the midst of a rich landscape. One speaks here of a narrative style.

Theological background

According to the latest research, the key to understanding the mosaic cycle can be found in the basilica's titulus (consecration poem). The consecration poem relates in its central statement to the condemnation of the Christology of Nestorius , the patriarch of the imperial city of Constantinople (428-431) by the Synod of Rome on August 10, 430 under Pope Celestine I. The patriarch had in the dispute over the title of the Mother of God expressed fundamental doubts about the deity of Jesus Christ for the mother of Jesus and thereby triggered considerable unrest in the church. At the synod called for this reason, Celestine rejects the doubts with reference to the virginal integrity of Mary at the birth of Jesus. For him this is a sure criterion for the knowledge of the divinity of Jesus. In contrast to the oriental dispute with Nestorius, the title of Our Lady for Mary did not play a remarkable role at this church meeting. Sixtus III. this Church did not consecrate Mary the Mother of God, but the Virgin Mary, because her virginity is the decisive criterion for the knowledge of the divinity of Jesus Christ. It follows that the mosaic cycle is to be read in the context of the dispute with Nestorius about the deity of Christ. Its subject matter can be formulated as follows: Annunciation of the divinity of Christ on the background of the discussion of the related theses of Nestorius. This theme is presented in striking details on the triumphal arch and continued in the first mosaics of the nave, recognizable by the common monumental style. This is already evident from the specific formulation of the Annunciation to Mary. As in no other picture of the Annunciation from the 5th century, the Holy Spirit is depicted here in the form of a dove that descends on Mary. The pigeon is from the Jordan scene ( Mk 1.9 to 11  EU adopted), where it functions as a sign of divine sonship of Jesus and thus points to the divinity of Mary's child. Nestorius had violently questioned the deity of the Child Mary when his mother was conceived. That is why there is also an angel guard, a divine attribute of the Son of God, Mary in this image of the Annunciation. In the biblical story of the presentation of Jesus in the temple there is no basis for the appearance of the temple priesthood with the two high priests and the baby Jesus as high priest in this mosaic, but in the dispute between Cyril of Alexandria (+ 444) and Nestorius about the deity of the high priest Christ . Contrary to Nestorius' rejection of the deity of Christ, this mosaic highlights the Child Jesus as high priest and God. For the magician scene as the next example, Beat Brenk takes the view that the sensational word of Nestorius at the Council of Ephesus that he could not recognize a two or three month old god gave the occasion for the sole throne of the divine child on the throne of the magician scene could. Another topic in the discussion about the deity of Christ is the vertex mosaic. One of the main arguments of Nestorius against the deity of Christ was his death on the cross. Suffering is incompatible with a divine being. In this context, the enthronement of the Son of God on the throne of God, represented by the gemed cross as a sign of the crucified and not as a person, against all doubts of Nestorius: the crucified is God. Cross and suffering are borne by the divine person.

The continuation of the monumental style in the first pictures of the nave and the change in the biblical order of the mosaic pictures can also be explained by the orientation to the dispute with Nestorius. The Sacrifice of Bread and Wine of Melchizedek on the left deals with the Eucharist , which was of the utmost importance in the dispute between Patriarch Cyril of Alexandria and Nestorius. Their interpretation was the focus of the respective Christology and decided about the respective belief in the divinity of Christ or its rejection in the Eucharistic gifts. In the image of Melchizedek as the image of the Son of God, the divinity of Christ is demonstrated and thus bread and wine are qualified as the body and blood of the Son of God. Also on this occasion, not only because of the proximity to the altar where the Eucharist is celebrated, this mosaic can be placed in the first place. The entertaining of the three men by Abraham in the next mosaic, however, is not part of the fight against Nestorius. Nestorius vehemently defended the deity of the preexisting Son of God. However, the image belongs to the theme of the divine nature of the Son of God. He is one of the three divine Persons of the Trinity . This is how one of the Trinity became human. However, Nestorius denied this. The Eastern Roman Empress Aelia Pulcheria (399–453) can also be regarded as a witness against Nestorius . Her image is hidden as a crypto image in the figure of the Pharaoh's daughter in the mosaic of the return of little Moses to the Pharaoh's daughter (third ship mosaic on the right). The acclamations for Pulcheria after the Council of Ephesus (431) and at the Council of Chalcedon (451), which expressly celebrate their victory over Nestorius, could be a further clue for this interpretation.

Apart from the dispute with Nestorius, the mosaic cycle repeatedly reveals the intention to confirm the truth of this message of faith from the deity of Christ through witnesses and pictorial details. Only a few examples should be emphasized: This is evident in the depiction of Jesus in the homage of Simeon to the baby Jesus. The head of Simeon is similar to the head of Peter in other pictures and recalls his testimony for the divinity of Christ at Caesarea Philippi ( Mt 16 : 13-20  EU ). Not only people from the people of God, but also pagans in the figures of the magicians and the great prophets of the pagan world, the Sybille of Erythraea and Virgil, let the designers of the mosaic cycle appear as witnesses for the deity of the child of Jesus. But that's not enough for them. According to the words of the consecration poem, the most famous martyrs of Rome with their instruments of torture as witnesses for the divinity of Christ are shown to the incoming believer in the entrance mosaic. With this cloud of witnesses to the divinity of Christ, one can justifiably assume that the original mosaic in the apse was an image of Christ as God and ruler and not an image of Mary, although the basilica of the Virgin Mary was consecrated in memory of the basilica Liberiana , which was lost .

Sacrifice of the bread and wine of Melchizedek
Abraham and Sarah with the three men
Joshua before the leader of the heavenly armies (above)
the scouts flee from Jericho (below)

It turns out that a certain concept is associated with the large-figure, monumental style. According to Ernst Kitzinger, this style is to be understood as authoritative imagery: It can be understood as the artistic expression of a binding proclamation of faith that receives its authority from Christ himself. It is for Pope Sixtus III. founded in his investiture by Christ as Bishop of Rome and as the successor of Peter. The statements of the Holy Scriptures, the resolutions of the Roman (430) as well as the Alexandrian Synod (430) and the Council of Ephesus (431) form further bases of this authoritative claim. Why a second style, the narrative style? The pictures of the nave in the narrative style depict the history of God's people in pictures. They can be traced back to the model “Plebs Dei”, people of God, in the epigram of Pope Sixtus III. assign to the triumphal arch. Based on the Church of Rome, this means the worldwide Church of Christ. For this purpose, the idea of ​​the New Testament people of God is illustrated on the triumphal arch. In the first two registers of the triumphal arch, the basic building blocks of the New Testament people of God are laid down: the people of God from the believing Jews with Mary, Joseph, Simeon and the believing Jewish priesthood and the people of God from the believing heathen in the form of the magicians with Sibylle as representatives of the barbarian peoples and Emperor Augustus with Virgil as a representative of the Imperium Romanum.

One must not overlook the fact that the Roman Christian is a citizen of two empires. He is a member of God's people and is part of the Roman Empire and a citizen of the Eternal City. The Eternal City and the Roman Empire are based on a specific ideology: the idea of ​​Rome, the emperor and the empire. Up until the time of Constantine the Great (+ 337) and his family successors, the Rome, imperial and imperial ideas were shaped by paganism. Here in the mosaic cycle of the Basilica of St. Mary we find the manifesto of a new, Christian idea of ​​Rome, Emperor and Empire. It is quite unusual in early Christian art that in the crown mosaic of the triumphal arch the heavenly throne of the eternal Son of God and ruler Christ has elements of the throne of the Roma. So it was not the Roma, the epitome of Roman world domination, culture and civilization, but Jesus Christ who were placed on this throne. After the victory of Christianity (around 395), the aim was to demonstrate to the city and the world that Christ, the Son of God, the real God and ruler of the city of Rome, the Roman Empire and the cosmos, and that he is salvation and prosperity of the city and the empire. The Imperium Romanum is part of the history of God's people and shares in their dignity and their mission. The history and function of the capital Rome are also interpreted in a Christian way. The mythical city founders Romulus and Remus lose their function. In the words of Pope Leo the Great (440–461), the princes of the apostles and martyrs Peter and Paul, who are depicted on the throne of Christ, take their place. They re-founded Rome through the bloody testimony of their martyrdom. The function of the city of Rome is also being redefined. A sign of this is probably the image of the Roma in the pediment of the Temple of Jerusalem in the mosaic of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. This detail indicates that Rome is the worship center of the new people of God and no longer the Jewish temple of Jerusalem. In addition, it is made clear that the child Jesus is the new high priest, whose office is linked to the city of Rome and its people. “The new Rome myth permeated and transformed the whole city. A new kind of sacredness moved into it ”(Erich Fried).


The decision of the Roman synod of August 10, 430 against Nestorius and for the deity of Christ offers a fundamental orientation for the dating of the mosaics. The planning probably took at least two years to complete, from late autumn 430 to winter 432, for example. It can be assumed that the mosaics on the day of consecration, August 5th, 434, were more or less complete.

Side chapels

Two large chapels to the right and left of the main altar replace the originally not planned transept . The Sacrament Chapel was built in 1585 based on plans by Domenico Fontana from the time of Sixtus V. The precious bronze tabernacle was made by Ludovico Scalzo.

Later the Cappella Borghese (or Cappella Paolina) followed on the left, which was built at the time of the Borghese Pope Paul V , is considered the most magnificent private chapel of all Roman churches and contains the miraculous image of Salus Populi Romani (protector of the Roman people) , which was once an icon of Luke was viewed. The fresco decor of the vaulted ceiling was created between 1610 and 1612 under the direction of Giuseppe Cesari, called Cavalier d'Arpino , in collaboration with Guido Reni , Ludovico Cigoli and Giovanni Baglione . This ceiling fresco is remarkable because of the depiction of the Assumption of Mary : Cigoli shows Mary standing on the crescent moon, but this has a jagged edge and is covered with craters, as drawn by Galileo Galilei in his Sidereus Nuncius , published in March 1610 .


The basilica was the burial place of Pope Honorius III. (1216–1227), Nicholas IV. (1288–1292), Pius V (1566–1572), Sixtus V (1585–1590), Clement VIII. (1592–1605), Paul V (1605–1621) and Clement IX. (1667-1669). The tomb of Honorius III. was destroyed in the course of renovation work in later centuries and can no longer be found today. Several members of the Borghese family are buried in the crypt . Gian Lorenzo Bernini is buried on the right behind the papal altar.

Tomb of Nicholas IV.

On the left side of the main nave, not far from the main entrance, is the grave monument to Nicholas IV. It was donated by Cardinal Felice Peretti, later Pope Sixtus V, at the end of the 16th century. The design for this monument comes from Domenico Fontana ; the statues were created by Leonardo Sormani (1530–1589). The main figure depicts the blessing Nicholas IV, crowned with a triple tiara , as a seated figure and is surrounded by two allegorical figures, of which the left represents truth and the right represents justice . The tomb originally stood on the right side of the choir, but was moved to its current location during a restoration of the basilica under Fernando Fuga in the 18th century.

Tomb of Pius V.

The grave monument for Pius V can be found in the chapel Sixtus V and takes up the entire left wall there. The splendid work is somewhat in contradiction to the pontificate of Pius V, who was more of an ascetic Pope. The seated figure crowned with a triple tiara, by Leonardo Sormani, sits enthroned in the middle and is depicted with a habit and a cloak over it; the head is a halo surrounded. The reliefs embedded in the tomb depict important events of his reign, such as the papal coronation in the middle above the seated figure. The other reliefs on the left are reminiscent of the sea ​​battle of Lepanto , those on the right depict scenes from the Huguenot Wars . Since his canonization in 1712, there is a glass coffin in which the embalmed corpse has been placed below the figure of Pius V is laid out. This glass coffin can be closed with a bronze plate depicting the reclining Pius V.

Tomb of Sixtus V.

On the right wall of the Chapel of Sixtus V there is the tomb for Sixtus V, which is therefore also called the "Sistine Chapel". Domenico Fontana created it according to the same scheme as the tomb of Pius V on the opposite side. The kneeling figure Sixtus V was created by Jacopo Valsoldo and shows the Pope with folded hands and a tiara laid on the side. The reliefs to the left of the statue show the charities for the needy , above the canonization of St. Diego . On the right side, next to the Sixtus figure, there is a relief that depicts the fight against the gang mischief in the countryside around the city of Rome . The relief above reminds of the peace treaty between Austria and Poland . The relief above the figure of Sixtus V shows his coronation as Pope.

Tomb of Clement VIII

Clement VIII's grave is located in the Cappella Paolina , which is very similar to the grave monuments of his predecessors Pius V and Sixtus V. The seated figure depicts the Pope with his right arm raised in blessing. The reliefs on the left show the victory over the rebels in Ferrara , who above it the peace agreement between King Henry IV and King Philip II . On the lower right side, reliefs show the storming of the papal troops on Gran and above that the canonization of the two saints Giacinto and Raimondo .

Tomb of Paul V

Statue of Pius IX in the Confessio

Also in the Cappella Paolina donated by him is the grave monument of Paul V, which takes up the entire left wall. The statue shows the kneeling Paul V with folded hands and the tiara on the side according to the scheme of the figure Sixtus V. The reliefs on the left illustrate the papal military campaign against the Turks in Hungary and above the canonization of St. Charles and Borromeo of Saint Francesca Romana . On the right side below is a relief with the visit of the fortress of Ferrara by the Pope , above a relief scene with the reception of the Persian embassy . Another relief above the papal figure shows the coronation of Paul V.

Tomb of Clement IX

Opposite the monument to Nicholas IV, shortly after the main gate of the basilica, on the right side of the nave is the tomb for Clement IX designed by Carlo Rainaldi in 1671; the blessing seat figure was created by Domenico Guido. It is flanked by two allegorical female figures. The left, by Ercole Ferrata created figure symbolizes the love , right out of the hand of the Cosimo Fancelli represents the faith . Furthermore marble medallions are attached, address the one for a papal Mass in St. Peter's, on the other hand, the Ponte Sant'Angelo , whose design Clement X significantly promoted, represent.


In the Confessio below the papal altar there is a silver reliquary with the remains of a nativity scene . This should consist of parts of the crib of Jesus Christ. In front of it is a statue of Pope Pius IX. who kneels in front of it praying.


The basilica has a total of four organs : the main organ, the organ in the Capella Sforza, the organ in the Cappella Paolina and the choir organ.

The large organ with three manuals and 67 registers was built in 1955 by the Mascioni company . It stands on galleries on both sides of the choir room. The console and the positive work are to the left of the altar in the crossing. The electro-pneumatic instrument has cone chests. The disposition is as follows:

I Grand 'Organo C – c 4
1. Principals 16 ′
2. Principals 1 8th'
3. Principals 2 8th'
4th Voce umana 8th'
5. Flauto Cuneiforms 8th'
6th Dulciana 8th'
7th Ottava 4 ′
8th. Flauto a Cuspide 4 ′
9. XII 2 23
10. XV 2 ′
11. Ripieno IV
12. Ripieno V
13. Controfagotto 16 ′
14th Tromba 8th'
II Positivo C – c 4
15th Principals 8th'
16. Unda Maris 8th'
17th Flauto Aperto 8th'
18th Corno di Camoscio 4 ′
19th XV 2 ′
20th Ripieno IV
21st Tromba Dolce 8th'

II Espressivo C – c 4
22nd Principals 8th'
23. Corno di Notte 8th'
24. viola 8th'
25th Flauto a Camino 4 ′
26th Nazardo 2 23
27. Flagioletto 2 ′
28. Terza 1 35
29 Cornetto Combinato V
30th Cromorno 8th'
III Espressivo C – c 4
31. Bordone 16 ′
32. Principals 8th'
33. Principale stentor 8th'
34. Bordone 8th'
35. Viola gamba 8th'
36. Salicionale 8th'
37. Voce Celeste 8th'
38. Coro Viole III 8th'
39. Ottava 4 ′
40. Flauto Armonico 4 ′
41. Flauto in XII 2 23
42. Silvestre 2 ′
43. XV 2 ′
44. Decimino 1 35
45. Sesquialtera Combinata III
46. Ripieno IV
47. tuba 8th'
48. Tromba Armonica 8th'
49. oboe 8th'
50. Clarinetto 8th'
51. Voce Corale 8th'
Pedals Epistulae C – g 1
52. Acustico 32 ′
53. Contrabbasso 16 ′
54. Subbasso 16 ′
55. Quinta 10 23
56. Basso 8th'
57. Corno Camoscio 8th'
58. Quinta 5 1 / 3 '
59. Ottava 4 ′
60. Ripieno VI
61. Bombarda 16 ′
62. Trombones 8th'
63. Clarone 4 ′

Pedals Evangeli C-g 1
64. Bordone 16 ′
65. Violone 16 ′
66. Principals 8th'
67. Bordoncino 8th'
68. violoncello 8th'
69. Flauto 4 ′
70. Ottavino 2 ′
  • Pairing :
    • Normal coupling: II / I, III / I, III / II, I / P, II / P, III / P
    • Sub-octave coupling: II / I, III / I, III / II, I / I, III / III
    • Super octave coupling: II / I, III / I, III / II, I / P, II / P, III / P, I / I, II / II, III / III


The chimes of Santa Maria Maggiore consist of five church bells from the 13th, 14th, 16th and 19th centuries. The ringing order differentiates between the ringing a doppio , a rhythmic striking, and the a distesa , the swinging of the bells with the falling clapper. The ringing a doppio occurs at the usual masses on Sundays and working days. The big bell is struck thirteen times (3–4–5–1x) for the daily Angelus prayer .

A distesa is rung for the arrival of the Pope's Corpus Christi procession, on Easter vigil and on other extraordinary occasions. Also a distesa, the big bell La Sperduta rings every evening at 9 p.m. for the so-called suonare a festa . This ringing goes back to the foundation of a pilgrim to whom the bell owes its popular name. It means “the lost one” and is based on a legend that is told in two versions: Either a pilgrim or a shepherdess grazing her animals, perhaps blind, got lost and could not find her way back; by the ringing of the bell - originally at 2 a.m., later moved to 9 p.m. - she was shown the way back to the city. The bell called La Sperduta that is rung at this time today is not the original one; this is in the Vatican museums and was under Pope Leo XIII. replaced by the current one.

Surname Casting year Caster lower diameter Dimensions Chime
La Sperduta 1851 Giovanni Lucenti 1,641 mm ≈3,500 kg cis 1 ± 0
1581 Pier Francesco da Bologna 1,438 mm ≈2,000 kg cis 1 ± 0
1884 Giovanni Battista Lucenti 1,177 mm ≈1,100 kg d 1 −1/8
1391 anonymous 1,075 mm ≈900 kg g 1 +1/8
1239 or 1289 anonymous 971 mm ≈600 kg f sharp 1 +1/8

Importance of the basilica and its mosaics

The Basilica of St. Mary on the Esquiline was designed to change the face of the Eternal City, which was shaped by paganism through the magnificent buildings at the Roman Forum and its temples, and to help give the capital a Christian face. The religious center of the city was no longer to be the state temple of Venus and Roma in the Roman Forum, as was the case during the city's millennium, but rather the Basilica of St. Mary, built on the highest point of the highest hill in the city, which had the same rank as the city Lateran Basilica , the Pope's Church. In the church of St. Mary, in the crown mosaic on the throne of the Roma, the city goddess Roma is no longer enthroned as it has been for centuries, but the incarnate Son of God as God and ruler of heaven, the Eternal City and the Roman Empire. Through the message of the mosaics, Jesus Christ gives the city and the empire a new basic orientation for spiritual and political life on the basis of faith in his deity. The fundamental threat to the Christian belief in the deity of Christ by Nestorius is rejected with the demonstration of the impressively authenticated message of the deity of the incarnate Son of God and the belief in the deity of Christ is shown in magnificent mosaic pictures.


Excavated late antique apsidal room with niches

Below the church is the excavation site of a large building over which the church was built. It goes back to Augustan and Hadrian times. Its main entrance was under the apse of today's church and had a colonnade measuring 37.30 × 30 m. The assumption that it could be the macellum of Livia , which had been lying on the Esquiline , was not confirmed. Under Emperor Constantine the Great , two walls were painted with a peasant calendar to illustrate the rural work in the individual months. A little later, however, the calendar was covered with painting in the style of a marble decoration. Through the entrance of the basilica museum (back right) you can also visit part of the excavations with an exhibition of finds, but only with a guide.

Picture gallery

See also


  • Maria Andaloro: The Churches of Rome. A tour in pictures. Medieval paintings in Rome 312–1431 . Philipp von Zabern, Mainz 2008, pp. 269–294.
  • Hugo Brandenburg : The early Christian churches in Rome from the 4th to the 7th century. 3rd completely revised updated edition. Schnell and Steiner, Regensburg 2013, ISBN 978-3-7954-2200-4 , pp. 195–208, 325–362.
  • Beat Brenk: The early Christian mosaics in S. Maria Maggiore in Rome. F. Steiner, Wiesbaden 1975.
  • Walther Buchowiecki : Handbook of the Churches of Rome. The Roman sacred building in history and art from early Christian times to the present . Volume 1, Hollinek, Vienna 1967, pp. 237-276, and Volume 3, Vienna 1974, pp. 1028-1030.
  • Johannes G. Deckers : The Old Testament cycle of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. Studies on the history of images (= Habelt's dissertation prints. Classical Archeology Series 8). Habelt, Bonn 1976, ISBN 3-7749-1345-5 (also: Freiburg, Univ., Diss., 1974).
  • Heinz-Joachim Fischer : Rome. Two and a half millennia of history, art and culture of the Eternal City. DuMont Buchverlag, Cologne 2001, ISBN 3-7701-5607-2 , pp. 295-299.
  • Kristina Friedrichs: Episcopus plebi Dei. The representation of the early Christian popes . Schnell & Steiner, Regensburg 2015, pp. 149ff. and 319ff.
  • Erwin Gatz : Roma Christiana. Vatican - Rome - Roman countryside. An art and cultural history guide. 3rd improved and enlarged edition. Schnell and Steiner, Regensburg 2008, ISBN 978-3-7954-2054-3 , pp. 207-220.
  • Anton Henze u. a .: Art guide Rome. 5th edition. Reclam, Stuttgart 1994, ISBN 3-15-010402-5 , pp. 217-223.
  • Heinrich Karpp: The early Christian and medieval mosaics in S. Maria Maggiore in Rome. Bruno Grimm, Baden-Baden 1966
  • Maria Raffaela Menna: I mosaici della basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore . In: Maria Andaloro and Serena Romano (eds.): La pittura medievale a Roma, Corpus, La pittura medievale a Roma, Vol. 1: L'orizzonte tardoantico e le nuove immagini 312-468. Jaca Book, Milan 2006, pp. 334-346.
  • Silvia Montanari: The papal churches in Rome. On the trail of papal tombs. Bonifatius, Paderborn 1994, ISBN 3-87088-820-2 , pp. 91-111.
  • Joachim Poeschke: Mosaics in Italy 300-1300 . Hirmer, Munich 2009, pp. 70-93.
  • G. Sabantini and D. Stilo: The Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome 2014
  • Gerhard Steigerwald: The early Christian mosaics of the triumphal arch of S. Maria Maggiore in Rome. Schnell and Steiner, Regensburg 2016, ISBN 978-3-7954-3070-2 .
  • Roberta Vicchi: The Patriarchal Basilicas of Rome. Scala, Florence 1999, ISBN 978-88-8117-466-9 , pp. 120-158.
  • Hans Georg Wehrens: Rome - The Christian sacred buildings from the 4th to the 9th century - A Vademecum . Herder, Freiburg, 2nd edition 2017, pp. 214–225.
  • Josef Wilpert and Walter N. Schumacher: The Roman mosaics of the church buildings from IV. To XIII. Century . Herder Verlag, Freiburg im Breisgau 1976.
  • Gerhard Wolf : "Salus Populi Romani". The history of Roman cult images in the Middle Ages. VCH, Acta Humaniora, Weinheim 1990, ISBN 3-527-17717-5 (also: Heidelberg, Univ., Diss., 1989).

Web links

Commons : Santa Maria Maggiore (Rome)  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Commons : Santa Maria Maggiore  - album with pictures, videos and audio files


Individual evidence

  1. ^ Hugo Brandenburg: The early Christian churches in Rome from the 4th to the 7th centuries , Regensburg 2013, pp. 120, 195
  2. Kristina Friedrichs: Episcopus plebi Dei. The representation of the early Christian popes , Regensburg 2015, p. 150f.
  3. ^ Filippo Coarelli: Rome - An archaeological guide , Freiburg 1981, pp. 195, 209
  4. Steffen Diefenbach: Roman memory rooms. Sacred Memories and Collective Identities in Rome from the 3rd to 5th Centuries AD. , Berlin 2007, p. 226f. with note 39
  5. Walther Buchowiecki: Handbook of the Churches of Rome. The Roman sacred building in history and art from early Christian times to the present , Volume 1, Vienna 1967, p. 238f.
  6. PL 13, 82
  7. Hans Georg Wehrens: Rome - The Christian sacred buildings from the 4th to the 9th century - A Vademecum . Freiburg, 2nd edition 2017, p. 157
  8. ^ Fabrizio Mancinelli: Guide to the catacombs in Rome . Scala Florence 2007, p. 53
  9. ^ Gerhard Steigerwald: The early Christian mosaics of the triumphal arch of S. Maria Maggiore in Rome . Regensburg 2016, p. 218: Richard Krautheimer expects the building to be completed by the end of the pontificate of Cölestin I (+ July 22, 432).
  10. GB De Rossi: Inscriptiones christianae urbis Romae septimo saeculo antiquiores , 2nd edition, Volume 2, Rome 1888, p. 71, no. 42.
  11. ^ Richard Krautheimer (Ed.): Rom - Schicksal einer Stadt 312-1308 , Darmstadt 1996, pp. 43-71.
  12. Hans Georg Wehrens: Rome - The Christian sacred buildings from the 4th to the 9th century - A Vademecum . Freiburg, 2nd edition 2017, p. 215.
  13. ^ Hugo Brandenburg: The early Christian churches in Rome . Schnell & Steiner, Regensburg 2013, p. 195 .
  14. Hans Georg Wehrens: Rome - The Christian sacred buildings from the 4th to the 9th century - A Vademecum . Freiburg, 2nd edition 2017, p. 216f.
  15. ^ Bonaventura Overbeke, Paolo Rolli: Degli avanzi dell'antica Roma opra postuma di Bonaventura Overbeke. Pittore e cittadino d'Amsterdam tradotta e di varie osservazioni critiche e riflessive accresciuta da Paolo Rolli .. presso Tommaso Edlin, 1739, p. 216 (Italian, limited preview in Google Book Search).
  16. Walther Buchowiecki: Handbook of the Churches of Rome. The Roman sacred building in history and art from early Christian times to the present . Volume 1, Vienna 1967, p. 247.
  17. Maria Andaloro: The churches of Rome. A tour in pictures. Medieval paintings in Rome 312–1431 . Mainz 2008, p. 275 with illustration
  18. Maria Andaloro: The churches of Rome. A tour in pictures. Medieval Paintings in Rome 312-1431 . Mainz 2008, p. 285
  19. Hans Georg Wehrens: Rome - the Christian sacred buildings from the 4th to the 9th century - A Vademecum. Freiburg, 2nd edition 2017, p. 223
  20. Roberta Vicchi, The patriarchal Rome , p 134
  21. ^ Anton Henze et al .: Art Guide Rome . Stuttgart 1994, p. 218.
  22. Roberta Vicchi, The patriarchal Rome , S. 134th
  23. Hans Georg Wehrens: Rome - The Christian sacred buildings from the 4th to the 9th century - A Vademecum . Freiburg, 2nd edition 2017, pp. 213, 225 with text and translation of the dedication inscription.
  24. Walther Buchowiecki: Handbook of the Churches of Rome. The Roman sacred building in history and art from early Christian times to the present . Volume 1, Vienna 1967, pp. 253ff.
  25. ^ Gerhard Steigerwald: The early Christian mosaics of the triumphal arch of S. Maria Maggiore in Rome. Regensburg 2016, pp. 210, 213f.
  26. ^ Gerhard Steigerwald: The early Christian mosaics of the triumphal arch of S. Maria Maggiore in Rome. Regensburg 2016, pp. 32f., 28f.
  27. ^ Beat Brenk: The early Christian mosaics in S. Maria Maggiore in Rome . Wiesbaden 1975, p. 48.
  28. GB De Rossi: Inscriptiones christianae urbis Romae septimo saeculo antiquiores , Volume 2, Rome 1888, p. 71, no. 42, cf. Gerhard Steigerwald, The early Christian mosaics pp. 22, 23–25.
  29. ^ Ernst Kitzinger: Byzantine art in the making. Stylistic developments in Mediterranean art from the 3rd to the 7th centuries . DuMont Buchverlag, Cologne 1984, p. 158-166 .
  30. Herwarth Roettgen : "CESARI, Giuseppe, detto il Cavalier d'Arpino", in: Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani , Volume 24, 1980, online in Treccani , (Italian; viewed February 13, 2019)
  31. Information on the organ
  32. Jan Hendrik Stens: The bells of S. Maria Maggiore . In: Yearbook for bell technology. Volume 19/20 (2007/08), pp. 174f.
  33. ^ Romolo A. Staccioli, Guida di Roma antica . Milano 1986. p. 129

Coordinates: 41 ° 53 ′ 51 ″  N , 12 ° 29 ′ 55 ″  E