Saint Mary Major is one of the three Patriarchal Basilicas and is a gem in the tiara of the many Roman churches. The treasures that call the basilica home are priceless. They represent the artistic beauty that helped created a civilization in Rome and throughout the world. It has been a Marian shrine for sixteen centuries. Pilgrims from around the world pass through her doors on a daily basis.
It is the only Patriarchal Basilica in Rome that has kept its original structure, however, additions have been made over the years. Contained within her walls are 5th-century mosaics from the papacy of Pope Sixtus III. Along with these gems is also the apsidal mosaic created by the Franciscan friar Jacopo Torriti at the request of Pope Nicholas IV, the Cosmatesque pavement donated by the Roman nobleman Scoto Paparone and his son in 1288, and Arnolfo di Cambio’s Nativity scene from the thirteenth century, and lastly, the coffered ceiling in giltwood designed by Giuliano Sangallo in 1450.
Although these and other precious artistic creations exist, the crème de la crème has been the relic of the Holy Crib. The Sacred Crib consists of small wooden fragments believed to be from the crib where Our Lord Jesus Christ slept as a baby. The Holy Crib was brought to Rome in the 7th century after the Holy City of Jerusalem fell to Muslim invaders. Since this time, it has been located under the main altar of the basilica. However, it was just moved back to Bethlehem this Advent and is now under the care of Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.
On August 5 of every year, a holy celebration takes place remembering Our Lady of the Snows (Miracle of the Snows). I would highly encourage you to read my article about this amazing and sacred miracle.
Although the basilica has been around for centuries, Pope St. John Paul II during his papacy left his mark on the Marian basilica in a unique way. At the start of his reign as Holy Father, John Paul II asked that an oil lamp be placed under the icon of the Salus Populi Romani. This icon displays the world that amazing witness and devotion to Our Lady. The oil has been burning day and night since then.
In December 2001, the same Pope commemorated another precious gem of the basilica – a museum of modern design that holds ancient masterpieces which allows pilgrims and visitors to see a distinctive history of the basilica.
Saint Mary…Pray for Us
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