Early Christian splendour in the heart of Rome
The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore is a magnificent example of early Christian art and architecture. Built atop the Esquiline Hill in the heart of Rome, it is among Italy’s best preserved early Christian basilicas.
Divided into three naves, its proportions are balanced and precise. The nave is strictly equal in height and width, due to the influence of the Classical style.
What strikes visitors most are the mosaics decorating the Nave and Triumphal Arch. The first narrates events from the Old Testament, recounting the lives of Jacob and Abraham on the left and those of Moses and Joshua on the right. The Triumphal Arch tells stories from Jesus’ childhood.
According to tradition, the basilica was built at the order of Pope Liberius following the “miracle of snow”. On the night of 4th August 434, the Madonna is said to have appeared to him in a dream asking him to build a church in the place where he would find snow the next morning. On 5th August, the Romans awoke to an unusually snowy Esquiline. The pope is then said to have traced in the snow the perimeter of what would become the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.