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History, Art and Spirituality

The Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major has dominated over the city of Rome for 16 centuries as the Marian shrine par excellence and the cradle of artistic civilization. Located at the summit of the Esquiline Hill, it is one of Rome’s four Papal Basilicas. According to tradition, the Virgin Mary indicated and inspired the construction of her abode on the Esquiline Hill. She appeared in a dream to the aristocrat, Giovanni, and to Pope Liberius, asking for the construction of a Church in her honour, in a place that She would miraculously reveal. The Miracle of the Snows is recalled each year with a solemn celebration. During the liturgy, a shower of white petals falls from the ceiling, creating an almost perfect union between the congregation and the Mother of God.

The Basilica houses the most important Marian icon, the Salus Populi Romani. Tradition attributes the image to Saint Luke the Evangelist, the Patron Saint of painters. Pope Francis entrusts his Apostolic Journeys to the protection of the Salus Populi Romani, which he visits before every departure and after every return.

The relic of the Holy Crib, the manger in which Baby Jesus was laid to rest, highlights the importance of Saint Mary Major as the “Bethlehem of the West”. The first Christmas night Mass was celebrated here and Pontiffs have been keeping this tradition alive for centuries.

Among the Basilica’s most important relics are the remains of Saint Matthew and Saint Jerome.

Seven Popes are buried in the Basilica.

The many treasures housed in the Basilica make Saint Mary Major a place where art and spirituality blend in a perfect pairing, giving visitors the unique emotions that transpire from man’s great works of art, inspired by God.