This term (major basilica) was first used by Pope Boniface VIII in the year 1300 in reference to the churches of St. Peter and St. Paul Outside the Walls, where these two greatest of apostles are buried. Pope Clement VI in 1350 added St. John Lateran to list, since it is the first and oldest church in all of Christianity, and in 1390 St. Mary Major was also named to round out the list. St. Mary is the oldest Christian church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.
Basilica of St. Mary Major
The construction of this church began in 352 by Pope Liberius after a miraculous snowfall occurred on the site of the Esquiline Hill (one of the seven original hills of the city of Rome) on the 5th of August. After the Council of Ephesus in 431, where Mary was officially recognized with the title of Mother of God, then-Pope Sixtus III began construction on a second, larger church about one block behind the first one. It is this second church which has come down to us and which you see in the pictures below. Relics from Christ's manger were brought from Bethlehem in the 7th century and enshrined in this church, at which time it took on the name St. Mary Major.
|Sunrise! Sorry, I couldn't fit it all in one shot so I stitched a few together. The perspective is somewhat skewed.|
I decided I was allowed to post three pictures today because this is such an important church. It goes without saying that they don't do the real thing justice, you gotta see this thing in person!
In 1295 the rear wall and apse were demolished and a transept and new apse were built. New side chapels were constructed for this church in the thirteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries. The campanile, which is the tallest in Rome, was built in the late 1300s, and Pope Alexander VI and St. Charles Borromeo were pastors of this church in their day (for a basilica, the term is technically not 'pastor' but 'archpriest'). One other interesting note, some may know that Ss. Cyril and Methodius (lived in the mid 800s) are well-known for their missionary work and the conversion of the Slavic people to Christianity. As part of their mission, they created the Cyrillic alphabet and translated the Scriptures into a new Slavonic language. It was in this very church that Pope Hadrian II approved Ss. Cyril and Methodius' translation of the liturgy into Slavonic for use on their missionary journeys.
I'm tuckered out and will stop writing here, although there is tons more to say about St. Mary Major. I'll have to save it for next time! On to bed and to our next church tomorrow. Keep praying for me!