The “Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore”, belongs to a select group of temples that were named major basilicas by a Pope. In Rome, we have as papal basilicas the “Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano”, “Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano”, “Basilica di San Paolo fuori le Mura” and “Santa Maria Maggiore”. All belong to the Vatican and the Pope has preferential right of usuage. The “Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore” gets its distinction in 1390, the year in which a Catholic jubilee was celebrated, an event that happens every twenty-five years.
The original temple of the “Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore”, was also known as the “Liberian Basilica”, because it was Pope Liberius who ordered its construction. It would be built as a sanctuary in the place where there was the appearance of the Virgin Mary and on the remains of a temple dedicated to the goddess Cibele, “the Great Mother” according to the Romans.
This Papal Basilica was also dedicated to the “Blessed Virgin of the Snow” and this name is often used to refer to the temple. Legend has it that a snowfall on Mount Esquilino, in 358, left a drawing of the church on the ground. Pope Liberius used this image for the construction of the temple in 360.
It is named or designated the “Maggiore” for being the largest temple in Rome dedicated to the devotion of the Virgin Mary. This happens when Pope Sixtus III orders its construction.
The “Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore” that is observed today, is the result of various restorations and extensions that began in the Middle Ages. That includes the construction of the bell tower that is 75 meters high. In fact, it is the tallest in all of Rome. The works in the structure continued until the 18th century.
As a result of the many interventions in the structure, diverse architectural styles can be observed. From the Paleochristian to the Baroque, all present in this beautiful basilica.