Yesterday's post on the Medieval Religion discussion group had this post from John Dillon about Sta Maria Maggiore, which I think readers might like to look at. There are some very fine views of this great basilica. Someone I know told me recently that as an art student visiting Rome she was more impressed when she got "up close and personal"(my euphemism, not hers) by the mosaics on the triumphal arch of Sta Maria Maggiore than she was by even Michelangelo's paintings in the Sistine Chapel. Here, slightly edited, is John Dillon's post; as with other occasions when I have reproduced his work I have not converted the links to specific words, but left them as they stand:
" Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore) in Rome (ca. 435). In 431 the Council of Ephesus in the course of its condemnation of Nestorianism asserted the BVM's role as Theotokos ('Mother of God'). Her newly enunciated position of prominence was underscored shortly thereafter by Pope St Sixtus III (432-40), who built and dedicated to Mary the Roman basilica now known as Santa Maria Maggiore. Since at least the time of Francesco Maria Fiorentini's Vetustius occidentalis ecclesiae martyrologium (1668), this has been considered the first church in the West to be dedicated to Mary.
The feast is entered for today in the (pseudo-)Hieronymian Martyrology with an entry that reads as follows: Romae dedicatio basilicae sanctae Mariae. Santa Maria Maggiore was either a replacement for or a rebuilding of an earlier basilica erected on the same spot by Pope Liberius (352-66). In later legend it was claimed that Mary had appeared to Liberius and to others in a dream on the night of 4-5 August saying that she would mark out in snow the outline of a space where a church should be built in her honor. On the following day the outline was discovered on the Esquiline and there Liberius built his basilica, which in this account was then already dedicated to the BVM close to a century before Sixtus' creation of Santa Maria Maggiore.
In accordance with the legend, Santa Maria Maggiore came also to be called Santa Maria ad Nives ('Our Lady of the Snows') and in the general Roman Calendar from 1568 until its revision of 1969 the feast was called this as well. As, in Italian, at least, it still is at the Basilica itself.
Modified several times over the centuries, Rome's Santa Maria Maggiore retains much of its original basilican form and indeed some of its late antique decoration. Here's the English-language version of the basilica's illustrated website: http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/sm_maggiore/index_en.html
A page of expandable views is here: http://tinyurl.com/eu9kk
In this view of the interior, note the columns, capitals, and the mosaic panels above them (these are all early): http://tinyurl.com/jtdr5
Another view, showing the triumphal arch as well (and a bit of the apse mosaic): http://tinyurl.com/cw2w8
More views (Paradoxplace; Sacred Destinations):
Some expandable views of sculpture surviving from Arnolfo di Cambio's late thirteenth-century crèche for the Basilica: http://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/a/arnolfo/4/index.html "
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