Rome: Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major

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The Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major (Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore; Santa Maria della Neve; St. Mary of the Snow; St. Mary of the Crib) is the largest of the 80 churches dedicated to/associated with Mary in Rome; it is also one of the seven pilgrim churches and one of four papal basilicas in Rome. The church was built in 432 CE at the behest of Pope Sixtus III, immediately after the Council of Ephesus declared that the Virgin Mary was the mother of God. The basilica sits on Esquiline Hill, where the Virgin Mary appeared in a dream of Pope Liberius a century earlier. The legend behind the church dates back to about 358 CE when a childless Roman couple decided to leave their estate to the Virgin Mary. She visited them in their sleep that hot summer night and told them to build a church in her honor on a spot marked by snow. The puzzled couple told Pope Liberius about their dream, only to discover that he had the same dream. The pope accompanied the couple to their property on Esquiline Hill, where they discovered it was covered in snow. Today this is commemorated annually on August 5 with white flower petals dropped from the ceiling of the basilica. Many of the church's mosaics were part of the original building, whereas its large marble columns probably came from an ancient Roman structure. The church is particularly known for its gilded, coffered ceiling, which was built using the first of the gold brought back from America by Columbus, and for containing a relic of Jesus' manger (hence, "St. Mary of the Crib"). Photos were taken in 2017 by Dr. Beth M. Sheppard and metadata cataloging for this collection was contributed by Shelley Rogers.