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St. Mary the Major’s Church

Santa Maria La Maggiore
  • Panoramic route

One of Rome's oldest and most striking cathedrals, this church dates from the V century. The Basilica retains the original magnificence of its interior more completely than the other three great patriarchal basilicas (St. John Lateran, St. Peter’s and San Paolo fuori le Mura).

It still has its V century plan and contains important mosaics, elaborate tombs and sumptuous chapels erected by the Popes in the XVI and XVII centuries. In the XIV century, the city's tallest bell tower was added. Later in the XVIII century a new facade was added.

Legend has it that it was gilded with the first gold to arrive from the New World. As one of Rome’s four papal basilicas, this majestic church was founded by Pope Liberius in 358 AD and rebuilt on the orders of Pope Sixtus III from 432 to 440. Its XIV century campanile (bell tower) is the city’s tallest.

The basilica is noted for the V century Roman mosaics adorning its nave, and for its coffered ceiling, added with gold brought, some say, from the New World.

The church also contains the tomb of Bernini, Italy’s most important baroque sculptor and architect. Ironically, the man who changed the face of Rome with his sensuous shapes and elaborate fountains is buried in a tomb so simple that it takes a sleuth to find it.