Santa Maria Maggiore

Tel. +39 06 4881094

Opening hours Open 7:00-19:00.

Ticket prices Admission is free.

One of the great Basilicas of Rome, Santa Maria Maggiore, sometimes known in English by the rather unromantic name of St Mary Major, is also likely to be the first one that you see, due to its proximity to Rome's main train station, Termini.

First built in 360 by Pope Liberius (see "the legend of the snow", below), the current structure is a rebuilding commissioned by Pope Sixtus III a century later.

The Legend of the Snow

Santa Maria Maggiore Santa Maria Maggiore (photo: Eleanor Murkett)

According to tradition, the outline of Santa Maria Maggiore was laid out on the ground by a mysterious snowfall on the night of August 5th, 358 AD. Every year on August 5th, white rose petals are scattered from the top of the dome to commemorate this snowfall, which has also given the church the alternative name of Santa Maria della Neve (Our Lady of the snow).

Highlights

The highlights of Santa Maria Maggiore include Bernini's statue of St Cajetan Holding the Holy Child and frescos by Guido Reni. The Bethlehem crypt is said to hold Christ's crib from the Nativity. In the Pauline Chapel is a an icon of the Virgin Mary, which legend has it was painted from life by St Luke, although it is more usually said to date from the 8th century.

Visiting Santa Maria Maggiore

Santa Maria Maggiore is at Piazza di Santa Maria Maggiore, near the top of Via Cavour. It's just a few minutes' walk south from Rome's Termini station. Both metro lines and many of the buses stop at Termini.