Monday, October 8, 2012

The dragon, the eagle and the salvation of the people

 The Papal Basilica of St. Mary Major was built on the Esquiline Hill of Rome by Pope Liberius after he had a dream in which the Virgin Mary appeared to him, the very same night a noble man of Rome named John had the exact same dream.  John went to tell the Pope about his dream when the Pope said, 'ya know what, I had the same dream'.  The story is told in Mosaic in the Loggia of the Basilica.  Well, Mary told both of them she would provide a sign where she wanted her Church built.  It snowed on this site on August 5 and as they say, the rest is history!  For this reason the Church is also referred to as "Our Lady of the Snows" and several other titles as well.  It is called 'Major' because it is the largest Church in Rome dedicated to Mary.  The Church Liberius built was torn down by Pope Sixtus III to build what you pretty much see today, other than centuries of additions and redecorating.  It's two most revered items are the crib of Jesus from Bethlehem kept in a reliquary of the Confessio and an icon from the 5th Century called; Santa Maria Salus Populi Romani.  St. Mary the Salvation (or health) of the Roman People.  It is Rome's most beloved image, indeed in all of Italy.  Tradition says it was painted on a the table of the Holy Family by St. Luke but Carbon 14 tells another story.  The image is kept over the Altar in the Borghese Chapel (more on them later).  The Basilica underwent a major renovation under the Borghese Pope Paul V and he put his stamp everywhere.  The Borghese coat of arms has an eagle and a dragon, these two symbols are on everything from doors, to missal stands, candlesticks, drawer pulls, door knobs...etc you name it.

St. Mary Major
Borghese Chapel

Icon of Santa Maria Salus Populi Romani

Our excellent and witty tour guide was Msgr. Paul McInerny a Canon of the Basilica.  An appointment given by a Pope for life and it comes with a salary and nice apartment in the basilica.  He is originally from Boston.  A very big brawny German fraulein tour guide was shouting at the top of her lungs at her  group when Msgr. told her to lower her voice and use her headset to communicate as shouting or loud talk is not tolerated it the Basilica.  She became rather rude and then informed him she would report him to the Italian Government for illegally giving a tour without a license.  At that point the tip of his Boston  Irish nose touched the tip of her German snout and he informed her in no uncertain terms that he did not need a license since he was  Canon of the Basilica.  Being a German and a guide she knew she had just stepped into a land mine.  She said, "Unt zue you r za Canon!"  She quieted down quickly after that and meekly went away!!!  Bruins 1, Bavarians O!

Msgr. McInerny, Canon
 This is the reliquary containing the wooden planks from the Crib of Jesus.  Msgr.  gave a very spiritual allocution about Jesus becoming human to feel our pain and to be one in solidarity with us.  He then invited us to pray for all those we know who are sick, suffering, mourning or struggling in any way.  After our silent prayer we all sang Silent Night,  it is the custom to sing Christmas Hymns year round in the Confessio.
Reliquary of the Crib of Jesus
 Though the current Basilica was constructed in a later period these mosaics line the upper walls and come from the first Basilica.  They were carefully removed and stored by Pope Sixtus III and then reinstalled in the new basilicia.
5th Century Mosaics
 At the time of Christopher Columbus the Pope was a Borgia.  The Borgia's were Spanish, so the King and Queen of Spain sent him the first gold from the new world to decorate the ceiling of this Basilica.  When you look up you see the America's.  Msgr. Said when a group of Peruvian Bishops came for tour they told him, "We want our Gold back!"  LOL!
The First Gold from the America's
 Among the many famous people buried here is Gian Lorenzo Bernini or, in Latin, Joannes Laurentius Bernini.  He and his family are buried under the steps on the right side of the High Altar.  He was a great man but has a very humble tomb that simply says, "Here lies the Noble Bernini family awaiting the Resurrection."
Bernini's tomb
 View from the high altar looking out into the Church toward the entrance.  Here you can see on the left and right the structure of the Church Pope Sixtus III built.  The Marble columns were the outside walls of the Church, later popes added side aisles and numerous chapels.
View from the main altar
 Turning around this is the Mosaic in the Apse.  A very beautiful mosaic done by a Franciscan Friar.  He added only two non-apostolic saints - Francis and Anthony, I wonder why????.
Apse Mosaic
 Here is our Dan Brown, Da Vinci Code Moment!!  The Canon is holding in his hand a 400 year old key that goes into that massive bronze door, it takes you down several stories to a little seen chapel belonging to one of Rome's most illustrious families and contains the human remains of the many noble families they married into, it is the Borghese Family Crypt.  The Floor of the Chapel tells their entire story, it is their family tree showing you how they went from an obscure family to one of the most powerful in the world.  Today they run a multi million dollar a year cosmetic company.
THE key!
To the left and right are the tombs of the Borghese Family, there are two other rooms as well where their Pope sons are buried.
Crypt Chapel of the Borghese

Left Side Chapel of Pope Paul V, Camillo Borghese

Right Side Chapel of Pope Clement VIII Borghese
 This is a shot of the Baptistry with a John who also baptizes but not in such a grand font.  The floor is a marble whose pattern resembles water, great stuff!
Baptismal Font
 These mosaics are original to the period of Sixtus III.   They not very visible because they were on the front of the church but a loggia was added in the medieval period.  On the extreme left you see Mary appearing to Pope Liberius and the next panel is Mary appearing to John the Patrician.  Poor John and his wife paid for the Basilica to be built but no one remembered his name so he is just called John the Patrician, basically 'John the Rich guy'!!!  He and his wife are buried under the floor of the Church.
Mosaic of the vision of our Lady to Pope Liberius and John the Rich Guy
 I told you Bernini is buried in the Church, He remains the greatest sculpture in the history of Rome and a great architect as well, he was Chief Architect of St. Peter's but he also did, along with his dad, a great deal of work at Mary Major as well.  In the Residence where the Canon's and the Archpriest live is a very famous staircase he built, it appears to simply float in the space which is quite narrow.
Looking down the Bernini Staircase

Looking up the Bernini Staircase

1 comment:

  1. What an amazing view from the main alter--all of that gold! It's gorgeous in the picture and must be astounding in person. The staircase is equally impressive!