It was a beautiful crisp morning, Wednesday, and Yuliya and I were heading to Pompeii and Herculaneum by the fast train, but there was a famous church she wanted to see, which conveniently was right next to the train station— Santa Maria Maggiore is the name of this multi-domed cathedral. Even the flowers were still blooming in late October…
Here is a brief summary about the cathedral, which is yet another papal basilica (a church built by popes), taken from the church’s website….
“Among the Patriarchal Basilicas of Rome, St. Mary Major is the only one to have kept its original structure, though it has been enhanced over the course of years. Special details within the church render it unique including the fifth century mosaics of the central nave, the triumphal arch dating back to the pontificate of Pope Sixtus III (432-440) and the apsidal mosaic executed by the Franciscan friar Jacopo Torriti at the order of Pope Nicholas IV (1288-1292). Other gems of the church include the Cosmatesque pavement donated by the Roman nobleman Scoto Paparone and his son in 1288, Arnolfo di Cambio’s Nativity scene from the thirteenth century and the coffered ceiling in gilt wood designed by Giuliano Sangallo in 1450. The numerous chapels, from the most ornate to the most humble, constructed by popes, cardinals and pious confraternities, the high altar begun by Ferdinando Fuga and later enriched by the genius of Valadier, the Baptistery and finally the relic of the Holy Crib complete the array of splendors contained within these walls. Every column, painting, sculpture and ornament of this basilica resonates with history and pious sentiment.”
Three things stand out when one walks into this basilica… the long impressive nave with its aisle, the incredible gilt domes, and the frescoes….
Bernini had as much to do with this basilica as with St. Peter’s and you can see some more of his famous columns at the high altar here as well. Now in a Papal basilica you are likely to have images of God, or Mary, or the angels supporting or lifting up the Vatican. There is such an image in this cathedral at the high altar…
For me the most spectacular thing about this basilica is the gilded mosaics of scenes both celestial and terrestial….
Of course the debate will always be whether the money spent on such beauty would have been better spent on taking care of the poor. The problem with this debate is it tends to be one-sided, whereas the Bible suggests that beauty, truth, and love are supposed to go together. By this I mean that beauty without truth or love is offensive, but love without beauty leaves humanity uninspired, leaves their creative and artistic side, just as God is an artist, unfulfilled. So there has to be some balance. The poor must not be neglected, but then neither should the human need for beauty and truth to be seen together.