The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is the largest church in Rome dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major (Italian: Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore, Latin: Basilica Sanctae Mariae Maioris), known also by other names, is the largest Roman Catholic Marian church in Rome, Italy. There are other churches in Rome dedicated to Mary, such as Santa Maria in Trastevere, Santa Maria in Aracoeli, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, but the greater size of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major justifies the adjective by which it is distinguished from the other 25.
Piazza dell'Esquilino with the apse area of Santa Maria Maggiore
According to the 1929 Lateran Treaty, the basilica, located in Italian territory, is owned by the Holy See and enjoys extraterritorial status similar to that of foreign embassies. The building is patrolled internally by police agents of Vatican City State, not by Italian police.
Interior of the basilica
Borghese Chapel and Salus Populi Romani
The column in the Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore celebrates the famous icon of the Virgin Mary now enshrined in the Borghese Chapel of the Basilica. It is known as Salus Populi Romani, or Health of the Roman People or Salvation of the Roman People, due to a miracle in which the icon helped keep plague from the city. The icon is at least a thousand years old, and according to a tradition was painted from life by St Luke the Evangelist using the wooden table of the Holy Family in Nazareth.
Reliquary of the Holy Crib
The Salus Populi Romani has been a favourite of several popes and acted as a key Mariological symbol. Roman-born Pope Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli) celebrated his first Holy Mass there on 1 April 1899. In 1953, the icon was carried through Rome to initiate the first Marian year in Church history. In 1954, the icon was crowned by Pope Pius XII as he introduced a new Marian feast Queenship of Mary. Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI all honoured the Salus Populi Romani with personal visits and liturgical celebrations.
Altar of Sistine Chapel and Oratory of the Nativity
As a papal basilica, Santa Maria Maggiore is often used by the pope. Most notably, the pope presides over the annual Feast of the Assumption of Mary, celebrated on 15 August each year at the basilica. The canopied high altar is used by the pope alone — except for a few priests including the archpriest.
The Borghese Chapel
The pope gives charge of the basilica to an archpriest, usually an archbishop, who has been made cardinal. Formerly, the archpriest was the titular Latin Patriarch of Antioch, a title abolished in 1964. Since 21 November 2014, the current archpriest is Santos Abril y Castelló.
In addition to the archpriest and his assistant priests, a chapter of canons is resident. Redemptorist and Dominican priests serve the church, hearing confessions, celebrating the Eucharist and other sacraments such as baptism and matrimony.
The King of Spain, currently Juan Carlos I, is ex officio the "first honorary canon" of the basilica.