ST. MARY MAJOR  Santa Maria Maggiore (Ch. 41)
On a tyme, as this creatur was in a chirche at Rome wher the body of Seynt Jerom lyth biriid (whech was myraculosly translatyd fro Bedlem into that place and ther now is had in gret worshep besyden the place wher Seynt Lauerawnce lyth beriid), to this creaturys gostly sygth aperyng, Seynt Jerom seyd to hir sowle, "Blissed art thow, dowtyr, in the wepyng that thu wepyst for the peplys synnes, for many schal be savyd therby. And, dowtyr, drede the nowt, for it is a synguler and a specyal gyft that God hath govyn the, a welle of teerys the whech schal nevyr man take fro the. (lines 2324-32)

One day, Kempe visited the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore; where Saint Jerome lies buried after his body was translated by a miracle from Bethlehem. As Kempe prays in the church, she has a vision of Jerome, who speaks to her, and comforts her.

St. Mary Major or Santa Maria Maggiore was built 432-40, one of the greatest of the Early Christian basilicas of Rome.  Its architectural form remains relatively unchanged; even some of its mosaic decoration, notably the Old Testament stories of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and Joshua, are preserved just above the columns of the nave.  Numbering among the seven principal churches of Rome, St. Mary Major was always a great site of pilgrimage. Kempe also mentions visiting the grave of St. Lawrence in this church.  St. Lawrence was an Early Christian deacon of the church often associated with St. Stephen, also a deacon.  Both saints are buried in San Lorenzo furi le Mura (St Lawrence outside the Walls).  Kempe may have been in a chapel in Santa Maria Maggiore dedicated to St Lawrence.

The exterior of the church was completely modified in 17th century, the interior survives relatively unchanged. It still retains the Early Christian hall-church plan, and the mosaics in the nave and apse by Jacopo Torriti, c.1295. There are also mosaics by Filippo Rusuti (1292-97) on the original facade of the church. When the church was rebuilt and refaced in the Baroque period, the mosaics were encased in the upper-level loggia, where they can be seen today. The images include Christ in Majesty with Apostles, Saints and symbols of the Evangelists (upper row) and scenes of the Foundation of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore by Pope Liberius in the 4th century, including the “Miracle of the Snow” (lower row). In Kempe’s day these mosaics would have been visible on the upper part of the exterior facade. 

For the three major Feast Days of the Virgin, the Annunciation (March 25) Assumption (August 15) and her Nativity (September 8) Sta Maria Maggiore was the site of Rome's Stational Liturgy (see Stations).  This was the place where the pope celebrated mass on that day, a tradition operative since the era of Gregory the Great (590-604).  The church was also the site of the Stational Liturgies for the Wednesdays of the first week of Lent and Easter week as well as the first Sunday after Easter.  Sta Maria Maggiore also held a particular importance as Rome developed pilgrimage paths that followed the stages of Christ's life in terms equivalent to what a pilgrim in Holy Land could experience.  Because of relics of the Nativity, the wood and hay of the manger and cloth in which the Infant Christ was laid, Sta Maria Maggiore fulfilled the place of Bethlehem for the Roman pilgrim, an association dating to at least the late 5th century. 

The mid 12th-century Marvels of Rome, however, does not stress the Nativity relics (other than the milk of the Virgin) and starts: "above the high altar is an image of the face of Christ, with another pictures, that was not made by man, but by the hand of God. There is also the blessed Virgin by the hand of God, but as they said to be painted by Saint Luke.  In the same church lyeth Saint Jerome; also the cloak left at Troas, whereof the apostle maketh mention in the Epistle.  There be also three long splinters of Our Lord's Cross, some of the milk of the blessed Virgin and Our Lord's blood in a crystal, and of the wood of the Holy Cross; the head of the apostle of Saint Matthias, whose body rests before the altar.  Nigh unto Saint Mary Major, Simon Magus began his flight, and before New Saint Mary he fell"  (The Marvels of Rome, trans. and ed. Francis Morgan Nichols, London, 1889, 133-34). 

 Just before the time of Kempe, the English list of the Stacions of Rome of 1370 gives 60 verses to the description of the church and includes the Nativity relics, beginning: At seinte Marie the maiour/ ther is a chirche of gret honour.  The  lists of relics begins with the high altar where the body of St. Matthew is buried.  The description of St. Jerome's tomb is lengthy: the body of Saint Jerome, the holy doctor, he was once from the city of Damas and was brought to this place, he was placed before the chapel called Presepe (boards from the Manger of the Nativity) and upon his grave lies a stone with a cross engraved on it and a great iron girdle about the stone.  We are told that there are many relics of Our Lady and her Son, including the cloth that Christ was put into when he was born and the hay on which Christ lay.  There is also the arm of St. Thomas Becket, part of his brain, and a Rochet sprinkled with his blood.  The pilgrim can see an image of our Lady that Luke is said to have painted, but one done by angel's hands was put in its place.  Then follows a list of indulgences given by the popes: 1000 years for each Holy Day and even more - forgiveness of sorrows and 800 year's more pardon.  At every feast of Our Lady there are 100 year's pardon and from the Assumption of the Virgin to her Birthday (August 15 to September 8, both Stational Liturgies at Sta Maria Maggiore) 14000 years' pardon. (The Stacions of Rome (Vernon Ms) Frederick J. Furnivall, ed., Early English Text Society: London, 1867, 16-17). 

A shorter prose list of the Stations, Here bethe the stacyons of Rome, 1460-70, is included in The Stacions of Rome. Sa Maria Maggiore is described as having the "body of St. Matthew and St. Jerome the holy doctor, and an arm of St. Thomas the martyr and his brain and a rocket that was sprinkled with his blood that he wore at his taking, and the hay that Christ lay in before the Ass, and an image of our lady of angels' work." (Furnivall, ed., Early English Text Society: London, 1867, 33).

In 1470 William Brewyn continues the indulgences listed in the 1370 English Stacions:

"Pope Pius II declared a plenary remission to the altar for May 9 and a 1,000 years of indulgences for attending any of Mary's feast days at St. Mary Major, "and from the feast of the Assumption of Mary the Virgin (August 15) to her Nativity (September 8) a thousand years of indulgences."
Santa Maria Maggiore's relics included, below the main altar, the body of St. Matthew the Apostle. Brewyn also lists St. Jerome, St. Romula, and St. Redempta.  Among the other relics, the church possessed the mantle of the Virgin Mary with which she wrapped the infant Christ in the manger, the cradle of Christ, the stole of St. Jerome, and the arm of St. Thomas of Canterbury. William Brewyn, A Fifteenth Century Guidebook to the Principal Churches of Rome.  trans. C. Evenleigh Woodruff.  London: Marshall Press Limited, 1933.
ROSMM1: Facade of Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. The Loggia containing mosaics from the original facade of the Church is on the upper level.

ROSMM2: View into the Loggia, showing architecture of the 17th century facade and the 13th century mosaics

ROSMM3-ROSMM12: Mosaics in Loggia by Filippo Rusuti, 1292-97


ROSMM13: Interior of Santa Maria Maggiore, north side

We can imagine what the facade of Santa Maria Maggiore may have looked like by a comparison to the facade of Santa Maria in Trastevere. 

ROSMT1: Facade of Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere

ROSMT2: Facade of Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere--detail 

ROSMT2a: Facade of Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere--detail of mosaic of enthroned Virgin and Child

ROSMT2b: Facade of Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere--detail of mosaic of virgin saints surrounding the Virgin Mary

ROSMT3: Fresco of the Annunciation in the narthex of Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere

ROSMT4: Tomb slab from narthex of Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere

ROSMT5: Tomb slab from narthex of Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere

ROSMT6: Santa Maria in Trastevere, reused Roman iconic capital in nave

ROSMT7: Santa Maria in Trastevere, apse with baldacchino and mosaic

ROSMT8: Santa Maria in Trastevere, apse with Pascal candlestick

ROSMT9: Santa Maria in Trastevere, apse mosaic of the Coronation of the Virgin

ROSMT10: Santa Maria in Trastevere, apse mosaic, detail of Nativity

ROSMT11: Santa Maria in Trastevere, apse mosaic, detail of Adoration of the Magi

ROSMT12: Santa Maria in Trastevere, apse mosaic, detail of Presentation in the Temple