|ST. MARY MAJOR Santa Maria Maggiore
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)
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
of Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere
of Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere--detail
of Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere--detail of mosaic of enthroned Virgin
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
Maria in Trastevere, reused Roman iconic capital in nave
Maria in Trastevere, apse with baldacchino and mosaic
Maria in Trastevere, apse with Pascal candlestick
Maria in Trastevere, apse mosaic of the Coronation of the Virgin
Maria in Trastevere, apse mosaic, detail of Nativity
Maria in Trastevere, apse mosaic, detail of Adoration of the Magi
Maria in Trastevere, apse mosaic, detail of Presentation in the Temple