Brisbane Catholic Alan Edgecomb gives an impression of Rome’s superb Basilica di Santa Maria in words and photographs.
FROM the moment one walks into the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere, Italy, one is struck by the opulence and grandeur of this magnificent 12th century minor basilica on the right bank of the river Tiber.
This was one of the oldest churches in Rome but was rebuilt in 1143 by Pope Innocent II on the basic floor plan and wall structure of the church that dated back to 340.
Santa Maria is certainly the oldest church dedicated to Our Lady.
The major 12th century makeover saw the addition of a Romanesque bell tower, a glittering facade including a mosaic of the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus flanked by 10 women holding lamps.
Inside, the mosaics simply take your breath away and are a visual delight to photographers and pilgrims alike.
The triumphal arch depicts the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah and the Symbols of the Evangelists and The Seven Candlesticks of Revelation.
It is interesting to note that the apse consists of three sections, the upper band of mediaeval mosaics, dating from 1140 of Christ and the Virgin, flanked, on the left side by Pope Innocent II (holding a model of the church), St Lorenzo, Pope Callistus I and on the right side St Peter, Pope Cornelius, Pope Julius I and St Calepodius.
These mosaics are among the most significant in Rome.
The middle and lower sections attest to the collative artistry of Pietro Cavallini’s mosaics and Jacopo Torriti, a great Roman painter of the Middle Ages, depicting the stories of the Virgin Mary at various significant moments of her life.
Cavallini and Torriti brought to the world heavenly splendour and magnificence.
The portico was added in 1702 by Carlo Fontana and houses fragments of friezes and ornaments of the ancient basilica as well as Christian epigraphs and is surmounted by a balustrade decorated with the statues of four popes.
The beautiful Cosmatesque marble floor is from a 19th century restoration.
This is a style of geometric design of inlaid stonework typical of Mediaeval Italian masonry.
In 1860, the floor was almost completely rebuilt by the architect Vespignani with the 13th century archetypal floor mosaics.
Pope Paul V installed an organ in the church to encourage music during the celebration of Mass, and soon Santa Maria became one of the most musically prestigious churches in Rome.
In the right transept there is a 1702 organ that replaced the original organ.
In 1911, a second organ was installed in the left transept.
Pope Pius IX carried out further modifications in 1870 and the ciborium was rebuilt by Virginio Vespignani in 1867.
The nave is divided from the aisles by 22 ancient granite columns of various diameters; the added Ionic and Corinthian capitals support the resplendent ceiling and artwork.
The rich ceiling is carved, and breathtakingly features gilded ceiling panels, designed by Domenichino Zampieri (1617), with the image of “L’Assunta” in the centre.
A brief report of this magnificent and historic church cannot do justice to its architectural and historical significance.
Whether one is a believer or just a traveller one cannot leave its portico without feeling humbled by its perfection and Romanesque artwork.
It is one of those rare churches that never fails to impress.
Copyright: Words and photos by Alan Edgecomb