The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome’s Monti neighborhood is an important destination for many tourists. It’s nice, but one block to the South is the Basilica di Santa Prassede from the 9th Century. That’s the place to be.
There doesn’t look like there’s a church on the block, as the entrance is through a side door and the facade is hidden from view by neighboring buildings, but that makes what is inside even more special — mosaics more beautiful as any that I’ve seen, except for the Basilica di San Vitale in Ravenna.
The mosaics in the apse, which is the half-dome at the front of the church, are unbelievable.
I missed this place on my first trip to Rome and just kind of stumbled upon it on my second trip, so if I’ve convinced you to not make the same mistake, I’ll be a happy man.
The street on which our church is located . . .
Can you see the church? If not, you’re in the right place.
Look at the floor!
The apse is the semi-circular part of the ceiling (not the arch) in the back, it’s above where the choir traditionally sits.
In the Great Synagogue in Rome, the ceiling is also painted as a night sky with stars to represent God’s promise to Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, that his descendants will be “as numerous as the stars in the sky” (Genesis 24:6). Perhaps the stars in night sky on the ceiling here references that same Biblical verses.
The figure on the left with his right hand extended is Jesus. Above him is the hand of God holding a crown coming down from the heavens. Behind Jesus, is the River Jordan — the river in which he was baptized. There is one palm tree to the left of Jesus and another one, not pictured, in the same spot on the opposite side. Palm trees symbolize several important ideas in Christianity — paradise, victory, ascension, rebirth and immortality.
To the right of Jesus is St. Paul with his arm around St. Prassede (the person after whom this basilica is named), introducing her to Jesus. To their right is Pascal, who was pope in the 9th century. His halo is square, which signifies that he was alive when this mosaic was made!
Perched on the palm tree is a phoenix (above the three figures in the lower left-hand corner) — another symbol of rebirth.
The sheep symbolize the flock of the faithful leaving the city of Jerusalem (and Bethlehem on the other side of the apse, in image below).
Of all the wonderful details in this mosaic, my favorite details are the flowers : )