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The Great Roman Basilicas: Santa Maria Maggiore, Scala Santa,
San Giovanni in Laterano, San Paolo, Saint Paul Outside the Walls

Santa Maria MaggioreThe tour starts on the top of the Esquiline Hill dominated by the 5th Century Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. This was the first major church dedicated to the Virgin Mary and one of the four great patriarchal basilicas of Rome. The monumental fa├žade leads to a nearly perfect space inside. The beautifully proportioned nave, equal in length and height, is divided from the side aisles by 40 ancient columns. The ceiling is coffered and gilded with the first gold brought to Europe from America in the 16th C. The nave mosaics are original from the 5th C while the apse medieval mosaic is one of the most beautiful in Rome.

Two great baroque gems are the Sistine and Pauline Chapels which are sumptuously ornate, excessive even for baroque standards! We continue to the basilica of St John in Lateran. It is the cathedral of Rome and the mother church of the Catholic world. It was the first church built for the Pope by Emperor Constantine and has been often restored and transformed until the great restyling by Borromini in 1650. Across the piazza is the Scala Santa (the Holy Staircase) believed to belong to Pilate's house and which was trod on by Christ in Jerusalem. The original marble steps are covered with wood and are climbed by Roman Catholics on their knees.

Saint Paul Outside the WallsThe last basilica, Saint Paul outside the Walls, has been built in the 4th century over the tomb of the Apostle Paul and embellished during the succeeding centuries. This church expresses the spirit of the early Christian community, even if it had been mainly rebuilt after a tragic fire that destroyed it in 1823.

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