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The Mosaics of Santa Maria Maggiore


I may have mentioned before that I collect Annunciations. Not in quite the same way some people collect items – say, salt-and-pepper shakers (and believe me, I have seen some truly heinous collections.) Most of the Annunciations I love are safely locked up in the world's great art galleries, or in spectacular complexes such as the church and convent of Florence's San Marco.

Instead, I collect the images and the memories of these works. There is just something about the composition, and perhaps the hopefulness, the anticipation, that surrounds the moment when Angel Gabriel appears before a startled Mary.

I mention this because I've also begun to collect mosaics: again, not anything that I can keep (although I did buy some beautiful small pieces in Ravenna two years ago.) My memory collection is very informal but it's growing.

And I'll be adding to it when I'm in Italy in June.

I have been utterly awe-struck by some of the spectacular works I have seen in Italy. Obviously, Ravenna is a remarkable centre for Byzantine mosaics. And San Marco in Venice is stunning. You can be sure I'll be back there in June to gaze in wonder at these priceless images.

But I'll begin my mosaic hunt in Rome at my neighbourhoodd basilica, Santa Maria Maggiore (conveniently located just around the corner and up an extraordinarily steep hill from my apartment.) It is chock-a-block with fabulous mosaics that I'm excited about seeing.

Take, for example, the apse mosaic pictured at the top. The website Sacred Destinations suggest this depiction of the Coronation of the Virgin, is from the late 13th century and was created by a Franciscan friar, Jacopo Torriti.


The second mosaic, just above, is taken from a panel in the nave and reportedly dates back to the 5th century. I mean, boil me dry!* Such history is really extraordinary to think about.

The basilica itself was founded in the 4th century and is one of the five great, ancient basilicas of Rome. It is apparently filled with a variety of Byzantine mosaics – including one depicting the Annunciation.

*Boil me dry is my new favourite exclamation from the fictional girl sleuth Flavia de Luce. Isn't that a brilliant name!

Comments (10)

There are 2 small-ish churches near SMM with beautiful ancient mosaics. I can't remember their names, but I remember the gorgeous mosaics! We found them using the DK Rome guide.


Hi Colleen! Are you thinking of Santa Prassede and Santa Prudenziana? I've recently been reading about them; they're apparently very close by, and sound lovely. So much of Rome that I have yet to discover!

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Sandra, how exciting for you to add to your collection in June. That's a wonderful way of taking souvenirs that are meaningful home. The mosaics look incredible in Santa Maria Maggoire. I still have fond memories of those beautiful mosaics in Ravenna. I hope to someday return there.

Btw, I love your new favorite saying. :)


Thanks Kathy! I'm really hoping to get to know a new area of Rome on this trip. And I'm going to soon be seeking your advice on Amsterdam (I want to make the most of my embarassingly few hours there!)

"Santa Prassede and Santa Prudenziana" - yes! Easy walking distance between the 3 churches.

Is "boil me dry" another way to say "gobsmacked"?!? It's a great phrase!

I hope you'll have time to add the mosaics in the cathedral on Torcello to your collection. They are awesome.

Happy Friday!


Thanks, Annie -- Torcello just sounds better and better! (And I believe Boil Me Dry is another way of expressing amazement. I can never have too many of those!)

Boil me dry indeed. To think in 4 trips to Rome I have never been in that church. I shall have to do somethg about that in the future (although NOT this fall).


Jerry, I'm really looking forward to hearing all about your trip to Naples, it sounds (and looks) like a fascinating city.

Santa Prassede is a must-see for mosaic lovers! Make sure you have your €1.00 Euro coins so you can light up the mosaics in the Capella de San Zenone. Not to plug my own blog, but in December 2010 I wrote a post specifically about the mosaics of this church. That's how much I loved this church. Buon viaggio!

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