A couple of weeks ago, I saw a film showcasing the basilicas of Rome. One that I didn’t previously know much about was St. Mary Major. The church sits on Italian territory but is owned by Vatican City. It was built shortly following the Council of Ephesus in 431, which proclaimed Mary as the Mother of God. It contains several 5th and 6th century mosaics and the Crypt of the Nativity, said to contain wood from a crib of Christ. St. Jerome, the Doctor of the Church who translated the Bible into the vernacular (Latin) is buried there, along with six popes.
The church is also called Our Lady of the Snows, because according to legend, there was a Roman couple in the 5th century who were childless and decided to donate their wealth to St. Mary. They prayed that she might make known how to do so. On August 5, snow fell on the Esquiline Hill. The couple and the Pope Sixtus III had visions that night to go to the hill. The pope outlined the basilica in the snow, and the couple built the church.
In the 16th century, renovations were made which included gilding the ceiling of the church. The gold had been brought to Europe from the New World, a gift from Christopher Columbus to the Spanish pope Alexander VI.