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Making Music at St. Mary Major; the Becket Battle
Zenit News Agency ^ | December 15, 2005 | Elizabeth Lev

Posted on 12/15/2005 6:52:48 PM PST by NYer

A Basilica's Reminder of What Christmas Is Really About

ROME, DEC. 15, 2005 ( While Romans throng the streets, counting down the shopping days until Christmas, the Basilica of St. Mary Major is valiantly attempting to remind Christians what the real countdown is about, the birth of Our Savior.

It is fitting that St. Mary Major, the oldest church in the West dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, built to celebrate the Council of Ephesus' proclamation of Mary as "Mother of God," should lead Romans through their spiritual preparations. For as the feast of the Nativity approaches, thoughts turn to Mary, patiently waiting those last weeks with the Jesus in her womb.

At the beginning of Advent, to heighten the sense of anticipation, the basilica hides its most important relic, the fragment of the manger where the Infant Jesus was placed, behind screen doors. During the Midnight Mass of Christmas Eve, the crib will be returned to view with a grand procession around the church.

A splendid concert at St. Mary Major marked the close of a triad of Marian feasts -- the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, Our Lady of Loreto on Dec. 10 and Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12.

The timeless Christmas motet "Dies Sanctificatus" by Giovanni PierLuigi da Palestrina, choirmaster of St. Mary Major in 16th century, reminded listeners of the many generations of pilgrims who had celebrated Christmas in the church. Monsignor Valentino Miserachs, present choirmaster of the basilica, revealed the vitality of the tradition of great music at St. Mary Major with his "Laudate Dominum."

An appreciative gesture toward the fine composers of St. Peter's came with the performance of "Rorate Coeli" by Domenico Bartelucci, former choirmaster of the basilica at the Vatican.

An unusual and very beautiful addition to the program was Schubert's Unfinished Symphony, conducted by Francesco Ciampa, winner of the Italian national competition for orchestral direction. By the end of the evening, the dazzle of the magnificent mosaics of the church and the splendor of the sound left everyone in joyous expectation of the glory of Christmas.

The last step toward readying St. Mary Major for the holidays is eagerly awaited. For on Dec. 15, one of the world's oldest Nativity scenes will be put on public display in a new setting, more than 400 years after the chapel in which it was originally placed was demolished during a restoration project.

The Holy Family and the Three Magi were sculpted by Arnolfo di Cambio between 1290 and 1292. Arnolfo was commissioned by Pope Nicholas IV to restore the ancient oratory of the Crib, a small chapel to the right of the main altar where the relic of the Crib had been kept for centuries.

Nicholas IV, the first Franciscan Pope, wanted to re-create the first Nativity scene, arranged by St. Francis in 1223 in Greccio as a "tableau vivant," with people playing the parts of the saints.

Arnolfo, both architect and sculptor, designed a new space for the relic, adding the figures of the ox and the ass, St. Joseph and the Three Kings. While there must have been a figure of the Virgin and Child, it was destroyed in the 16th century and replaced by the present statue.

The figures, about 3 feet high, were carved in relief against a backdrop painted blue and highlighted to represent a night sky. The relic of the Crib was placed in the center of the arrangement on a disk of purple stone.

The entire chapel was transplanted as a block by Pope Sixtus V when he built the majestic Sistine Chapel for the Blessed Sacrament in 1585. It was placed under the altar in a special crypt, which was only opened on Christmas Eve.

The chapel of the Crib has a special connection with two of the greatest saints of the Roman Counter-Reformation. St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, celebrated his first Mass there and St. Gaetan, founder of the Theatine order, had a vision of the Virgin Mary handing him the Christ Child while praying in the chapel.

But this year, because of necessary restorations to the crypt, the Nativity will be moved to the Museum of St. Mary Major. There, visitors will be able to see the figures with their skillfully carved expressions of joy and wonder, examples of the true spirit of Christmas.

TOPICS: Activism; Catholic; Current Events; History; Ministry/Outreach; Prayer; Religion & Culture; Theology; Worship

1 posted on 12/15/2005 6:52:49 PM PST by NYer
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To: american colleen; Lady In Blue; Salvation; narses; SMEDLEYBUTLER; redhead; Notwithstanding; ...

If someone could post pictures of this nativity, it would be most appreciated.

2 posted on 12/15/2005 6:54:08 PM PST by NYer ("Socialism is the religion people get when they lose their religion")
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To: NYer
I think this may be it:

3 posted on 12/15/2005 7:55:19 PM PST by DBeers (†)
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To: NYer
I loved St. Mary Major. It is probably my favorite place in Rome and it's like a jewel box dedicated to Our Lady. St. Jerome is buried in the crypt known as Bethlehem in Rome where the crib is found. The chapel fulfilled the stational Bethlehem so it was an ancient site of pilgrimage.

Here's the altar and tabernacle in the chapel above the Bethlehem crypt, aka the Sistine Chapel.

Here's the dome where every August 5th, white rose petals are dropped to commemorate the miracle of snow in 358 AD.

4 posted on 12/16/2005 5:32:25 AM PST by Carolina
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To: NYer
A couple more pictures...

The ceiling and frescoes depicting the mysteries. Also, 5th century mosaics from the Old Testament. They're believed to be the oldest mosaics in Rome and there are 36 panels all around the architrave above the columns.

And the baptistry..

5 posted on 12/16/2005 5:38:33 AM PST by Carolina
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To: NYer; 1rudeboy; 31R1O; afraidfortherepublic; Andyman; Argh; baa39; Bahbah; bboop; ...

Dear NYer,

I think this may be of interest to the Classical Music Ping List folks, so I'm going to ping them.


If you want on or off this list, let me know via FR e-mail.



6 posted on 12/16/2005 6:23:00 AM PST by sitetest (If Roe is not overturned, no unborn child will ever be protected in law.)
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To: Carolina

Beautiful photos!

7 posted on 12/16/2005 6:24:23 AM PST by Diva Betsy Ross (Welcome home PFC Jonathan Bush)
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To: sitetest

thanks for the ping! Merry Christmas.

8 posted on 12/16/2005 6:24:59 AM PST by Diva Betsy Ross (Welcome home PFC Jonathan Bush)
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To: DBeers

Charming carvings, but Jesus looks like he's two years old already. Hadn't the artist ever seen a new baby?

9 posted on 12/16/2005 9:11:54 AM PST by Tax-chick ("Dick Cheney never trims his own nails. He simply stares at them until the tips melt off.")
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To: Carolina
Oh, heck, I dunno, I kinda prefer the new cathedral in honor of Our Lady. You know, the one in Los Angeles, Our Lady of the Angels.

And the tabernacle:

10 posted on 12/16/2005 9:19:31 AM PST by It's me
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To: It's me

Sorry for ruining this thread.

11 posted on 12/16/2005 9:19:58 AM PST by It's me
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To: It's me


12 posted on 12/16/2005 11:28:03 AM PST by Carolina
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To: It's me

I'm sorry, but that's one of the ugliest examples of modern parishes I've ever seen.

13 posted on 12/17/2005 4:42:06 PM PST by AlaninSA (Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless?)
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To: AlaninSA

Yes, it is. They call it the Taj Mahoney for Cardinal Roger Mahoney and it's excessive cost. He woint even say what the total, final cost was.

14 posted on 12/17/2005 8:35:35 PM PST by It's me
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