One of the seven pilgrimage churches, and one of the four major basilicas in Rome. Originally constructed during the papacy of Pope Sixtus III (432-440 AD), Santa Maria Maggiore is one of the first churches to be dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It has been renovated several times, most recently in the 1740s, including expansive renovations during the Baroque era.
Legend has it that the basilica’s 16th-century coffered ceiling (designed by Giuliano da Sangallo) is gilded with gold from the new world, which Christopher Columbus presented to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The Spanish monarchs then presented the gold to the Spanish pope, Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503).