The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore isn't one of the major sites in Rome that I was familiar with. It's hidden away down a narrow street, which suddenly opens out into a small piazza. I have visited some major cathedrals including the Notre Dame in Paris and the Dom in Cologne Germany, but I had never before seen anything so richly and ornately decorated as this one. From the beautiful mosaic floors to the gold leaf ceiling and incredibly detailed frescoes covering the walls of the church, there is a mixture of beauty and opulence at every turn. The centrepiece is a submerged alcove all in different coloured marble where a life-size statue of a former pope kneels in prayer.
We had arrived during a service of some kind and I found it surprising that the general public could continue to wander around and take photos while it was in progress. As it concluded, an exit procession formed and all of a sudden it became clear that this was no ordinary church service. As the group made their way towards the exit I took a closer look at the individual members. A line of young couples with the girls dressed in a cross between wedding dresses and ballroom dancing frocks, the group appeared to be largely east asian. The couples were followed by groups of four men carrying effigies of some sort on biers on their shoulders. As the party left I approached a woman who appeared to be some sort of organiser, and in a mix of stumbling phrasebook Italian and broken English, I established that this is a festival, usually held in May, which for some reason was postponed this year. These are members of a local Filipino community and the festival has something to do with spring or flowers, I wasn't able to get an exact understanding of precisely what.
Visiting this delightful church had been made even more special by the unexpected festival we had just witnessed. Organise your own Tour of Rome.
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