Santa Maria Maggiore
Inside, 5th-century mosaics line the columns above the nave with scenes from the Old Testament. In the apse, Mary appears dressed as a Byzantine empress in a 13th-century mosaic. Rumour has it that the ceiling in the main nave is made from the first shipment of gold from the Americas and a plaque marks the burial-place of Rome’s illustrious sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Santa Maria Maggiore houses a couple of flamboyantly decorated chapels, including an impostor Sistine Chapel designed by Domenico Fontana for Pope Sixtus V in the late 1500s; bearing no resemblance to the Sistine chapel, it is more a testament to vulgar papal taste than anything else. Every church has a legend, and Santa Maria Maggiore’s is one of the more aesthetic. The story goes that in 352 the Virgin Mary appeared to Giovanni the Patrician and told him to build a church on the spot where snow fell the next morning. The miracle is since commemorated every year on 5 August when thousands of flower petals are released from the roof of the church for the Festa della Madonna delle Neve. Tours of the loggia mosaics leave from the baptistery every ten minutes, relating the details of the legend.