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Throughout history, Roman Catholics have continued to build churches to venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today, a large number of Roman Catholic churches dedicated to the Blessed Virgin exist on all continents (except Antarctica), and in a sense, the progress of Roman Catholic Marian church architecture tells the unfolding story of the development of Roman Catholic Mariology.
The construction and dedication of Marian churches often symbolizes the Mariological trends within a period such as a papal reign. For instance, the 1955 rededication of the church of Saint James the Great in Montreal with the new title Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral by Pope Pius XII was a reflection of the fact that he was called the most Marian pope. Indeed, just a year earlier, Pope Pius XII had proclaimed that title for the Virgin Mary in his 1954 encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam. This encyclical on the Queenship of Mary is also a good example of how the interplay between Churches and Marian art reinforces the effect of Marian devotions, as discussed below.
The New Testament suggests that the practice of meeting together had been an important part of the Christian faith from the very early days: "let us not give up the habit of meeting together… instead, let us encourage one another all the more” (Heb. 10:25). Prior to the fourth century, Christians worshiped in private due to persecutions. After the edict of Milan was issued in 313, Christian were permitted to worship openly and the veneration of Mary became public. In the following decades Cathedrals and churches were built for public worship. The first Marian churches in Rome date from the first part of the fifth century, Santa Maria in Trastevere, Santa Maria Antiqua and Santa Maria Maggiore.
The Church of Mary in Ephesus may be one of the earliest Marian churches. It is dated to the early 5th century, coinciding with the Council of Ephesus in 431, suggesting that it may have been built specifically for the council, during which the title of Theotokos for the Mother of Christ was decided.
Some of these early Marian churches now have the status of a papal basilica. For instance, the church of Santa Maria Maggiore is often personally used by the pope and the pope presides over the annual Feast of the Assumption of Mary, celebrated each August 15 at the basilica. Thus these Marian churches are part and parcel of the Roman Catholic traditions for the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
By modern standards, some of the early Roman churches, were quite modest. An example that still stands in Rome today is the church of Santa Maria Antiqua (i.e. ancient St. Mary) built in the 5th century in the Forum Romanum. Pope John VII used (the now seemingly modest) Santa Maria Antiqua in the early 8th century as see of the bishop of Rome. This church includes the earliest Roman depiction of Santa Maria Regina depicting the Virgin Mary as a Queen in the 6th century.
Other churches such as Santa Maria Maggiore have seen significant enhancement to their architecture over the centuries and more recent Marian churches have come a long way from Santa Maria Antiqua. The Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in Aparecida, Brazil is now the second-largest Catholic place of worship in the world, second only to St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, and in 1984 was officially declared as "the largest Marian Church in the world." According to the official site of the basilica, in 1999 the number of pilgrims was 6,565,849.
Other Marian churches continue to be major pilgrimage sites. According to Bishop Francesco Giogia the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City was the most visited Catholic shrine in the world in 1999, followed by San Giovanni Rotondo (not a Marian shrine) and Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil. Given the millions of visitors per year to Our Lady of Lourdes and Our Lady of Fatima, the major Marian churches receive over 30 million pilgrims per year.
Progression of architecture and belief
|Dogmas and Doctrines|
Through the centuries, the progression of Medieval architecture towards Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and eventually modern Marian church architectures may be viewed as a manifestation of the growth of Marian belief - just as the development of Marian art and music were a reflection of the growing trends in the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Roman Catholic tradition.
A good example of the continuation of Marian traditions from the Gothic period to the present day is found at St. Mary's Basilica, Kraków in Poland. On every hour, a trumpet signal called the hejnał (meaning "St. Mary's dawn" and pronounced hey-now) is still played from the top of the taller of St. Mary's two towers. The noon-time hejnał is heard across Poland and abroad broadcast live by the Polish national Radio 1 Station.  St. Mary's in Kraków also served as an architectural model for many of the churches that were built by the Polish diaspora abroad, particularly St. Michael's and St. John Cantius in Chicago, designed in the so-called Polish Cathedral style.
Apparition-based Marian churches
Some of the very largest Roman Catholic Marian churches in the world did not start based on a decisions made by informed theologians in Rome but based on the statements of young and less-than-sophisticated people about their religious experiences on remote (and often unheard of) hilltops.
And there are remarkable similarities in the stories of the children whose reported visions led to the construction of the churches. Two cases in point are the largest Marian churches in Mexico and France, based on the reported Marian apparitions to a young Saint Juan Diego in Guadalupe Mexico in 1531 and Saint Bernadette Soubirous as a child in Lourdes in 1858. Both saints reported visions in which a miraculous lady on a hill asked them to request that the local priests build a chapel at that site of the vision. Both visions had a reference to roses and led to very large churches being built at the sites. Like Our Lady of Lourdes in France, Our Lady of Guadalupe is a major Catholic symbol in Mexico. And like the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in France, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe complex is one of the largest and most visited Catholic churches in the Americas.
Three Portuguese children, Lucia dos Santos, Jacinta Marto and Francisco Marto were equally young and without much education when they reported the apparition of Our Lady of Fatima in 1917. The local administrator initially jailed the children and threatened that he would boil them one by one in a pot of oil. Yet, eventually with millions of followers and Roman Catholic believers, the reported visions at Fatima gathered respect and Popes Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II voiced their acceptance of the supernatural origin of the Fatima events. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima is now a major Marian church in Europe.
The Shrine of Nostra Signora della Guardia in Genoa, Italy has a similar story. In 1490 a peasant Benedetto Pareto reported that the Virgin Mary had asked him to build a chapel on a mountain. Pareto reported that he replied that he was only a poor man and would not be able to do that, but he was told by the Virgin: “Do not be afraid!” After falling from a tree, Pareto changed his mind and built a small wooden room that was eventually enlarged to the present shrine.
And the trend has continued. The only approval for a Marian apparition in the 21st century was granted to the reported visions of Jesus and Mary by Benoite Rencurel in Saint-Étienne-le-Laus in France from 1664 to 1718. The approval was granted by the Holy See in May 2008. Again, in this case, a young Benoite Rencurel (who could not read or write) reported that a lady in white appeared to her on a remote mountain top in Saint-Étienne-le-Laus and asked her for a church to be built there.
Churches, icons and devotions
Major Marian churches at times house major Marian symbols or icons and the interplay between churches and these symbols can reinforce the effect of Marian devotions. For instance, the Borghese or Pauline Chapel of the Santa Maria Maggiore church houses Salus Populi Romani, which has historically been the most important Roman Catholic Marian art icon in Rome. On April 1, 1899, Eugenio Pacelli (later Pope Pius XII) celebrated his first Holy Mass there. Almost 50 years later, in 1953, Pius XII had Salus Populi Romani carried from Santa Maria Maggiore through Rome to initiate the first Marian year in Church history. In 1954, the icon was crowned by Pius XII as he introduced a new Marian feast Queenship of Mary with the encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam.
Perhaps the ultimate example of this interplay is on Tepeyac hill, in Mexico, the site of the reported apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin. The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Tepeyac hill houses the tilma (cloak) of Saint Juan Diego on which the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is said to have been miracuously imprinted, where he had gathered roses. Saint Juan Diego's tilma is a key national and religious icon in Mexico. The series of Marian churches on Tepeyac hill that have housed the tilma since 1531 have received an ever increasing number of pilgrims and the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe (one of the largest churches in the world) was constructed in 1974 to accommodate the over 5 million pilgrims that arrive there every year.
The progress of Marian church architectures manifests both the pogress of architecture and the spread of Marian devotions.
If there is a single Marian location that captures several types of architecture, it is the area surrounding the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes. The Rosary Basilica was built with the Byzantine architecture in the 19th century. The "Basilica of the Immaculate Conception" known widely as the Upper Basilica, was consecrated in 1876 and is an elaborate building in the Gothic style, while the Basilica of St. Pius X, is a very modern building that was completed in 1958 and is almost entirely underground.
The basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in the Forum Boarium in Rome is an early example of a Romanesque Marian church. It is the site of the famous La Bocca della Verità sculpture which draws many visitors every year.
Speyer Cathedral (also known as the Mariendom) in Speyer, Germany is an imposing basilica of red sandstone and one of the largest Romanesque churches in the world. The distinctive colonnaded gallery that surrounds it and its imposing triple-aisled vaulted design influenced the development of Romanesque architecture in the 11th and 12th centuries.
Our Lady of Flanders Cathedral in Tournai is one of the key architectural monuments in Belgium. It combines the work of three design periods: the heavy and severe character of the Romanesque nave contrasting with the Transitional work of the transept and the fully developed Gothic style of the choir.
This early period, also included growth and development in other aspects of Mariology, with activities by key figures such as John Damascene and Bernard of Clairvaux. Chants such as Ave Maris Stella and the Salve Regina emerged and became staples of monastic plainsong. Devotional practices grew in number. The Ave Maria prayer gained popularity..
Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral is a prime example of French Gothic architecture. It was among the first buildings in the world to use the flying buttress. Its sculptures and stained glass show the heavy influence of naturalism, giving them a more secular look that was lacking from earlier Romanesque architecture.
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres near Paris is also a good example of a French Gothic cathedral. Its two contrasting spires and the complex flying buttresses that surround it capture key architectural elements of the time. The Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims in Reims (where the kings of France were once crowned) exemplifies the heavier Gothic architecture present in the northern Franco-Germanic areas.
The interior of Notre-Dame Cathedral, Luxembourg shows the Gothic style of design at its height. The basilica is a good example of late gothic architecture with many Renaissance elements and adornments.
One major Mariological issue in this period was the Immaculate Conception. Gradually the idea that Mary had been cleansed of original sin at the very moment of her conception began to predominate, particularly after Duns Scotus dealt with the major objection to Mary's sinlessness from conception, that being her need for redemption. Popes issued degrees and authorized feasts and processions in honor of Mary. Pope Clement IV (1265-1268) created a poem on the seven joys of Mary, which in its form is considered an early version of the Franciscan rosary.
Perhaps the key example of early Renaissance Quattrocento Marian architecture is the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Italy. It is often called the Duomo due to its famous dome architecture, whiich at the time was a major architectural triumph for Filippo Brunelleschi. The cathedral was consecrated by Pope Eugene IV in 1436 and was the first 'octagonal' dome in history to be built without a wooden supporting frame and was the largest dome built at the time (it is still the largest masonry dome in the world).
The fascade of the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella in Florence is another example of the beginnings of the early Renaissance.
The Basilica of Santa Maria delle Grazie (Milan), famous for the mural of the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci is an example of the progression of architecture beyond the Gothic period and towards the Renaissance.
The Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar in Zaragoza, Spain is a Baroque church built upon previous churches at the same site, dating back to the Romanesque period. Being a large rectangle with a nave and two aisles, with two other all-brick chapels, it has a typically Aragonese style and is illuminated by large oculi, characteristic of the buildings of the region from the 17th century onwards.
Some Marian churches are built as a response to specific events, e.g. Santa Maria della Salute in Venice was built to give thanks to thank the Virgin Mary for the city's deliverance from the plague. The church is full of Marian symbolism – the great dome represents her crown, and the eight sides the eight points on her symbolic star.
Baroque literature on Mary experienced unforeseen growth with over 500 pages of Mariological writings during the 17th century alone with contributors such as Francisco Suárez, Lawrence of Brindisi, Robert Bellarmine and Francis of Sales After 1650, the Immaculate Conception was the subject of over 300 publications. In this period Saint Louis de Montfort wrote his highly influential Marian books that influenced several popes centuries later.
Baroque Mariology was supported by Pope Paul V and Gregory XV. Alexander VII declared in 1661, that the soul of Mary was free from original sin. Pope Clement XI ordered the feast of the Immaculata for the whole Church in 1708. The feast of the Rosary was introduced in 1716, the feast of the Seven Sorrows in 1727. The Angelus prayer was strongly supported by Pope Benedict XIII in 1724 and by Pope Benedict XIV in 1742. 
The modern period has witnessed unprecedented growth both for Marian churches and for papal and popular support for Marilogy, with a significant increase in the number of pilgrims to Marian shrines.
Two major Marian basilicas were constructed in South America during the 20th century, together receiving over 10 million pilgrims per year. The Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil is surpassed in size only by Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. The new Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Tepeyac hill, north of Mexico City, was built at the site of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin. It is the most important pilgrimage site in Mexico and perpetual adoration takes place there by many people. By using its atrium, 40,000 people can attend mass at the basilica.
Other Marian churches started to appear around the globe. The Basilica of Our Lady of She Shan was built near Shanghai China as the largest Christian church building in East Asia. The new Immaculate Conception Cathedral was built in Manila, Philippines.This period also saw the growth of lay Marian devotional organizations such as free rosary distribution groups. An example is Our Lady's Rosary Makers which was formed with a $25 donation for a typewriter in 1949 and now has thousands of volunteers who have distributed hundreds of millions of free rosaries to Catholic missions worldwide.
The encyclical Ad Diem Illum of Pope Pius X established the dogma of Immaculate Conception, and Pope Pius XII issued the Apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus to define ex cathedra the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. More recently, Pope John Paul II's encyclical Redemptoris Mater took the step of addressing the role of the Virgin Mary as Mediatrix.
The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lichen in Stary Licheń was constructed between 1994 and 2004. It is Poland's largest church, the seventh largest in Europe and eleventh in the World. It houses a 200-year-old painting known as the Our Lady of Sorrows, Queen of Poland.
- Catholic Encyclopedia: Ecclesiastical Architecture 
- Giovanni Meriana , Guida ai santuari della Liguria (Guide of shrines in Liguria), Sagep Editrice publisher, Genoa (Italy), 1990.
- Bartlett, Kenneth R. (1992). The Civilization of the Italian Renaissance. Toronto: D.C. Heath and Company. ISBN 0-669-20900-7 (Paperback).
- Henry A. Millon (ed.) (1994). Italian Renaissance Architecture: from Brunelleschi to Michelangelo. London: Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-27921-7.
- Banister Fletcher, A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method, ISBN 0750622679
- Arnold Hauser, Mannerism: The Crisis of the Renaissance and the Origins of Modern Art, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965, ISBN 0674548159
- Brigitte Hintzen-Bohlen, Jurgen Sorges, Rome and the Vatican City, Konemann, ISBN 3829031092
- Janson, H.W., Anthony F. Janson, History of Art, 1997, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.. ISBN 0810934426
- Nikolaus Pevsner, An Outline of European Architecture, Pelican, 1964, ISBN 9780140201093
- Ilan Rachum, The Renaissance, an Illustrated Encyclopedia, 1979, Octopus, ISBN 0706408578
- Schloeder, Steven (1998). Architecture in Communion: Implementing the Second Vatican Council through Liturgy and Architecture. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. ISBN 0-89870-631-9.
- ↑ Encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam on the Vatican website
- ↑ Catholic encuclopedia 
- ↑ The Canons of the Two Hundred Holy and Blessed Fathers Who Met at Ephesus
- ↑ Erik Thunø, 2003 Image and relic: mediating the sacred in early medieval Rome ISBN 8882652173 page 34
- ↑ Bissera V. Pentcheva, 2006 Icons and power: the Mother of God in Byzantium ISBN 0271025514 page 21
- ↑ Anne J. Duggan, 2008 Queens and queenship in medieval Europe ISBN 0851158811 page 175
- ↑ Eternal Word Television Network, Global Catholic Network
- ↑ Let's go: Europe, 1979 by Harvard Student Agencies ISBN 0312387083 page 553
- ↑ Michał Malinowski 2008 Polish folktales and folklore ISBN 1591587239 page 69
- ↑ Zenit News 
- ↑ Pilgrims to Our Lady of Guadalupe 
- ↑ Benoite Rencurel Catholic News Agency
- ↑ Benoite Rencurel Catholic News Agency
- ↑ Catholic News Agency
- ↑ Catholic News Agency
- ↑ Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Mercier Press Ltd., Cork, Ireland, 1955
- ↑ A Roskovany, conceptu immacolata ex monumentis omnium seculrorum demonstrate III, Budapest 1873
- ↑ F Zöpfl, Barocke Frömmigkeit, in Marienkunde, 577
Gallery of Roman Catholic Marian churches
Dates indicate the (often likely) first year of construction.