The Basilica of St. Mary Major has become the place most visited by a pope in history. One of Francis' favorite icons is there.
On the eve of his trip to Bahrain, Pope Francis visited the Basilica of St. Mary Major to pray before the icon of Our Lady Salus Populi Romani, as he does before and after all his trips.
The Vatican press office announced that this was his 100th visit to the major Roman basilica.
For the occasion, a wreath of flowers marked with the number 100 was placed at the portal of the Paolina Chapel, where the icon of the Virgin “Health of the Roman People” is located.
The pontiff, suffering from his knee injury despite some improvement in recent weeks, made the trip in a wheelchair.
Santa Maria Maggiore, the most visited place by a pope
In all, more than three-quarters of Francis’ visits to this church overlooking the Esquiline Hill have been as part of a trip. This trip to Bahrain is his 39th international visit as pope.
St. Mary Major is one of the four major basilicas in Rome, along with St. Peter’s, St. Paul Outside the Walls, and St. John Lateran. Founded in the 4th century, it is the first church in Rome dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
The pope has also visited this basilica on many other occasions, such as for Corpus Christi, 60 days after Easter, and for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8.
According to the Vatican website Il Sismografo, this large number of visits makes it the most visited place by a pope in history.
First visit on March 14, 2013
Other visits have come at important moments in Francis’ pontificate, with the first occurring the day after his election, March 14, 2013.
On May 4 of that year, he came to take possession of the basilica as Bishop of Rome.
On January 1, 2014, he returned to the basilica on the occasion of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Two years later, on January 1, 2016, he went there to open the Holy Door on the occasion of the Jubilee of Mercy.
On January 28, 2018, he came to commemorate the translation of the icon (its 1613 placement in the basilica), a feast that is celebrated every year on the last Sunday in January. He attended the basilica’s other major traditional feast on August 5, 2020, the day of the basilica’s dedication to Our Lady.
The visit of March 15, 2020, will long be remembered: In the heart of the pandemic, in a Rome experiencing the lock down measures, he came to ask for Our Lady’s intercession, praying for the end of the epidemic.
Notably, he also had the icon of Our Lady placed in St. Peter’s Square for the remarkable extraordinary urbi et orbi blessing.
He was again at Mary Major on July 14, 2021, to thank the Mother of God after his successful colon surgery a few days before. Finally, on May 31, when war broke out in Ukraine, he came to pray a Rosary for peace. That time, he prayed before a World War I-era statue of Our Lady, Queen of Peace.