Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Our Lady of the Snows

5 August 2008

Today is the anniversary of the dedication of the patriarchal Basilica of Saint Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore). The legend of its origins is found in the old breviary:

  • Under the pontificate of Liberius, John, a Roman patrician, and his wife, who was of an equally noble race, having no children to whom they might leave their estates, vowed their whole fortune to the Blessed Virgin Mother of God, begging her most earnestly and continually to make known to them by some means in what pious work she wished them to employ the money. The Blessed Virgin Mary graciously heard their heartfelt prayers and vows, and answered them by a miracle.
  • On the Nones of August, usually the hottest time of the year in Rome, a part of the Esquiline Hill was covered with snow during the night. that same night the Mother of God appeared in a dream to John and his wife separately, and told them to build a church on the spot they should find covered with snow, and to dedicate it to the Virgin Mary; for it was in this manner that she wished to become their heiress. John related this to Pope Liberius, who said he had dreamt the same thing.
  • He went, therefore, with a solemn procession of priests and people to the snow-clad hill, and chose the site of a church, which was built with the money of John and his wife. It was afterwards rebuilt by Sixtus III. At first it was called by different names, the Liberian basilica, St. Mary at the Crib. But, since there are many churches in Rome dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and as this one suprasses all other basilicas in dignity and by its miraculous beginning, it is distinguished from them by its title of St. Mary Major. On account of the miraculous fall of snow, the anniversary of the dedication is celbrated by a yearly solemnity.
In commemoration of the miraclulous snowfall, during the pontifical Mass of the Dedication, at the Gloria, an opening is made in the ceiling, and white flower petals are released into the nave of the Church....

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