August 5: Snow Fell on Rome

A Look at the Story Behind Rome’s Largest Marian Basilica

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August 5 celebrates a miracle of the Virgin Mary in central Rome.

Marking the feast day of Our Lady of Snows, today is the perfect time to look at the story behind the papal basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, or Saint Mary Major, situated on the summit of the Esquiline Hill. 

Tradition has it that the Virgin Mary herself inspired the choice of the Esquiline Hill for the church’s construction. Appearing in a dream to both the Patrician John and Pope Liberius (Pope from 17 May 352 to his death in 366), she asked that a church be built in her honor on a site she would miraculously indicate.

During a hot summer night, snow fell, and by the morning of August 5th, the Esquiline Hill was covered with a blanket of snow.

The Pope traced out the perimeter of the basilica in the snow, and John financed the construction of the new church.

In our own day, Pope Francis, the day after becoming Pope, made a surprise visit to the basilica, to pray and bring flowers to Our Lady. This was his first outing as Pontiff and was the first of a handful of visits to the basilica.

Today, pilgrims flock to the Marian basilica, not far from Rome’s Termini Train Station.

The largest Marian Catholic Church in Rome, Santa Maria Maggiore is the only patriarchal basilica of the four in Rome to have retained its paleo-Christian structures.

Pope Francis’ trips to St. Mary Major:

1) March 14, 2013, after his election

2) May 4, 2013  Recitation of the Holy Rosary 

3) May 30, 2013  Feast of Corpus Christi 

4) July 20, 2013  Eve of trip to Brazil for World Youth Day

5) July 29, 2013 Return from his trip to Brazil 

6) December 8, 2013 After the Act of Veneration at the Spanish Steps 

7) 1 January 2014  Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God 

8) May 23, 2014  Eve of pilgrimage to the Holy Land

For this year’s feast of Corpus Christi, on June 19, he gave his blessing outside the basilica at the conclusion of the annual procession.


On the Net:

Official Site of Santa Maria Maggiore:

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