Snow in August!?

Marking the snowfall and the future site of the Basilica
(Masolino da Panicale, 1423)
No, the weather has not gone mad, well not completely anyway! On August the 5th we celebrate the liturgical memorial (optional in many countries) of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major. The feastday is also known as the feast of our Lady of the Snow or Santa Maria ad Nives, or at the snow, from a popular tradition that the Mother of God chose this place for a church under her invocation by a miraculous snow that fell upon this spot in summer. A wealthy Roman couple pledged their fortune to the Mother of God. In affirmation, she produced a miraculous summer snowfall and told them to build a church on the site.

The Basilica of St. Mary Majors is a basilica that I know very well. During novitiate I had my apostolic experience in our community there which serves among other things the Liturgical Apostolate Centre which used to be on Via Liberiana, right beside the Basilica. The new Liturgical Centre is now found a few hundred metres down Via Merulana at Largo Brancaccio, 57. After a brief stint in Naples after First Profession, I was missioned again to serve in the Liturgical Centre at St. Mary Majors for a year or so. Each day we would take turns for Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. There are many hidden gems in this Basilica that every time I went there, I would discover something new. St. Mary Major is the largest church in the world honoring God through Mary. Standing atop one of Rome’s seven hills, the Esquiline, it has survived many restorations without losing its character as an early Roman basilica. St. Mary Major is one of the four Roman basilicas known as patriarchal cathedrals in memory of the first centres of the Church. St. John Lateran (November 9th) represents Rome, the See of Peter; St. Paul Outside the Walls, the See of Alexandria, allegedly the see presided over by Mark (April 25th); St. Peter’s, the See of Constantinople; and St. Mary’s, the See of Antioch, where Mary is supposed to have spent most of her life.

The same Basilica has sometimes been known by the name of St. Mary ad Pr├Žsepe, from the holy crib or manger of Bethlehem, in which Christ was laid at His birth. It resembles an ordinary manger, is kept in a case of massive silver, and in it lies an image of a little child, also of silver. On Christmas Day the holy Manger is taken out of the case, and exposed. It is bizarre though to hear the pilgrims gather around the Infant Jesus and sing Christmas songs especially during the summer and the blistering heat. Indeed the cool snowfall would be welcomed! The beautiful custom is still kept each year to commemorate the miraculous snowfall. At the conclusion of the Solemn Mass and second Vespers a shower of white rose petals falls from the dome of the Chapel of Our Lady. It is really pretty. Something similar is done in the Pantheon for the evening of Pentecost where red rose petals descend from the open roof!

May the blessings which fall from the hands of Mary continue to reach each one of us!
You can take a virtual tour of the Basilica here.

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