the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of
Antioch, 1st c. A.D
Our Lady of the Snows
In August of
A.D. 352, just 15 years after the death of Constantine the
Great whose Edict of Milan allowed Christianity to be publicly
expressed, a wealthy but childless man name John, and his wife were
unsure what to do with their wealth after their deaths. They prayed to
the Mother of God, asking for a sign that would let them know what
actions they should take. That night, John had a dream which he
understood to be
reflective of Our Lady's desire to have a church built on the Esquiline
Hill in Rome. The newly-coronated Pope Liberius is said to have had the
same dream that night. The next day, August 5, at the height of summer,
snow was found to have fallen on Esquiline Hill, its shape and size on
the ground indicative of the shape and size of a church. And, so, John
his wife donated to have a church built on the spot. That church we
know as Santa Maria Maggiore
(St. Mary Major), one only four Major
Basilicas in the entire world. St. Mary Major was consecrated to
Blessed Virgin by Pope Sixtus III on August 5, 434.
The basilica is splendiferous inside, full of beautiful 5th century
mosaics that glorify Our Lady as the mother of God, and that reveal how
the Old Testamant foreshadows and is fulfilled by the New Testament.
Separating the apse from the nave is the "Triumphal Arch" that depicts the Annuciation, the annunciation to St. Joseph, the Adoration of the Magi, and the Slaughter of the Innocents.
Most wonderfully, under the high altar is a crypt that contains a
crystal reliquary that holds wood from Baby Jesus's crib. Nearby is the
tomb of St. Jerome, and underneath is the Chapel of the Nativity, where
St. Ignatius of Loyola offered his first Mass.
Near the Sistine Chapel (not "the
Sistine Chapel" with the painted ceiling, which is part of the Pope's
apostolic palace) is the tomb of the shockingly talented sculptor,
And inside the Borghese Chapel is one of the most famous icons in the
world -- a Hodegetria style icon called Salus Populi Romani (Health
of the Roman People) -- said to have been painted from life by St.
on wood that was once part of a table built by Christ Himself in St.
Joseph's workshop. St. Helen, Constantine's mother, brought it from the
Holy Land to Byzantium, and from there it was sent to Rome. In A.D.
590, during a time of great pestilence, Pope St.
Gregory the Great held a procession
and prayed litanies for the pandemic to end, and placed the icon in its
present place. The
Archangel St. Michael appeared above Hadrian's tomb,
sheathing his sword, and the disease ended (thereafter, Hadrian's Tomb
became known as the Castel Sant'Angelo).
"SanctŠ MariŠ ad Nives" -- Our Lady of the Snow -- was originally a
feast localized to St. Mary Major, but spread to all the Roman churches
in the 14th century, and was then unversalized.
Some may prepare for this feast by praying the Novena to Our Lady of the Snows starting
on July 27 and ending on August 4. As to prayer for the day, the
Gradual from today's Mass is perfect:
venerable art thou, O Virgin Mary, who without loss of purity wert
found to be the Mother of our Savior. Virgin Mother of God, He whom the
whole world cannot hold enclosed Himself in thy womb, and became man. Alleluia,
After His birth a Virgin entire thou didst remain, O Mother
of God, intercede for us. Alleluia!
If you're blessed to attend Mass at St. Mary Major in Rome today,
you'll be showered with white rose petals meant to mimic the snow that
fell way back on August 5, 352. In the same sort of way, red rose
petals shower down from the roof at the Pantheon in Rome on Whitsunday in order to bring to
mind the tongues of flame that fell on Our Lady and the Apostles at the
Something that your kids might enjoy today is making paper snowflakes.
to instructions on how to do this on the Christmas page, and do so
here: How to Make Paper Snowflakes
(only Catholics would be making paper snowflakes in August!). Perhaps
snowflakes could be made out of smaller pieces of paper and then saved
to be used to decorate your Christmas tree this December...How lovely
to tie together the feast of the Nativity with the feast of Our Lady of
the Snows on which St. Mary Major was dedicated -- the church that
holds part of Baby Jesus's crib, the church at which the Pope offers
Or, for something edible, try making snowflakes by folding large, thin
tortillas in the same way you'd fold paper to make paper snowflakes.
Then make your cuts, spread the tortillas out on a baking sheet, brush
with melted butter, top with sanding sugar, and bake at 400F for 7-10
minutes or so until crisped.
The little town of Torre Annunziata sits at the bottom of Mt. Vesuvius,
just outside of Naples. Its location has given it a tumultuous past,
having been destroyed by the eruption that took out Pompeii and
Herculaneium in A.D. 69. Then came the Saracen pirates who, for
hundreds of years, invaded European coasts and enslaved Christians,
causing the people of Torre Annunziata to build great towers so they
could look out to the sea and prepare if they saw them coming (these
towers give the town its name). But something wonderful happened
to the place on the Feast of Our Lady of Snows in 1354: fishermen found
a trunk floating in the sea, near "the Rock of Rovigliano" -- a very
tiny rocky island where, over the years, a temple to Hercules and then
a Cistercian monastery once stood. When they opened it, they found a
beautiful icon of Our Lady holding Christ in her left arm. They took
the icon to their local church and named it
after Our Lady of the Snows (Madonna
delle Nevi). Then, in 1794, Mt.
Vesuvius got angry again. The people swarmed to the church and prayed.
As they did, a great explosion was heard, and the glass that covered
the icon was shattered. But the people saw the Virgin's eyes move
toward her Son. They began to yell out "Grace! Grace!" -- and the
eruption stopped. Their town was spared. In October 22, 1822,
Vesuvius once again awoke, and the people quickly organized a
procession in the spirit of penance. The priest in charge asked the
people to invoke Our Lady, and just as they did, a ray of sunlight fell
on the icon's face, and the eruption stopped. Now, every year on that
date, the people of Torre Annunziata celebrate Our Lady of the Snows.
In Borgo Casamale, at the center of Somma Vesuviana, a comune of
Naples, Campania, Italy, the Festa
delle Lucerne dedicated to Our Lady of the Snows takes place at
this time of year, every four years. The city is darkened but for the
thousands of oil candles that are lit and maintained through the night
only by women. The lights are affixed to structures that form geometric
shapes and adorn the streets along with garlands of chestnuts branches,
ferns, and red peppers. Clay and copper pots are used to decorate as
well. As the candles burn, a procession is made. It stops at the
churchyard, and women sing a melancholy song to Our Lady of Snows from
the darkness of the balconies overhead.
In Adro, Brescia, Lombardy, Italy is a little oratory built in honor of
Our Lady of the Snows after the Blessed Virgin appeared to a deaf-mute
on July 8, 1519. As she almost always does, she preached repentance,
telling him to tell the people of Adro to mend their ways, stop
blaspheming God, and to sanctify the feasts. Then, by the power of God,
she cured the boy, allowing him to hear and speak. She gave him a stone
and told him it will change colors from time to time, thereby giving
credence to his warnings. I want to know more about this rock, but am
having trouble finding information, alas.