As unlikely as snow falls in August, the story tells of a snowfall that seemed impossible, that is, in Rome, in Italy. August 5, 352, the snow fell overnight in Rome.
There lived in the Eternal City a nobleman, Giovanni and his wife, who despite having no children, had been blessed with many goods of this world. They chose the Mother of God as heir to their fortune and, at the suggestion of Pope Liberius, prayed that she could let them know how to do it with a particular sign.
In response, the Virgin Mother, on the night of August 5, appeared to Giovanni and his wife and also to the Holy Father, Pope Liberius, ordering them to build a church in her honor on the crown of the Esquiline hill. And what would be the sign that Giovanni and his wife had requested?
That “Snow will cover the crest of the hill”.
Snow rarely falls in Rome, but flakes fell silently during that night, covering the top of the historic hill. In the morning the news spread quickly and the crowds gathered in throng to the hill and contemplate the white splendor. The snow had fallen in a particular arrangement, showing the trace of the future church. When it became known that snow was a sign of Mary, people spontaneously added another title to their long list of titles, Madonna della Neve (Our Lady of the Snow).
The church built there is now known as Santa Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary Major). It is the focal point of devotion for many millions of devoted children of Mary, one of the most famous churches in the world. There Mary had the pleasure of assuring many people of many blessings that are numerous and varied, such as the snowflakes that fell that night in August.
The church built by Giovanni and his wife in honor of the Madonna della Neve, restored and enlarged at various times, was known by different names: the Basilica of Liberius, Santa Maria del Presepe (Our Lady of the Crib – because it houses the relics of the Nativity scene of Christ); finally Santa Maria Maggiore, to distinguish it from the many other Roman churches dedicated to the Mother of God; Maggior, means greater. Inside is an image revered as Madonna della Neve or Salus Populi Romani (Salvation of the Roman people), which is believed to have been produced by St. Luke the Apostle.
Santa Maria Maggiore or St. Mary Major is one of the four basilicas in which pilgrims in Rome must pray for the indulgences of the Holy Year. More suitable we call Mary Our Lady of the Snow. The white blanket of that August night symbolizes Mary, pure as the burning snow; her blessings and graces, numerous and varied just like the falling snowflakes.
Science tells us that every snowflake is different in shape and design: dimensions, contours, structure, ornaments, they are all without limits, infinite wonderful beauty, surprising complexity, perfect symmetry as they float, dancing down from the sky.
What a wonderful figure of the blessings that Mary obtains for us! Snow changes the face of the earth, also painting a mud field with a white coat. The grace of God received through prayer to Mary. Snow like grace also changes the face of the earth.
Snow preserves the heat of the earth, protects vegetation, provides humidity with a slow and effective distribution. Grace serves similar purposes: it preserves the warmth of God’s love in our hearts; protects the soul from the cold of temptation and sin; nourishes the soul with a new life. We see further symbolism in this festival. There are millions who live in frozen and snowy lands that have not come to know about Mary and her Divine Son. We could ask Mary to distribute the grace like the true snowflakes, that she pours upon them the graces of the True Faith.
We pray in particular, for that land where the snow falls long and heavily, like Russia, which can receive an abundant fall of graces through the prayer of Mary whom we honor on August 5 as “Madonna of the Snow”.
In Rome on August 5, in the patriarchal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, the miracle is remembered, with a shower of white rose petals, falling from inside the dome during the solemn liturgical celebration.
The cult, as has been said, was widespread and still today in Italy there are 152 churches, sanctuaries, minor basilicas, chapels, parishes, brotherhoods, named after the title of Our Lady of the Snow.
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