August 5: Dedication of the Church of St Mary of the Snows, Memorial

Masolino, 1383-1440

The Church of Our Lady of the Snows is better known as St Mary Major in Rome, and is one of the four papal basilicas. It was built on the site of temple to Cybele in 360, traditionally on the site of a Marian apparition, and the name refers to a miraculous fall of snow there.

The legend, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, goes thus:

"During the pontificate of Liberius, the Roman patrician John and his wife, who were without heirs, made a vow to donate their possessions to the Virgin Mary. They prayed that she might make known to them how they were to dispose of their property in her honour. On 5 August, at the height of the Roman summer, snow fell during the night on the summit of the Esquiline Hill. In obedience to a vision of the Virgin Mary which they had the same night, the couple built a basilica in honour of Mary on the very spot which was covered with snow."

The name of the feast was changed in the 1969 calendar in response to doubts about the historicity of the legend...

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