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This Page Last Updated:

November 26, 2003

Our Lady of the Snows

O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not our petitions, but in thy mercy, hear and answer us! Amen.Our Lady's Sign.... A Snowfall.  This is the history of Our Lady of the Snows. The time was the year 352, so soon after the birth of Jesus that many did not know about Him, and many "dared" not know, for fear of persecution.

The city of Rome, Italy, was fast becoming a Catholic center, and there resided Pope Liberius, the Holy Father, Successor of the Holy Apostle, St. Peter. Among his loyal subjects were a noble patrician, John, and his wife. This couple was very holy and devout.

They were not blessed with children, so it was their desire that their worldly goods should be given to the Mother of God. They discussed this with Pope Liberius and he counseled them to commend this holy intention to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Fervently, they besought her to show them her desire by some sign.

During the night of August 5th, the Virgin Mary appeared to John and his wife, and also to Pope Liberius, telling them to construct a church in her honor on the crest of the Esquiline Hill. As a sign of her will, she told them, they would find it covered with snow.

Snow is rare in Rome. When it falls, it is a day of rejoicing, and the populace delights in the beautiful sight of trees and shrubs blanketed with a soft mantle of white. Many winters pass without the least trace of a snowfall.

Imagine the great excitement of a snowfall during the first days of the hot month of August. That is exactly what happened on the night of August 5th, 352. In the morning, almost all of Rome thronged to the Esquiline Hill as the news spread that snow had fallen there during the sultry night, outlining the precise shape of the church requested by Our Lady. John, his wife, and Pope Liberius, told the crowd the snow was a favor from the Immaculate Queen of Heaven. When the people learned this, they shouted over and over again, "Our Lady of the Snows!"

The crest of the Esquiline hill, therefore, became the site of a church dedicated to the Mother of God, just as she wished. This was ancient Rome, early in Christianity, only 352 a.d. - almost sixteen hundred and fifty years ago! This was the origin of the title: Our Lady of the Snows.

The church built in her honor is known today as the Basilica of Saint Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore), because it is the Mother of all churches throughout the world dedicated to our Heavenly Queen. This church in Rome is the original Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows. In honor of Pope St. Liberius (who suffered exile during the Arian heresy), it is also called the "Liberian Basilica."

The altar of Our Lady's Basilica contains the relics of the manger crib of Our Divine Lord, which St. Helena brought back from Jerusalem with the True Cross. The image honored as Our Lady of the Snows is a venerable painting of the Madonna and Child in Greek style, attributed to the physician-Evangelist, St. Luke. Relics of many apostles and saints, as well as the body of St. Matthew and the head of St. Luke rest in this favored sanctuary.

The Greatest Marian Church throughout History. Down through the sixteen centuries since the first construction of the Basilica, pilgrims from all regions of Christendom have made Saint Mary Major one of the most popular churches in the world. Our Lady of the Snows has found pleasure in showering down countless blessings upon her children who invoke her under this particular title.

Throughout the annals of Church History, we find many a Saint greatly devoted to this magnificent Church of Our Lady.

The ancient picture of Our Lady attributed to St. Luke, which hangs in the Basilica of St. Mary Major, "Sancta Maria ad Nives"... "Our Lady of the Snows"The Popes of the past have had a tender devotion towards the Madonna of the Esquiline, and have tried to outdo one another in enriching this Mother Church dedicated to her honor. The present magnificent edifice was constructed in the fifth century by Pope Sixtus III. The compartments of the intricate ceiling were gilded with the first gold brought from America by the devout Catholic explorer, Christopher Columbus. St. Gregory the Great turned to Our Lady during the devastating black plague in Rome in 597, and had her miraculous image carried in procession from St. Mary Major to St. Peter's Basilica; and St. Michael appeared in the sky to indicate the end of the pestilence. The tomb of Pope St. Pius V lay for centuries in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, where St. Ignatius Loyola said his first Mass (until, tragically, this shrine was torn out of the Basilica by John Paul II). Eugenio Pacelli (the future Pope Pius XII), also said his first Mass at the altar of Our Lady of the Snows in 1899. It is obvious why She is frequently referred to as the "Madonna of the Popes." Many other examples can be taken from the lives of the Popes and Saints who lived in Rome, manifesting their tender devotion to St. Mary Major, the "Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows." St. Stanislaus Kostka even used to turn in his cell to pray facing St. Mary Major.

Thus, has this beautiful title come down from Christian antiquity.

One lovely custom of olden times has come down even to our era. During Mass and Vespers each year on the Feast of Our Lady of the Snows (Aug. 5), the glorious anniversary of the origin of the Basilica is celebrated with pomp and splendor. Recalling the miraculous fall of snow that indicated the site of this Mother Church of Mary, a shower of rose petals, jasmine, and other white flowers are let to fall from the ceiling at the words: "He sendeth His snow like wool..."

The white jasmine symbolizes the purity and innocence of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The way the flowers are scattered from above suggests the manner in which Our Lady showers her graces on all souls, but in a particular manner upon those who honor her under the title of Our Lady of the Snows.

It was in honor of this foremost title of Our Lady that our Most Reverend Founder, Bishop Francis Konrad Maria, consecrated himself as a child to the Immaculate Queen of Heaven, and it seems to be a clear sign of the continued shower of her blessings that our holy Congregation was founded upon the feast of Our Lady of the Snows, August 5, 1967. Throughout the thirty-some years of our apostolate, Our Lady has manifested herself under this special title in ways especially dear to those who cherish the providential significance of this wonderful title of the Immaculate Queen of Heaven; and we look forward to her continued protection and guidance, safe beneath the white flowing mantle of her heavenly grace.

Prayer

Our Lady of the Snows, Immaculate Queen of the Universe, from this privileged sanctuary, Thou has bestowed so many countless graces and pledges of love upon the hearts and souls of millions. O Mother, from this cradle of Christianity, this Mother Church of all churches, deign to shower forth the graces of thine Immaculate Heart upon the remnant Faithful throughout the world, wherever they may be, and grant them the graces of a childlike love and unwavering fidelity to the holy truths of our Faith. Grant, good Mother, to the faithful Bishops of the Church the grace to defend Her Sacred Teachings, and to persevere courageously against all the enemies of the Holy Church. Amen.

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