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Today we visit Santa Maria Maggiore, Saint Mary Major. This is our first of three visits to this church throughout Lent. Today we’ll discuss the story of how this basilica, also known as Our Lady of the Snows, came to be.
To truly appreciate the story, you must realize that Rome can be ridiculously hot in the summer. It is not uncommon for temperatures to reach the upper 90’s, or mid 30’s if you’re into Celsius, in August.
One typically hot August night in 352, Ioannes Patricius prayed for more meaning to his life. A wealthy man, he and his wife had already vowed to leave their fortune to the Church. As he slept, Mary appeared to him in a dream. She instructed him to use his money to erect a church in her honor where snow fell the next day.
The next morning he went to visit a friend, who also happened to be the Holy Father, Pope Liberius. He told him of his dream and, surprisingly, the pope had the same dream. Just then, the pope’s aide rushed in to tell him that snow was falling on Esquiline Hill. They headed to the spot and the Holy Father traced the outline of the church in the snow. Construction began immediately.
Every year on August 5, white rose petals are dropped from the dome to commemorate this event.
In 432, just after the Council of Ephesus affirmed that Mary truly was the Mother of God, Pope Sixtus III rebuilt the basilica and dedicated it the as the ‘major’ church in honor of Our Lady.
The next time we visit this basilica, we’ll explore the treasures inside.