Monday, August 5, 2013

St Mary Major

St Mary Major, one of the 4 major basilicas of Rome

One of the 4 major basilicas of Rome is probably the lesser known one, dedicated to the Blessed Mother as St Mary Major. The church may still sometimes be referred to as Our Lady of the Snows, a name given to it in the Roman Missal from 1568 to 1969 in connection with the liturgical feast of the anniversary of its dedication on 5 August, a feast that was then denominated Dedicatio Sanctae Mariae ad Nives (Dedication of Saint Mary of the Snows). 
A painting of the Assumption inside St Mary Major

This name for the basilica had become popular in the 14th century in connection with a legend that the 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia reports 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 honor. 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 honor of Mary on the very spot which was covered with snow.”
A marble sculpture of Mary nursing Jesus
Inside the basilica there is an icon known as Salus Populi Romani, or Health of the Roman People or Salvation of the Roman People, due to a miracle in which the icon helped keep plague from the city. It was the first place which Pope Francis visited the day after he was elected Pope last March. Today we commemorate the anniversary of the dedication of this basilica.

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