Thursday, August 5, 2010

Saint of the Day - Our Lady of the Snows

Today marks the dedication of the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. A popular legend tells of a Roman patrician, named John, and his wife who were childless. In their old age they age they asked Our Lady to make known to them how to dispose of their money for when they died. That night they both received a dream in which Our Lady requested that they use their wealth to pay for the construction of a church in her honor. She directed them to the Esquiline Hill, instructing that they would know the exact spot for the church by the area in which the snow had fallen. Pope Liberius received a similar dream, also directing him to the Esquiline Hill.

The next day, August 5, 352, John and his wife and the Pope all arrived at Esquiline hill to find "a large area marked by freshly, thick snow!" "The men immediately staked off the area," and, in two years, the church of Santa Maria Maggiore was completed. It was consecrated by Pope Liberius and an eight line dedicatory inscription was later added by Pope Sixtus III.

Today's feast was originally celebrated only at Santa Maria Maggiore but, in the fourteenth century, it was extended to all the churches in Rome and, eventually, at the instruction of Pope Pius V, extended to the universal Church.

The church of Santa Maria Maggiore was the first, and the largest, church in Rome to be dedicated to Our Lady. It also houses the "Salus Populi Romani" (The Protectress of the People of Rome) painting, depicting the Madonna and Child. This painting was brought to Rome from the Holy Land by St. Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine and several miracles have been attributed to it.

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