Thursday, December 26, 2013

Our Lady of the Snows

Art over the door of the Santa Maria Maggiore basilica
I said on Monday that Pope Liberius was usually known for one thing—his part in the Arian controversy—but that we owe him for the date of Christmas. Well, there's at least one other story worth repeating: his part in a miracle of the Virgin Mary.

A couple years prior to his establishing 25 December as the birthday of Jesus, Liberius had a dream. In the dream, Mary appeared an told him that a church was to be constructed on the Esquiline hill of Rome.* The same dream appeared to two other people: a childless Roman couple whose intent was to give all their worldly goods to the Mother of God. They happened to own property on the Esquiline hill. In the dream, Mary told her that she would give them a sign by covering the hill with snow.

Snow in Rome is rare, something that is noted and celebrated. And this was summer! On the morning of 5 August 352, Rome awoke to a covering of white snow on the Esquiline hill. Pope Liberius used the snow to outline the dimensions of a church in honor of Mary (represented in the sculpture above). The church they built was called the Santa Maria Maggiore [Saint Mary Major] basilica, dedicated to "Our Lady of the Snows."

*Rome was built on seven hills: Aventine, Caelian, Capitoline, Esquiline, Palatine, Quirinal, Viminal.

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