Monday, August 05, 2013

Dedication of St. Mary Major

Today is the feast of the Dedication of St. Mary Major, one of the four most illustrious churches of Rome.When I visited it in 2006, I was totally in awe of its majesty. The above photo does not do it justice. You can take a virtual tour of St. Mary Major by clicking here.

The Basilica of Saint Mary Major, erected around the year 352, during the reign of Pope Liberius. (352-366 ) According to tradition, a member of an aristocratic family, John and his wife, were childless and prayed that the Blessed Mother might designate an heir to bequeath their wealth. They were favored with a dream in which Our Lady appeared to them on the night of August 4-5. She requested that they build a church in her honor on the Esquiline hill and the sign to accompany this dream is that the exact location would be marked out in snow.

Amazingly, during that hot summer evening, a snowfall traced the form of the basilica on the hill. Our Lady also appeared to Pope Liberius in a dream that same night so that he too could arrive at the location to see the miraculous snowfall. Many people gathered to see the unusual event of snow glistening in the August sun. Upon awakening, John and his wife rushed to the site and Pope Liberius arrived in solemn procession.

Realizing that the snow marked the exact location of the church, the people staked off the area before the snow melted. The basilica was completed within two years and consecrated by Pope Liberius, that is why it is sometimes referred to as the Basilica Liberiana, after the Pope who consecrated it.

When the Council of Ephesus defined Mary as Theotokos, the God-bearer, in 432 A.D., Pope Sixtus III ( 432-440 ) rebuilt and embellished the basilica. From the seventh century onward, it was referred to as St. Mary the Great or Major. The Basilica has also been called Our Lady of the Snows in commemoration of the miraculous snowfall. The imposing facade was built by Pope Eugene III (1145-1153 ).

In Rome, the Basilica of St. Mary Major will hold its traditional triduum from August 1 to 3 and two days of celebration on August 4 and 5. During the pontifical Mass and the second vespers, the traditional shower of flower petals will descend from the ceiling of the basilica to commemorate the August snowfall in 358.

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