Rome Apparition

by Amyobala Key

Lady of the Snows   

In the city of Rome, during the night of August 4th-5th, in the year 352, an apparition appeared to a nobleman, Johannes (John), and at the same time to the reigning Pope, Liberius. Previously, the childless nobleman and his wife had dedicated their worldly goods to the Virgin Mary, discussing the matter with the Pope, who advised them to commend this intention to the Blessed Virgin Mary. They prayed fervently for her to show them a sign of her desire, and during that night in question, she appeared to John and his wife, and also to Pope Liberius. She told them to build a church in her honor on the crest of the Esquiline Hill.

Accordingly the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore, the largest church in Rome, was erected and dedicated to the Virgin. She prophesied that as a sign of her desire, they would find the location covered with snow, an event that is rare in Rome. In the morning the citizens of Rome went to the Esquiline Hill as news spread that there had been a snowfall there during the warm night, and that the shape of the snow outlined that of the church requested by the Blessed Virgin. The people were informed by John, his wife, and the Pope that this was a miraculous favor from Mary, to which the people shouted: "Our Lady of the Snows!" The crest of the Esquiline hill became the site of a church, dedicated to the Blessed Lady.

At this time, barely a few centuries after the birth of Jesus, many did not know about Christ, and those who did were afraid to speak of Him, because of the fear of persecution.

Today, the church in the spot where the snowfall came is known as the Basilica of Saint Mary Major or Santa Maria Maggiore, and is the primary church throughout the world dedicated to Mary. It is also known as the Liberian Basilica, after Pope Liberius (Pope from May 17, 352 until September 24, 366, the day he died). It was erected on the original spot of the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows. The altar is alleged to contain the relics of the manger crib of Jesus, which was brought back from Jerusalem with the True Cross by St. Helena. An image of Our Lady of the Snows is a painting of the Madonna and Child, attributed to the physician-Evangelist, St. Luke. Also, in this sanctuary reside relics of many of the apostles and saints, the body of St. Matthew, and the head of St. Luke. As a result, pilgrims from all areas of the world have made this one of their most important churches and it is said that "Our Lady of the Snows has showered blessings upon her children who invoke her under this particular title." Succeeding Popes have given devotion to the Madonna of the Esquiline by enriching this church. The present church was built in the fifth century by Pope Sixtus III. Compartments of the intricate ceiling were fashioned with the first gold brought from the Americas by Christopher Columbus. St. Gregory the Great made special devotion to The Blessed Lady during the black plague in Rome in 597 A.D. and had her image carried in procession from St. Mary Major to St. Peter's Basilica. The apparition of St. Michael appeared in the sky to indicate the end of the Plague. August 5th marks the Feast of Our Lady of the Snows, with locals dropping white rose petals from the dome during the feast mass. White jasmine is used to symbolize the purity and innocence of the Blessed Virgin.

Santa Maria Maggiore today has a neo-classical facade designed and executed in 1741 on the orders of Pope Benedict XIV. For the basilica's exterior, the architect managed to offset some of the incongruity of styles by enclosing thirteenth century mosaics, including a rendition of the miraculous snowfall. This mosaic, along with the bronze statue of the Virgin and Child on top of the 15 meter-high column (erected by Paul V in 1614) dominate the square before the church.

More than 50% of the church's visitors, from all over the world, come to pray before the sacred icon of the "Salus Populi Romani," and in the height of the pilgrimage season up to 50-60 masses a day will be said In the various chapels. A process of repair, restoration and conservation has been continuing, in order to ensure that the Basilica will survive for another 1,000 years or more.

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