Our Lady of the Snow
Transcribed by Joseph C. Meyer
This article is reprinted here with the kind permission of Kevin Knight, who has undertaken a project to transcribe an online version of the 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia.
(Dedicatio Sanctæ Mariæ ad Nives).
A feast celebrated on August 5 to commemorate the dedication of the church of Santa Maria Maggiore on the Esquiline Hill in Rome.
The church was originally built by Pope Liberius (352-366) and was called after him Basilica Liberii or Liberiana.
It was restored by Pope Sixtus III (432-440) and dedicated to Our Lady.
From that time on it was known as Basilica Santa Mariæ or Mariæ Majoris; since the seventh century it was known also as Maria ad Præsepe.
The appellation ad Nives (of the snow) originated a few hundred years later, as did also the legend which gave this name to the church.
The legend runs 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 Our Lady.
They prayed to her that she might make known to them in what manner they were to dispose of their property in her honour.
On August 5, during the night, snow fell on the summit of the Esquiline Hill and, in obedience
to a vision which they had the same night, they built a basilica, in honour of Our Lady, on the spot which was covered with snow.
From the fact that no mention whatever is made of this alleged miracle until a few hundred years later, not even by Pope Sixtus III in his eight-lined dedicatory inscription [edited by de Rossi, "Inscript. Christ.", II, I (Rome 1888), 71; Grisar (who has failed to authenticate the alleged miracle), "Analecta Romana," I (Rome 1900), 77; Duchesne, "Liber Pontificalis," I (Paris 1886), 235; Marucchi, "Eléments d'archéologie chrétienne," III (Paris and Rome 1902) 155, etc.] it would seem that the legend has no historical basis.
Originally the feast was celebrated only at Santa Maria Maggiore; in the fourteenth century it was extended to all the churches of Rome and finally it was made a universal feast by Pope Saint Pius V.
Pope Clement VIII raised it from a feast of double rite to double major.
The mass is the common one for feasts of the Blessed Virgin; the office is also the common one of the Blessed Virgin, with the exception of the second Nocturn, which is an account of the alleged miracle.
The congregation, which Pope Benedict XIV instituted for the reform of the Breviary in 1741, proposed that the reading of the legend be struck from the Office and that the feast should again receive its original name, Dedicatio Sanctæ Mariæ.
Analecta Juris Pontificii, XXIV (Rome, 1885), 915; HOLWECK, Fasti Mariani (Freiburg, 1892), 164-6.
Transcribed by Joseph C. Meyer
See New Advent Catholic Website
The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XI
Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company
Online Edition Copyright © 1999 by Kevin Knight
Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor
Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
Reprinted by permission of copyright owner.
See also Roman Basilica Processionals [CNP Catalog #3075]