There are 4 major basilicas in Rome. St. Peter’s, St. Paul’s outside of the Walls, St. John Lateran, and St. Mary Major or Sancta Maria Maggiore.
The tradition has it that a patrician Giovanni and his wife had no children. They decided to use their wealth for the Blessed Mother Mary. On August 5th. 352 they both had a dream that Mary wanted a church built on Mount Esquiline (one of the 7 hills of Rome). They went and found, at the hottest time of the year in Rome (August) a rectangular pile of snow in the size of the church Mary wanted. At the same time Pope Liberius had the same dream and arrived as they were praying there to Our Lady. The church was finished in 354.
After the council of Ephesus, when Mary was proclaimed “Mother of God”, Pope Sixtus III reconstructed this church to commemorate that council. Many of the mosaics in the basilica are from that era.
In the Borghese Chapel of the basilica, is the icon of the Virgin Mary holding the child Jesus. The tradition has it that St. Luke painted this icon. It’s name is “Salus Populi Romani” or “Mary, Salvation of the Roman People”. It was named this when it kept the plague from entering Rome. Pope Pius XII offered his first Holy Mass here in 1899.
This basilica is also called the Spanish Basilica because of the gold leaf ceiling that was given by the king of Spain after the discovery of the Americas.
St. Jerome is buried here as are so many other popes.
My favorite St. Pope Pius V is also buried there. It was he that placed the name of the feast day in the Roman Missal, “Dedication of Our Lady of the Snows” in 1568. Because they say there is no historical documentation of the snow miracle, the word snow was removed and the feast was renamed to The Dedication of the Basilica of Mary Majors in 1969.
The relics of the crib in which Jesus was place by Mary are found here too. Fr. Lais, sub director of the Vatican Observatory, in 1893, found that the 5 pieces of wood are from sycamore trees of the varieties found in the Holy Land. These pieces of wood are from the part of the crib that formed the X that supported the soft limestone manger.
The main purpose of St. Mary Major of the Snow, is to remind us how much God helps His people through Mary’s intercession. We need to develop more and more trust in God’s powerful action through Mary. This basilica speaks volumes and volumes of how Mary has helped us through our history and as seen through the lives of all the people who have contributed to this church and have been buried there. Mary is a great great helper. I love Our Lady Help of Christians because I was ordained on that feast day. The title says it all and this title originated from Our Lady of Victory from the Battle of Lepanto when St Pius V had all the Catholics of Europe to pray the Holy Rosary and the defeated the Turks in 1571.
Mary thank you for helping your sons and daughters so much through out history. Help us today when we are in such dire need of your motherly protection and love.
The original author of this blog passed away in July of 2016. RIP Father Carota.