We celebrate today the dedication of one of the four most illustrious churches of Rome. While each diocese and parish keeps its own dedication anniversary, the Church universal commemorates the consecration of the four great Roman basilicas, the mother churches, we may call them, of Christendom, viz., St. John Lateran, St. Peter, St. Paul Outside the Walls, and St. Mary Major. By means of these feasts the Church seeks to link all Christians with the Holy See.
This feast commemorates the miracle of the snowfall that occurred during the night of
August 4-5 in the year 358 on the site where the basilica now stands. According to tradition, the Virgin Mary appeared in a dream to two faithful Roman Christians, the patrician John and his wife, as well as to Pope Liberius (352-366), asking that a church be built in her honor on the site where snow would fall on the night of August 4-5. Pope Liberius traced the outlines of the church in the snow and the first basilica was built on that site. It was completed about a century later by Pope Sixtus III (432-440), after the Council of Ephesus in 431 during which Mary was declared to be the Mother of God.
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