August 5th is the feast day of the Madonna della Neve (Our Lady of the Snow), a celebration of the dedication of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (Basilica of St Mary Major).
According to a legend, the building of the basilica was financed by a Roman patrician called John and his wife, a childless couple, who decided to leave their fortune to the Virgin Mary.
On the night of August 4th (traditionally in the year 358) Mary appeared to the husband and wife in a dream, telling them to build a church in her honour on a site that would be marked by a miraculous fall of snow. On the following morning, such a patch of snow was found on the summit of the Esquiline hill (one of the famous seven hills of Rome), and a church was duly built on the spot.
The feast day of the Madonna della Neve is celebrated by a special mass in Santa Maria Maggiore, during the course of which white rose petals fall into the church.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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