5 August marks the past feast day of Our Lady of the Snows. It is tied to the celebration of the dedication of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, both in its rebuilding by Sixtus III in the 5th century and the original construction during the reign of Pope Liberius a century prior. It was added to the liturgical feast calendar by Pope Pius V in the late 16th century.
Though the miraculous event was never substantiated, the legend has it that a wealthy 4th-century Roman couple, seeking to donate all their earthly wealth to the church, asked the Virgin Mary for guidance. Soon after, on the evening of 5 August, in the peak of summer’s sweltering heat, a snowfall was reported to have occurred. The couple took this as a sign that they should contribute to the expense of building a new basilica on the site of the miraculous snow, resulting in the original construction of Santa Maria Maggiore.
Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome (façade completed in 1743 by Ferdinando Fuga).
Masolino and Masaccio, The Blessed Virgin Mary Overlooking Pope Liberius as he Scraped the Basilica’s Foundation in the Snow (The Miracle of the Snow), 1428, Galleria Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples.
Niccolò Soggi, The Miracle of the Snow, 1520-1524. Museo Diocesano, Arezzo.
Jacopo Zucchi, The Miracle of the Snow, 1580. Pinacoteca Vaticana.