Italian Festival ‘La Madonna Della Neve’ Celebrates That One Time Ancient Rome Saw Snowfall in August, 358 A.D.

Julia Schneemann | | BrainsBrains
Snow hill Perisher
Picture: Julia Schneemann

Many readers at SnowBrains will have heard of Ullr, the Norse God of snow. You might even recall we had an article on Skadi, Goddess of snow. Either way, it might be news to you that actually, it is Christianity’s own virgin Mary that according to this Italian legend can bring snow.

Last weekend a festival was celebrated all over Italy in the name of the ‘Mary of the Snow’ or in Italian ‘La Madonna Della Neve’. This celebration dates back to 358 A.D. and celebrates the supposed ‘miracle of the snowfall’ on August 5th in Rome.

Legend has it that the Virgin Mary (La Madonna) appeared to Pope Liberius and a childless yet wealthy patrician couple in a dream. In their dream, Mary instructed them to build a church on a spot in Rome that she would reveal at a later stage to them. When they woke up, they found the area of Esquiline Hill covered in snow. Clearly, this was her way of indicating her desired church spot since it was August and they were in Rome after all, so hardly a natural occurrence. So they took this as a sign from Mary and built her a church: La Basilica Della Madonna Della Neve (the church of Mary of the snow).

Mary of the Snow
The miracle of the snow, painting by Tommaso di Cristoforo Fini

Over the years, many more churches were built in the name of ‘The Lady of the Snow’. Today, a total of 150 such named churches can be found all over Italy. To commemorate the miracle of the snow, every August 5th different festivals are held at these churches. At some, ‘snow’ falls at midnight, usually in the form of white confetti or flower petals, to honor the phenomenon.

The Italian ice cream manufacturer Antica Gelateria del Corso created an ice cream this year especially for this celebration. The ‘Nevicata’, which means snowfall in English, was offered to worshippers at the Basilica in Rome: a lemon-flavored ice cream topped with orange and ginger and a dusting of white meringue on top.

So maybe this year we should pray to the Virgin Mary to make it snow, because, if she can make it snow in Rome in August, she can definitely make it snow in your hometown ski resort. So on this note, I am off to make the sacrifice of stuffing myself with some lemon gelato. I’ll let you know if it brought me some snow.

Nevicata Gelato
Nevicata gelato, picture: Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore Facebook Page

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