The celebration recalls the dedication of the basilica and the famous "miracle of snow," which occurred on August 5, 358 A.D. when snow fell on this little Roman hill of the Esquiline, one of Rome's famous seven hills. It was taken as an extraordinary sign -- August is a hot and humid month in Rome-- of the Virgin's invitation to construct a church in her honor.
According to tradition, on the night of August 5 the Virgin appeared amid the snow to Pope Liberius and patrician Giovanni and his wife. A century later, the Council of Ephesus (431) declared Mary Most Holy Mother of God, and Pope Sixtus III ordered that the basilica be constructed in her honor. The icon of Mary Salvation of the Roman People ("Salus Populi Romani") is venerated in the basilica.
St. Mary Major is also known as the Liberian Basilica, named after Pope Liberius, as well as the Spanish Basilica, because the gold-covered roof was a fruit of the Spanish conquest of America. The basilica will hold a solemn Pontifical Mass, officiated by Cardinal Carlo Furno, archpriest of the basilica, followed by the Second Vespers for next Tuesday. There will be a rain of flowers in both celebrations.
The festivities will include the participation of the venerable liberian musical chapel, directed by maestro Valenti Miserachs Grau, president of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music.
A number of events, conferences, visits and liturgical celebrations, will begin on August 3, to celebrate the occasion, which this year is of particular interest as it is the Year of the Rosary.