A 'Miraculous' August Snowfall in Rome

Tue, 08/25/2020 - 08:16
Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome

If we told you of a snowfall in Rome in August, we bet you'd have a hard time believing it, as it is certainly not common to see snow in August in Italy, usually the hottest month of the year. 

This unlikely event is said to have happened once, and, since then, every year it is recalled with gimmicks that bring “snow” back to one of the most famous churches of the Italian capital. 

You don't have to check the weather forecast to find out when to enjoy this unique show: it normally happens on August 5, although this summer it has been postponed to the 30th. To see it, you must head to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, on the Esquiline hill in Rome.

The church, which is one of Rome’s four Papal basilicas (together with San Pietro, San Giovanni and San Paolo), stands, according to legend, on the spot indicated by the Virgin Mary as the site of an upcoming miracle, a snowfall in the middle of August. Legend has it that the Virgin appeared in a dream to Pope Liberius (352-366 AD) and to two wealthy patricians particularly devoted to her on the night between August 4 and 5, telling them that a certain spot in Rome would be covered in snow, and that she wished a church to be built on the site of the miracle. 

The following morning, the area that today corresponds to Santa Maria Maggiore was indeed covered in snow. The pope then established that a place of worship dedicated to the so-called Madonna della Neve (Our Lady of the Snows) would be built along the perimeter of the snowfall, and so it was done. 

Since then, every year on August 5, the prodigious snowfall is remembered, as white rose petals fall from the church dome. More recently, the miracle has been ‘digitized’, with artificial snow and light shows in place of the rose petals. 

Santa Maria Maggiore is located on the top of the Esquiline hill, near the Monti neighborhood. This was once the Suburra, the poor outskirts of the city, and today the alleys of Monti are packed with trattorias and restaurants, wine bars, picturesque squares, design, craft and vintage clothing shops. It’s close to Via dei Fori Imperiali, from which you can admire the Colosseum