On the Roman calendar, today is the feast of the Dedication of St. Mary Major, one of the great basilicas in Rome. Pope Liberius started the building project around 360 A.D., to commemorate an apparition of the Blessed Virgin at that site. The vision was accompanied by a miraculous snowfall (in August, in Rome), and the snow marked out what would be the edges of the church. The building as we know it today actually dates from the time of Pope Sixtus III, who built it in 432 to commemorate the great Marian doctrine of the Council of Ephesus. I’m told that the interior artwork (much of it in mosaic) is some of the best preserved from the patristic era. Word is that St. Jerome, one of my heroes, is interred somewhere in the basilica, his bones having been moved there from the Holy Land — but no one knows where, precisely, they’re located.
When I first visited Rome, St. Mary Major was high on my list of “must see” sites, second only to St. Peter’s. But at the appointed time, two of my children got terribly ill, and I had to stay back at the hotel. The next time I was in Rome, I resolved to get there, but was prevented by sudden schedule changes. The third time, I set my jaw, clenched my fists, and steeled myself against any eventuality — except a change in flight times. My fourth trip to Rome was entirely given to meetings.
I’m hoping, hoping, hoping to visit this shrine of Our Lady in 2007, when Scott Hahn and I will lead a Marian pilgrimage to Rome in the very Mary month of May. The details are almost set. We’re still waiting for some last words from the airline and hotel. Perhaps the Blessed Virgin wanted to make this meeting part of my most Marian trip to that city she has loved so long.
I’m very pleased to know that so many visitors to this website are interested in making the trip to Rome with the St. Paul Center. I hope to have the registration info to you in a week or so.
Meanwhile, let’s celebrate the feast by visiting the shrine online.