Along with San Giovanni in Laterano, St. Peter’s and San Paolo fuori le Mura, Santa Maria Maggiore is one of the four great patriarchal basilicas in Rome.
The basilica was built on this spot atop the Esquiline hill according to a legend that the Virgin Mary appeared here to Pope Liberius in 358. She instructed that the church be built in the exact spot where the Pope would find a patch of snow in the morning.
The snow appeared, and it was a miracle!
Not only because of the vision of the Virgin Mary, but also because this was during August in Rome!
So what is a city to do when it has a miracle on its hands?
Hold a mass inside the basilica every August 5th, obviously.
But outside the basilica, they should also have a crazy light show and a DJ.
But the lights and music are only the precursor to the “snow.”
Every year, on the night of August 5th, the area around the basilica is cordoned off by police for the festival celebrating the Miracle of Snow.
In my head, I was picturing something magical.
Something akin to the rose petals at the Pantheon at Pentecost.
Instead, I am pretty sure that I burst out laughing when the snow started.
It is literally one solitary foam machine, spraying up into the piazza.
A FOAM MACHINE.
So kitschy, but I was happy I stopped by because this is such a unique Roman tradition.
I was even happier that we had the foresight to book a table at Krishna 13 for dinner. The great Indian food was something to look forward to after the Italian rock and light show.
P.S. Here are the grounds of Santa Maria Maggiore actually covered in snow from February 2012. It really does snow in Rome, but unfortunately not very often.