August 5, 2013

Feast of the Madonna della Neve

Evviva Maria!
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli

August 5th is the Feast Day of the Madonna della Neve (Our Lady of the Snow), patroness of Sanza, a town in the Province of Salerno. To commemorate the occasion I'm posting a Prayer in her honor. The accompanying photos were taken at Saint Francis of Paola Church (219 Conselyea Street) in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

According to legend, in 352 AD a wealthy Roman patrician named Giovanni who was without child wanted to donate his fortune to a worthy cause. Unsure what to do, he prayed for a sign. On the night of August 5th the Blessed Mother visited him in a dream and told him, "Where you see the snow you are to build a church." 

The next morning the perplexed man sought council with Pope Liberius. He was astounded to learn that the Holy Father had the same dream. Seeing how it was a sweltering August day they were uncertain as to what it meant. However, any confusion they may have had was soon put to rest when they spotted snow on the summit of the Esquiline Hill.

There, beneath the blazing sun, they discovered a blanket of snow in the shape of a church. Liberius staked the perimeter and Giovanni, having received his sign, generously financed the building of a new house of worship, which today is the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore, one of Rome's most beautiful jewels.

* * *

Further south, in the Vallo di Diano, a Greek couple, Ermete and Sophia, sealed a wooden statue of the Madonna in a grotto on Mount Cervati, the highest mountain in Campania. 

Years later, while tending his flock, a young shepherd noticed something unusual. Whenever one of his sheep passed the wall of the grotto it would pause and kneel. News of this phenomenon quickly spread and the citizens of nearby Sanza and Piaggine came to investigate. 

Breaching the wall they discovered the sacred icon. Because the grotto was on the border of both communes, a dispute quickly arose between the towns over who the rightful owner was. A judge was brought in to decide. 

First he ordered the people to return to their respective towns. Then they were to ring their church bells. Whichever town's bells were the loudest would win possession of the statue. Surprisingly, on account of it being farther away, Sanza's bells were heard clearly and distinctly while Piaggine's not at all. 

The Sanzesi triumphantly carried back the statue to their hometown.Because this took place on August 5th, the Lady of the Grotto was called Our Lady of the Snow. 

A shrine was built outside the cave and each year Sanza relives the miraculous discovery. The menfolk carry the Madonna della Neve to the chapel on the mountaintop, and there she'll stay for nine days until the morning of August 5th when they return with her for the Festa

Evviva San Sabino!
Extremely popular, pilgrims from all over will join the Sanzesi in their centuries-old celebration. The more venturesome partake in the long arduous procession through rugged terrain from the chapel to the town. At the gate, Sanza's co-patron San Sabino is brought out to escort the Madonna to the Chiesa di Sant Maria Assunta for Mass. 

The rest of the day is spent with family and friends, eating local delicacies, enjoying one another's company, or just relaxing in the bucolic countryside of the Valdiano.

Prayer to Our Lady of the Snow

Oh, Most Holy Mary of the Snow, our sweet mother, our advocate and protectress, you are our Queen. We are your children and want to be yours forever. Under your patronage we are sure of obtaining all your help and graces.

Cover us with your celestial mantle and guide us along the paths of life. May your peace, love and harmony reign in our midst. Bless our families, near and far, with your graces.

Be vigilant over our children and guide them towards goodness and virtue. Under your protection, we hope that at death, we shall be invoking you name and that of your beloved son Jesus, and that we shall be together forever, one day in Heaven, as we are today on earth. Amen.