As the story goes, a man named John and his wife were high ranking members of an aristocratic family, blessed with many worldly possessions but no children to claim heir to their fortune. Childless and unsure of how to leave their fortune, they consulted Pope Liberius. Under his direction they chose Mary the Mother of God as the sole heir to their fortune and prayed that she would make known to them how best to bestow this in her honor.
On the Night of August 5, 352 Mary appeared to both John and his wife and Pope Liberius telling them to build a church and that “Snow will cover the crest of the hill” The next morning they raced to the hill and saw that snow indeed had fallen in the particular pattern of the future church. Working quickly against the august heat, the pattern was staked off and completed two years later. While the basilica is often referred to as the title Our Lady of the Snow its official name is Saint Mary Major.
To this day the beautiful custom of white rose petals falling from the dome of the chapel is kept in honor of that August snowfall.