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Calabritto, the Madonna della Neve, and a Wedding

I have written many times before about my family’s ancestral home of Calabritto. I heard that name since I was a child. However, I never really gave it much thought until I began down this road of ancestral discovery. What I found filled my heart.

I need to go back about 30 years when this story actually begins for me. I was deep into the planning of my upcoming wedding. We all know how stressful that can be, but I was doing my best to keep it both meaningful and fun.

My parents had traveled to Rome at that time and whenever they traveled out of the country, I always gave them a “want list.” Now before you think it is some crazy list of expensive items, let me put your mind at ease. They were often items that I would find interesting, but would probably not be of interest to the average traveler. I asked for a local newspaper, a magazine, and a book of art.

My mother decided it would be interesting to bring home a bridal magazine to fulfill that request. Well, she had no idea what that book of beautiful color photographs would unleash.

I found the. perfect. dress. It spoke to my soul. I also knew it would be impossible to find. So I set out to find something as close to it as possible. I went from shop to shop (of course this is pre-Internet) to find “the dress.”

Glenn and Andrea Van Benschoten - Seton Hall University Chapel
Me and my new husband at our wedding at Seton Hall University’s Chapel of the Immaculate Conception in 1994.

I decided to try Bridals by Roma in Paramus. I heard mixed reviews about the shop, and one regular complaint; “they step on the dresses.” I decided to make an appointment and see how it goes.

Boy was I happy I did.

I showed them the magazine. Unlike every other shop that looked at it and scoffed, they smiled and said “let’s see what we can find.”

They came to the fitting room with several options and one was more beautiful than the next! Some were Italian designers that were nice, but didn’t fit my style. Then they showed me not one, but two dressed that were incredibly similar to my photo!

I tried on the first one and well, let’s just say the dress swallowed me whole. It was beautiful – and huge. There was just no way.

The second dress was perfect! In every way possible. A chapel train, a beautiful bodice, and the perfect neckline.

You see, in addition to my little wants, my mother brought me back a cameo from Apa. The neckline for this dress created the perfect opportunity for that cameo to shine.

I knew in a heartbeat this was “the dress.”

Our date was set for August 5th, 1994. And today is our 29th wedding anniversary.

But that’s not the end of the story.

Madonna della Neve

Every Christmas I do my best to find not just a gift for each loved one, but a meaningful gift. As my niece and Goddaughter is now an adult, I feel it is important for her to understand her heritage. I decided to look for something from Calabritto. That’s when I learned about Madonna della Neve (“Our Lady of the Snows”).

“On the morning of the 5th of August 352 the inhabitants of the Esquiline Hill had a strange surprise: during the night snow had fallen and a soft blanket covered part of the soil. With such a prodigy the Virgin Mary had indicated to a patrician, named Giovanni and his wife, that she wished a temple to be erected in that place in her honor.

Our Lady of the Snows (c. 1517-1519) By Matthias Grünewald – Web Gallery of Art:   (Public Domain

For a long time the elderly couple, who had no children, had wanted to use their wealth in a work that would honor the Mother of God, and to that end, they had prayed fervently that She would show them how to fulfill their desire.

The Virgin, moved by their religiosity, appeared to them in a dream, saying that in the place where the next morning they would find snow fallen miraculously overnight, they would have to build a church dedicated to Her name at their own expense.

Excited by the dream and the miraculous snowfall, the next morning Giovanni went to Pope Liberius, to tell him what happened: the pontiff had, during the night, dreamed the same! Liberius, followed by the patrician Giovanni and a large procession of people and prelates, went to the Esquiline hill, and on the still intact snow marked the limits of the new church, which was built at the expense of the patrician and his wife.”

So Madonna della Neve is the patron saint of Calabritto and her feast day is August 5th.

When I read the story of Our Lady of the Snows, I sat in silence, completely stunned by what I had discovered. It was as if God had been guiding me to find one connection after another.

Oh, and as an added bonus, the national shrine to Our Lady of the Snows is in Belleville, Il. My hometown is Belleville, NJ.

So back to the Christmas gift…

I purchased hand-made rosaries in honor of Our Lady of the Snows for my niece, my cousin, and my Aunt. After they opened them on Christmas Eve, I told them the story and what I had discovered. They were just as stunned as I was when I first learned of all these connections.

So my wish for you – take the time and do your research. You never know who from the past is guiding you on your path.

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