Sunday, July 12, 2015

Our Lady of the Snows - A Maybe Miracle

As I continue exploring family legends, I recall the story my Grandparents told me about the miracle of their village church, Our Lady of the Snow.  The tale goes like this:  The local chapel had grown too small so the villagers decided to build a larger church.  A debate over the location ensued for months and with no agreement reached, no church was built.  After a long time period consensus as to where to build was made.  It took many days to clear the land because the weather had turned unseasonably cold and rainy.  When the site was finally ready, stakes were placed in the ground outlining what would be the church.  The next morning, the stakes were gone.  Baffled at the disappearance, the villagers replaced the stakes.  Again, the next day, the stakes had disappeared.   Bafflement turned to anger and accusation as to who was responsible for the removal.  It was decided to wait until the bricks arrived and then, the stakes would once again be placed so that the bricklayers could quickly lay a foundation which would deter the unknown perpetrator.  Soon the bricks were delivered and the whole village arrived at the site.  After the local priest's blessing there was food and dancing as the villagers were sure that they were now united in where the needed church would be built.  The stakes were replaced and the bricks added before the townspeople went home for the evening.  When the masons returned to the site the next morning, they were shocked to discover that the bricks had disappeared!  The village decided that the only way to deter any further damage and to move forward with construction was to have local men serve as guards at night.  The work was once again begun and a few men built a fire in preparation for their long night of guard duty that lay ahead.  When the sun rose the next morning the guards discovered that the previous days’ work had vanished again and the pile of supply bricks was now scattered and broken.  They had heard nothing all night. Hurriedly fleeing back to the village, the guards reported their find.  The townspeople were angry and accused the men of sleeping but the guards pointed out that the noise of the destruction would have aroused them from sleep so that proved they had been awake.  The villagers accused the guards of being in a drunken stupor; the guards insisted they had not been inebriated.  The guards could not explain how they had not seen or heard the damage occurring.  A new group of men was selected to watch the site the following evening.  The plan was to a include more men of varying age groups and to have the men walk the perimeter of the site all night long in shifts to insure that no one fell asleep.  When dawn arrived the bricks were found to be destroyed again.  The men were shaken by the discovery as they did not hear or see anyone or anything that could have done such damage so quickly and quietly.  After reporting the find back to the rest of the village the decision was made to halt construction.  Clearly, these events were unexplainable and until an explanation could be found, the church would not be built.   The next day was Sunday so the townspeople crowded into the existing chapel to pray for understanding of what was happening and for a new church to be built.  Although it was summer, that Sunday night it snowed.  The next morning, as the villagers opened the doors of their homes they could see an outline of what appeared to be a church in a cleared field.  The entire field was snow covered except for the area that resembled a church building.  Inside the cleared area, flowers bloomed.  The villagers took this event as a sign that the church should be built at this site and the decision to name the church after Jesus’ mother, Mary, because the flowers must be her work.  Due to the snow falling in August and outlining the church, the church would be named Our Lady of the Snows.  Construction was immediately begun and with no further delays, the church was quickly finished.
I thought this would be an easy story to confirm as miracle sites are usually well documented and typically easy to find.  I wanted to know when the event occurred and I wanted a picture of the church.  I spoke with a 2nd cousin who said, although he had never heard the story, he had heard the name of our ancestor’s church and it was Our Lady of the Snow.  I then confirmed online that the parish church in Dubranec, Croatia is still named Our Lady of the Snow. 
I first went to a Roman Catholic site and determined that Our Lady of the Snows, or the Ice Lady, is a feast day celebrated on August 5th.  The “miracle” happened in Rome and the tale goes like this:  During the pontificate of Liberius, the Roman patrician John and his wife, who were without heirs, made a vow to donate their possessions to Our Lady. They prayed to her that she might make known to them in what manner they were to dispose of their property in her honour. On 5 August, during the night, snow fell on the summit of the Esquiline Hill and, in obedience to a vision which they had the same night, they built a basilica, in honour of Our Lady, on the spot which was covered with snow.”1  The problem with the story is that no mention was made of the miracle until a few hundred years after the event, in the 13th Century.  By 1471, every church in Rome was celebrating the feast day but by 1741, the church renounced the miracle.  There is no mention of a miracle with snow occurring in Dubranac. 
The Blessed Virgin Mary overlooking Pope Liberius as the Pontiff scraped the foundation of the basilica into the snow. By Italian artist Masolino de Panicale circa 15th-century.  Museo de Capdodimonte.
Online I found the parish history but unfortunately, the google translation from Croatian to English is not clear and the records are confusing.2 “The first written mention of the parish of the Annunciation is in the list of parishes of the Zagreb diocese by Archdeacon Ivana Goričko in 1334.  Probably the parish existed before, but it is impossible to confirm.  The recorded parish in Velika Gorica is called "ecclesia beate Virginis de campo Turouo" (The Church of the Blessed Virgin in the field of Mozyr).”3 There is conflict, however, with another source that mentions the church located on “the highest hill between Bukovčak and Dubranac” as the “parish church of St. Catherine.” 4 “This is the church in its original form was made of wood, and it eventually demanded restoration. Its maintenance was not the best, which is confirmed by the fact that the liturgy occasionally (was) held in private homes. The church did not have a permanent parish priest.”5 
I'm thinking that the 1334 list of parishes included 2 churches in the area – the older St. Catherine’s, located on the hill between Bukovack and Duranac, and The Church of the Blessed Virgin, built in the field in Velika Gorica.  Notice that the church in the field is not called Our Lady of the Snows.  There is no mention of the miraculous events that my grandparents described which I would think would have been recorded as the Roman Catholic Church investigates reported miracles.  So I dug deeper…
Archdeacon Benko Vinković, in the canonical visitation in 1622, says that the church is built of old, and that for the time, pretty well covered and clean.  He added that the church was destroyed in 1592 for burglary Hasan - fits in Turopolje, but the parishioners very quickly restored (it).  The church had three stones of the altar, of which only the main was dedicated and equipped with all necessary (items).  In front of the church was a wooden porch where he (sic) was an altar of Our Lady.” 6
I don’t understand the “…in 1592 for burglary Hasan – fits in Turopolje,…” I believe the “fits in Turopolje” means that the style of the church was in the Turopolje custom but I can find no information on a burglary in 1592 occurring.  I’m also not clear on which church– St. Catherine’s or the Blessed Virgins, the record refers.  Perhaps this “burglary” was a part of the family legend of the stolen stakes and bricks. 
Regarding the Church of the Blessed Virgin, “A church visitation was again made in 1642 and it was noted that the bell tower, containing a bell, was made of wood and the cemetery was around the church.”7    As the population increased the church became too small, so they began preparations for the construction of a new church, which is what my family legend reported.  “The chapel of Saint Mary in Dubranec was built in 1650, and liturgy was served during winter when access to church (I believe this means to St. Catherine’s) was very difficult.”8  Another source confirms that the “Chapel of the Mother of God, which is at first probably served for worship in the winter when the snow, because of the distance and access to the parish church of St. Catherine, was more difficult.”9  Still no miracle mentioned but the reason for enlargement was due to population increase AND snow is brought into the story. 
“In 1686, an agreement was signed to build a new church and construction was started.  All the stone needed for building was brought by parishioners from Okić.  Thus, in 1688, the sanctuary, the sacristy and the part of the boat (sic) was completed.  In large part, the church was completed in 1692, in addition to the ceiling of the nave and the windows.  The church used the old altars.  The title of the church, The Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as the new altar was supposed to be dedicated to the Nativity of Mary.
The new church was completed in 1704, and blessed in 1702 or 1703. A memorial blessing celebrated the Sunday before the Nativity of Mary in 1746. The Turret tower was covered with a sheet and a new organ was added.”10  In my family legend, the land was blessed before the church was built.  This part of the story could be from the blessing in 1702/1703 that occurred before the church was completed.  This church was built of stone that the parishioners brought, however, my story is that the construction material was brick. 
“Since 1714 the seat of that same parish was relocated to Dubranec and the patron saint ever since is Majka Bozja Snjezna (Our Lady of Snow).”11  “In 1714, the first chapel in Dubranec was consecrated to Our Lady and was mentioned as a parish church, instead of the previous Church of St. Catharine that was situated further from the town.”12  So it wasn’t until 1714 that name became Our Lady of the Snow. I believe the original buildings were considered chapels and it wasn’t until 1714 that the building was large enough to become known as a church.  There is no mention, though, of why the name change to Our Lady of Snow occurred.
“Early in 1726 the extension of the church was finally completed. There are new altars and a statue of the Virgin Mary dressed in silk and richly adorned with ribbons and braids. In it comes more and more pilgrims not only from Dubranac, but also from surrounding parishes.”13  There is no explanation as to why pilgrims were coming – was it because it was the newest church in the area or because of the story of the miracle was circulating? 
“The church was again too small and the 1757, church expansion began.  The side chapels were added to the south and north sides.  The wooden hall was destroyed and burials in the church were forbidden.  The church was consecrated on the Feast of the Assumption, 1781, and dedicated to the bishop of Zagreb, Josip Galjuf.  The title became Church of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary.”14  There’s mention that that parish priest and the “Noble Commune of Turopolje“ were behind the change but there is no mention as to why the name change occurred.  There is no further mention of pilgrims coming so my theory is that the townspeople were warned by the bishop to stop using the legend per the Vatican directive of 1741.  To appease him, the new church name was dedicated to the bishop. 
In 1881, some type of new regulations were enacted by the church authorities.  “Opinions were divided as to what to leave” and “the then Culture Minister, Isidore Krsnjavi, led major controversy with Herman Bolle, (architect) warning him of the value of the domestic construction, particularly the valuable painted ceiling in the church.”15  “It owes its present appearance to Herman Bollé, who in 1881 removed the majority of the decorations belonging to the Turopolje style, not recognizing the value and originality of the local architecture and artwork. He designed the present day brick church with the wooden ceiling, and designed the main altar of Our Lady and the two side altars dedicated to St. Joseph and St. Catharine.”16  At this time, the name, Our Lady of the Snows, was restored and the stone church was bricked.  There is still no mention of the legend of the stolen bricks but there is a notation of divided opinions and controversy.  Why the church regained its old name is also not discussed.  
In 1889, the church received great damage after an earthquake and major renovation was needed.  In 1892, reconstruction of the church and the tower began, in keeping with the design by Herman Bolle.  The formerly baroque tower was replaced by a slender octagonal pyramidal tower.  The restoration was completed in 1896. The most recent renovations occurred in 1995 to 1997.

So my family legend appears to be a mixture of facts and fiction that occurred over hundreds of years, then rearranged into one tale.  The truths are that the church is named Our Lady of the Snow, was built in a field, and it is currently made of brick.  There is some basis in the story for the villagers’ disagreeing but it appears to be about style and not due to site location and perhaps a burglary of some sort occurred, which may have been the stakes and bricks.  There is no basis for the snow in August outlining the site.  

One more family mystery remains.  My Aunt Anne Marie and my Great Aunt Barbara went to Croatia in June 1974.  They sent my Non the postcard below:

The back of the card is written "Where Anna used to walk when she went on pilgrimage." I didn't even know Anna, my great grandmother, went on pilgrimages.  I would love to discover the name of the church pictured above and where it is located. If Anna walked there it couldn't be to far from Dubranac or Velika Gorica.  Hopefully, dear reader, one of you will identify it and let me know.

1. "Our Lady of the Snow - Catholic Encyclopedia - Catholic Online." Our Lady of the Snow - Catholic Encyclopedia - Catholic Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2015.
2. "Google Translate." Google Translate. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2015.
3. Ibid
4. Google Translate." Google Translate. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2015.
5. IBID
6. "Google Translate." Google Translate. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2015.
7. "The Church of Saint Mary of Snow." The Church of Saint Mary of Snow. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2015.  
8. "Google Translate." Google Translate. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2015.
9. IBID
10."Message Boards." Localities Europe Croatia General. Ancestry.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2015
11. Ibid
12. Google Translate." Google Translate. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2015.
13. IBID
14. Google Translate." Google Translate. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2015.
15. "Message Boards." Localities Europe Croatia General. Ancestry.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2015
16 "Velika Gorica - Neovisni Forum." Tradicija I Baština. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2015.


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