Our Lady of the Snows
In Notre Dame aux Neiges, the parish church of Aurillac, Cantal department, Auvergne, 17th century replacement of a Romanesque statue, 72 cm, gold leafed and painted wood.
Photo: Francis Debaisieux
The first Black Madonna in Aurillac was a Romanesque statue in the little chapel of Aurinques. She was said to have been brought back from the Crusades by one of the local feudal lords. She was destroyed by the Huguenots and after the end of the Wars of Religion replaced by a copy of Notre Dame du Puy.
Though the body of her statue was defeated, the Black Madonna of Aurillac is credited with helping to vanquish the Huguenots. She performed her greatest miracle before dawn on August 5th, 1581. The enemy of Catholicism was encamped nearby ready to quietly scale the ramparts of the town under the protection of the dark of night. But the Queen of Heaven lit up the night with such great light as the sun would produce during the day. The roosters started to crow. The noise and the light woke the inhabitants up and alerted them to the danger they were in. Some of them saw an image of the Blessed Virgin holding her son appear on the door of the chapel of Aurinques.(*1)
It seemed that the divine Mother also saw fit to remind her children that August 5th is the feast day of Our Lady of the Snows, for that August 5th in 1581 she sent another miraculous snow fall in the middle of summer.
Our Lady of the Snows is a title the Virgin Mary first earned in Rome in the year A.D. 352. The legend recounts: There was a rich and powerful, though childless, couple who asked the Mother of God what should be done with their fortune upon their death. During the night both husband and wife dreamt that Mother Mary told them to go to the Esquiline Hill in Rome, which they would find covered in snow in the exact place where they were to have a great basilica built in her honor. In the morning they hurried to tell the Pope of their dreams only to find out that he had been sent the same dream. The Pontiff quickly decided to call for a solemn procession to the hill and all present witnessed the miracle of the snow in August outlining the future sanctuary. That is how Saint Mary Major became one of the four great basilicas of Rome and the 5th of August, the feast day of Our Lady of the Snows, is still commemorated in Catholic churches around the world.
In gratitude for the miracles in 1581 in Aurillac, the present bigger and better chapel of Auriniques was constructed. Nonetheless the beloved statue was later moved to the parish church, where it still resides.