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Yesterday December 8th was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a national holiday in catholic countries such as Italy and Spain. I had a misconception about the Immaculate Conception thinking it signified the conception of Jesus but in fact it signifies the conception of Mary and celebrates the belief that she was born free of sin. I’m not sure what this means, was it a virgin birth? Apparently, this question has been debated for centuries among catholic theologians including St. Thomas Aquinas. In any case, it was officially declared a feast by Pope Pius IX in 1854 and now marks the start of the Christmas season in Italy. Banks and government offices were closed but all the shops were open.
It was a beautiful sunny day yesterday and I was putting a load of laundry out to dry at around 11am when all of a sudden I heard sounds of a brass band coming from our local church a few doors down from us. The church is called Chiesa dell’Immacolata so yesterday was also its particular feast day. Last week, there was a door to door collection on our street for celebrations of the feast and in exchange for our donation, we got a picture of the statue of the Virgin in the church. I find it quite beautiful as the Virgin almost looks like she could be wearing a saree with her hands in the prayer pose of Namaste.
Anyhow, I rushed out to see what was happening and a small procession had set out from the church and were proceeding down the hill. Heading it were a group of cheer leaders followed by a brass band and a surprisingly small group of followers. I came home to continue putting out the washing when all of a sudden at noon there was a cacophony of church bells. Bells ring everyday at noon to mark the Angelus but today was noteworthy. Then the Pope’s voice giving a sermon or a blessing could be heard over the roof tops. By 1pm, our local procession had returned to the church but the band continued to play and kept us entertained through lunch.
Traditionally, at 4pm, the Pope goes to Piazza Mignanelli which is close to the Spanish Steps and lays a wreath on the statue of the Madonna. The statue is atop a very tall column and a fireman actually transports the wreath to the top. I decided to go and take a look though I knew there would be little chance of actually getting close enough to see what was going on. When we got there, the streets were jammed with people and the fireman had already put the wreath in place. The Pope arrived and prayed including asking that humanity be freed of slavery to material things. I don’t think people were listening in this upscale area close to the Via Condotti and the Via del Corso as shoppers thronged the streets and business was flourishing.
Meanwhile back in our neighbourhood, the feast day at the church ended with a grand finale of fireworks which we were able to watch through our window. I’m a slave to spectacle and greatly enjoyed watching the show in comfort.