The Pope and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception

While the best place to see the Pope is usually around St. Peter’s Square, the head of the Catholic Church sometimes ventures into the Eternal City when it is time for Christmas at the Vatican. The Pope gives a ceremony each year on the 8th of December by the Spanish Steps in the center of Rome to celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception

So if you happen to be in Rome on December 8th this is the best time to take part in a unique tradition and catch the Pope outside of his weekly address in St. Peter’s Square.

Nothing makes me feel like Christmas is coming more than this December holiday. Since I moved to Rome in 2008, I have tried to go every year and I always aim to get to Piazza Mignanelli by the Spanish Steps early enough to get a good view of the Pope coming from the Vatican. The Pope makes his way in his special popemobile after giving a noon angelis in order to lead a ceremony by the monument of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

statue of Virgin Mary

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is a Catholic belief that Mary conceived Christ free from original sin. The tradition of the Pope coming to give this ceremony started in 1953. The ceremony starts at 16:00 (4 pm) when the Pope offers a bouquet of flowers to a statue of Mary atop a high pillar.

During the ceremony, the head of the Italian fire department places a wreath across an outstretched arm of the state of the Virgin Mary on top. A ladder from the fire department is provided. The monument itself still has particular significance to the Italian firefighters as their former colleagues were the ones who originally erected the monument back in 1857.

people near the Spanish Steps

If you get to the Spanish Steps early enough you will have a great chance to get very close – almost to touching distance-  from Pope Francis. I still remember being 6 feet from Pope Benedict back in 2011 and I still swear he looked me in the eye. I highly recommend you add this to your Christmas in Rome plans!

The Monument

The monument itself is stunning, designed by architect, Luigi Poletti. The base of the column has four figures on each corner, a column on top and a statue of Mary on top of the column.

The column itself is actually Ancient Roman, dating before the time of Christ but it was not discovered until 1777 and the column was given for the monument in 1857. The four figures at the base are from the old testament in the bible: Moses, Isaiah, King David, and Ezekiel.

monument The Feast of the Immaculate Conception

The statue of Moses is one of the most interesting of the four statues as you will notice that Moses appears to have horns. You will notice a lot of historic statues of Moses will have horns. This is due to a mistranslation in the bible as it was said that after Moses came down from the mountain after seeing God that he had come with a glow, or light, in his face. This was a mistranslation as the same word for glow or light was also the same word for horns. So it was traditionally depicted when creating an image of Moses that he would have two horns.

moses with horns

And the statue of Mary at the very top? That was sculpted by Giuseppe Obici.