Some words from our Rome Blogger, Alison Coffman ’12
There were no classes last Thursday. Shops were closed; people had a day off from work. All for the national holiday—the Immaculate Conception.
Now to what degree the celebration is cultural vs. religious is out of my scope, but, regardless, it was interesting to experience what it’s like to live in a not completely secularized country.
So what was it like? A party was thrown in Mary’s honor across the city. I went to the beautiful church Santa Maria del Popolo (Saint Mary of the People), which was a fitting place to go given that people were streaming in and out of the churches every hour for mass. The piazzas were crowded with people. On one of the busiest streets, Via del Corso, all of the church doors were thrown open, and people were pouring in and out to pray and light candles. I took the photo above as I was walking down Via del Corso. I was just struck by the serenity of Mary, watching the people as they swirl by on the street.
But the center of the party was Piazza di Spagna. There’s a large obelisk/column with a statue of Mary on top, and so every year the firemen of Rome get out their huge ladders to place a wreath of flowers on her arm. The base of the column is just covered with flowers, wreaths, and bouquets that people leave. Then, to crown the day, the Pope makes his annual appearance at the Piazza. I waited for two hours to get a prime spot, and it was well worth it. There was a wonderful sense of unity when the crowd prayed the Rosary during the last half hour of the wait. Pope Benedict XVI, or “Papa Bene,” gave an address about the Immaculate Conception based on the daily reading from Revelation.
All I can say is that the Italians really know how to celebrate Mary in style.