In Piazza Mignanelli, a stone's throw from the Spanish Steps, stands the Colonna dell' Immacolata (Column of the Immaculate Conception).
The column was dedicated on December 8th, 1857, to mark the publication, exactly three years earlier, of the papal bull Ineffabilis Deus in which Pope Pius IX (r. 1846-78), ending centuries of heated debate, declared that the Virgin Mary had been conceived free from the stain of original sin.
The monument was designed by the architect Luigi Poletti (1792-1869) and the bronze statue, which stands atop an ancient Roman column, is the work of Giuseppe Obici (1807-78). The Virgin Mary, with her crown of twelve stars, crushes a serpent (symbol of original sin) under her foot. At the base of the globe on which she stands are symbols of the four evangelists.
At the foot of the column sit four marble statues, which depict the prophets David (Adam Tadolini), Isaiah (Salvatore Revelli), Ezekiel (Carlo Chelli) and Moses (Ignazio Jacometti), all of whom, it is said, foretold the birth of the Virgin Mary.
The base of the column also sports four reliefs: 'The Annunciation', 'Joseph's Dream', 'The Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven' and 'Pope Pius IX and the Promulgation of the Papal Bull', the work, respectively, of Francesco Gianfredi, Nicola Cantalamessa Papotti, Giovanni Maria Benzoni and Pietro Galli.
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated each year on December 8th, which is a public holiday in Italy. Since 1953 it has been the tradition for the pope to lead the celebrations at the Colonna dell' Immacolata. There, he blesses a floral wreath, which is placed on the Virgin Mary's right arm, a task entrusted to the head of Rome's fire brigade.
The two inscriptions, at the base of the column, proclaim (in translation): 'Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women' (Luke 1:28) and 'Pius IX, Pontifex Maximus, with funds gathered from the Catholic world, undertook to have this column set up to the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, from her very conception free from all stain, after the reliability of this illustrious proclamation had been confirmed by the decree issued on the sixth day before the Ides of December, of the year 1854, the twelfth year of his sacred pontificate'.
The inscriptions under the four statues of the prophets are quotations from the bible: 'INIMICITIAS PONAM/INTER TE/ET MVLIEREM' ('I shall set enmity between thee and woman', Genesis 3:15), 'PORTA HAEC/CLAVSA ERIT' ('This gate shall be closed', Ezekiel 44:2), 'ECCE VIRGO/CONCIPIET' ('Behold, a virgin shall conceive', Isaiah 7:14) and 'SANCTIFICAVIT/TABERNACVLVM/SVVM ALTISSIMVS' ('The most high has sanctified his tabernacle' Psalm 45:4).
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private and
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