A bronze statue of the Virgin Mary sits atop the Column of the Immaculate Conception
A stone's throw from the Spanish Steps, stands the Colonna dell' Immacolata (Column of the Immaculate Conception).
The column was inaugurated 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 was free of the stain (macula) of original sin from the moment of her conception.
The monument was designed by the architect Luigi Poletti (1792-1869), and the bronze statue of Mary, 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 (by Adamo Tadolini), Isaiah (by Salvatore Revelli), Ezekiel (by Carlo Chelli) and Moses (by Ignazio Jacometti), all of whom, it is said, foretold the birth of the Virgin Mary.
The base of the column also sports four reliefs: TheAnnunciation, Joseph's Dream, TheCoronation 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.
There are two inscriptions at the base of the column. One is a quotation from the Gospel of St Luke (1:28): AVE / GRATIA PLENA / DOMINVS TECVM / BENEDICTA TV / IN MVLIERIBVS (Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women). The other inscription hails Pope Pius IX: MARIAE VIRGINI / GENITRICI DEI / IPSA ORIGINE / AB OMNI LABE IMMVNI / PIVS VIIII P M / INSIGNIS PRAECONII / FIDE CONFIRMATA / DECRETO Q D E VI EID DEC / A MDCCCLIIII / PONENDAM CVRAVIT / AERE CATH ORB CONLATO / AN SAC PRINCIP XII (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.
Old photograph (1890-1900) of the Column of the Immaculate Conception