Today, 8th December, Spain celebrates the feast day of the Immaculate Conception.
The day is a celebration of the immaculate conception of Mary, mother of Jesus and who, according to the Roman Catholic Church is the only person to have been born without “original sin.”
The festival has been celebrated as a Holy Day in Spain since a Papal Bull of Pope Pius IX in 1854.
Pius wished to emphasise Mary’s role in the salvation of man; articulating a popular Catholic belief that the mother of Jesus was conceived without original sin.
According to the the Gospels, God chose Mary from the moment of her conception to be the mother of Jesus and so Mary was, from the very first moment of her existence, pure and without sin.
The date is exactly nine months before Mary’s birth, on September 8th, which is also celebrated in Spain as the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In Spanish history she is credited with delivering a victory against the Protestant Dutch rebels during the 80 Years War in what was still then the Spanish Netherlands at the Battle of Empel in 1585.
According to legend a Spanish Tercio ( infantry formation of 300 men) was besieged in Flanders. It was said one of the Spanish soldiers who was digging a trench around a church commented “this is more likely to be my grave than a trench”. As he dug, he found a painting representing Mary of the Immaculate Conception.
This was hailed as a sign from God, and the commander had the painting put on the Spanish flag to worship – which they did all night.
That night, a sudden further drop in temperature started to freeze the shallow waters of the flooded lands. This made possible for a Spanish attack on the besieging rebels, who were defeated.
The rebel leader, Admiral Hohenlohe-Neuenstein is supposed to have cried “It seems that God is Spanish to work such a miracle for them” – and indeed the “miracle of Empel” has been celebrated by the Spanish infantry since them.
That same day, Mary of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed patroness of the Spanish Tercios of Flanders.
In 1892 she was proclaimed patroness of the Spanish infantry, which continues to this day.
In Madrid, the Almudena Cathedral will be holding a morning mass.