Immaculate Conception of…?
Immaculate Conception day is a Catholic feast celebrated on December 8th. It’s one of the most important religious celebrations, one of the few still celebrated with a holiday. The funny thing is that many people, even Catholic, don’t know what is Immaculate Conception; many believe it is the conception of Jesus Christ, which, as well documented in the New Testament, was actually immaculate, but that’s not what we celebrate on December 8th. Actually, the conception of Jesus Christ is celebrated on March 25th (Annunciation Day, exactly 9 months before Christmas), another thing unknown to most people because it is not a holiday (well, in Florence it was).
What is Immaculate Conception?
So, what is Immaculate Conception? Short answer: it is the conception of Mary. Mary’s birth, not mentioned in the official New Testament, is remembered in the Protevangelium of James, an apocryphal gospel, which also mentions Mary’s parents: Saint Anne and Saint Joachim. In the Gospels, in general, Mary is described like a Saint, not affected by any sin. At the same time she is just a woman, married with Joseph, and not a divine creature. In the Middle Ages, this created some problem in the Catholic Church. Given the double nature of Jesus Christ, both human and divine, scholars started to debate: how can Jesus Christ be immune from the original sin if he originates from a woman which, by its own nature, is not immune? The dispute on the Immaculate Conception lasted for centuries, and was officially sanctioned as a Catholic dogma by the Papacy only in 1854, even though historically it has been considered true since the 14th century at least. The dispute has been represented in many works of painting in Florence Italy Renaissance and later: generally the composition shows Saints disputing on Earth in the lower part of the painting, while Mary is in Heaven in the higher part.
Yes, but what does the dogma state?
The dogma states that even Mary’s birth didn’t originate from a normal physical relation between Saint Anne and Saint Joachim. Just like for Jesus Christ, and angel announced that Anne was pregnant with Mary. This time, it happened twice: the announcement was made to Anne and then in a dream made by Joachim, as represented by Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. OK, so now you know what is Immaculate Conception. What do you think? In my opinion, the dogma doesn’t solve the issue: one can argue, how can Mary be immune from the original sin if she originates by a woman (Anne) who, by its own nature, is not immune?
The birth of Mary
Since the immaculate conception happens on December 8th, the birth of Mary is set on September 8th, nine months later. This was another episode represented in many works of painting in Florence during the Renaissance. Click the picture to see an example, the birth of Mary represented by Domenico Ghirlandaio in the Tornabuoni Chapel, inside the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella.
Immaculate Conception in Florence Italy
Though it is a holiday, so all the offices are closed, shops and attractions will be open and it’s a long weekend for Italy, so we generally have many tourists. It’s a nice period to visit Florence, during the weekend there is many street markets with typical products and food. Also we are in the Christmas period, generally December 8th is when all the Italian families prepare their Christmas tree and also when cities turn on the Christmas lights.