The Feast of the Immaculate Conception in Sicily is really felt. It is an ancient recurrence: since the eighth century, at the time of the Byzantine domination, the cult of the Virgin Mary developed. The spirituality and the Latin liturgy, in fact, had always had an intense devotion towards the Mother of God. The most salient moments of devotion in our island are historically found in Palermo in the seventeenth century: in 1624 many people died because of the plague and the Palermo Senate tried to put an end to that plague by every means, even spiritual ones. Today, many tourists book a villa in Palermo in this period of the year and take part to the events for this Christian feast.
Thus he appealed to the Immaculate Conception and to Santa Rosalia, solemnly and perpetually celebrating the feasts of the two religious icons. Furthermore, the cardinal of the time gave a vow to vote and believe, up to the last spirit of life, the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and to fast on the eve of the feast. It was decided to carry the simulacrum of the Immaculate Conception from the Cathedral to the church of S. Francesco (the church and convent of San Francesco, since the arrival of the religious order of the Franciscans, became an important propelling center of devotion to the Immaculate).
When the plague was eradicated, the Palermo Senate did not forget all its commitments. Still today, every year, the civil authorities renew the oath pronounced by the cardinal.
Every year the faithful go on a pilgrimage to the church of San Francesco d’Assisi – for the whole evening of December 7th – to pay homage to the silver statue on display. Also on the evening of the vigil, the Palermo assist, in the Basilica of San Francesco, at the ceremony of offering silver shields that the council donates for the cult of the Immaculate. The kneeling Mayor, at the foot of the Immaculate Conception that stands in all its splendor between lights and flowers, reads the oath to the Virgin. Renew the “illo tempore” vote made by the Palermo Senate, “bloodthirsty vote”; he also swears to take up the commitment to defend the Immaculate Conception of Mary until the shedding of blood.
On the feast day, on December 8th, the faithful attend the solemn procession of the silver statue of the Immaculate. The procession begins with “the ‘scinnuta” (descent), by means of a particular platform that cancels the difference in height between the street level and the entrance to the Basilica. Taken along Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Via Roma, the simulacrum arrives at the votive column in Piazza San Domenico, where we see the annual offering of flowers to the Virgin, carried out by the Fire Brigade.
On this occasion the square becomes a popular theater where its scenes are punctually represented by all those devotees who want to pay homage to the Virgin herself. After the popular acclamation the simulacrum, escorted by the civil and ecclesiastical authorities, is brought up to the Cathedral.
(Top image: Chapel of the Immaculate Conception in San Francesco d’Assisi Church; Source: Wikipedia; Credits to: Effems)