On December 8, 2023, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis will present a “golden rose” before the famous Roman icon of the Salus populi romani in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, the Holy See announced on December 4. The soon-to-be 87-year-old Pontiff will also follow the tradition of visiting the Spanish Steps in the heart of Rome for an act of devotion.
Pope Francis will make his way to St. Mary Major, in the historic center of the capital, at 3:30 pm, according to the note issued by the Vatican. This basilica and image of Our Lady are dear to the Pontiff; he has visited it 114 times since his election, particularly before and after his international trips, or during the high points of his pontificate.
One of the side chapels houses an ancient icon of the Virgin Mary, which according to tradition was painted by the evangelist Luke. At the end of the 6th century, this effigy was carried in procession through the city to ward off the plague, earning it the title Salus populi romani – health of the Roman people.
St. Mary Major is the oldest shrine in the West dedicated to the Mother of God.
On Friday, the head of the Catholic Church will present this Virgin with a “golden rose,” a distinction traditionally bestowed by the pope on a personality, shrine or city, in recognition of notable services rendered to the Church, or for the good of society. His predecessors Julius III and Paul V made the same gesture at Santa Maria Maggiore in 1551 and 1613.
Francis has already presented several golden roses to Marian shrines since his election, including Aparecida in Brazil in 2017 and Fatima in Portugal the same year.
The Spanish Steps
After this stopover, the Bishop of Rome is expected at 4pm in Piazza di Spagna, for a public act of devotion, as already announced by the Holy See press office on November 16.
Every December 8 since the pontificate of John XXIII, popes have gone to Piazza Mignanelli – south of Piazza di Spagna – to venerate the Mother of Christ in front of a large crowd, at the foot of the 12-meter (39-foot) column that supports a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Before his arrival, the pontiff is usually preceded by representatives of the various guilds of Roman society. It is also customary for firemen to use their truck’s ladder to place a wreath of flowers on one arm of the statue of Mary at dawn, in memory of their 220 colleagues who inaugurated the monument on December 8, 1857.
Last year, the ceremony was marked by the tears of the Argentine pontiff, shed at the mention of the war in Ukraine.