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How did the feast of the Immaculate Conception come to be and how do the Maltese celebrate?
The feast is celebrated across many villages in Malta and Gozo.

Emma Galea

Each year, on the 8th December, the Maltese are given a day off to celebrate the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

But how did this feast come to be?

The feast is largely celebrated in many Roman Catholic countries around the world, including Malta, however it hasn’t always been like this.

The claim that the Virgin Mary was conceived free of original sin was an extremely controversial claim amongst medieval theologians. In fact, it was only made a part of official Catholic teaching by Pope Pius IX in 1854.

However, celebrations of the Immaculate Conception trace as far as far back as the Eastern Church in the seventh century, spreading to Ireland by the eighth century.

There are also records of celebrations in England as early as the 11th century. Celebrations across the world continued to spread through the 15th century despite many theologians calling it a heresy.  

Nevertheless, by 1477, the pope at the time, Pope Sixtus, whole heartedly believed in the Immaculate Conception and put it on the Roman Calendar.

When in 1481 and 1483 Vincenzo Bandello came out with a strong attack against the celebration of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Sixtus IV ended up forbidding teaching against the Immaculate Conception and for both sides to stop fighting with each other. 

By 1624, Pope Urban VIII had dedicated a military order the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception until Pope Pius IX made it official and defined it as dogma in 1854.

Some Catholics couldn’t get on board with this and formed what is now referred to as the Old Catholic Church.

Today, a total of 24 countries all across the globe have the solemnity registered as a public holiday, including Malta.

Malta itself has many churches dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, particularly the parish church in Bormla. In the morning of every 8th December, a huge celebratory mass is held in the parish church. The church also holds other activities during the day including a procession with the parish’s beautiful statue.

Within the church in Bormla there is also a venerated image of the Immaculate Conception, pontifically crowned by Poper Pius X in 1905.

If you’re going round, discovering Bormla make sure to also check out Kuncizzjoni street, more specifically the beautiful statue of the Immaculate Conception over by the corner. It was sculpted all the way back in 1788 and was also recently restored.

Hamrun, is also home to another beautiful church in Malta dedicated to Immaculate Conception. Originally built as an oratory in 1923, the church houses a mosaic of the Immaculate Conception which is inspired by the 17th century painting ‘The Immaculate Conception of Los Venerables’. Additionally, the church owns an Immaculate Conception statue that was made by R. Zanzio & Co in Rome in 1903.

The first time they celebrated the feast back was back in November 1968 but they now celebrate with a full blown Maltese feast in July.

Over on the sister island of Gozo, the Franciscan Church in Saint Francis Square in Victoria also celebrates the feast and they have been since 1663.

When the weather permits, they take out the holy statue of the Immaculate Conception that was sculpted in wood by Salvatore Psaila in 1848 for a procession around the capital of Victoria.

How do you celebrate the feast of Immaculate Conception? 

8th December 2023

Emma Galea
Written by
Emma Galea
Emma is a Gozitan writer who loves all things related to English literature and history. When not busy studying or writing you will either find her immersed in a fictional book or at the cinema trying to watch as many films as she possibly can!

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