On the feast of the Immaculate Conception on Thursday 8 December, Pope Benedict XVI pays homage to the Virgin Mary by making a pilgrimage to Piazza Mignanelli beside the Spanish Steps at 16.00. In an annual tradition dating back to 1958, after kneeling in prayer the pope leaves a floral wreath which is placed on the statue of the Madonna in the square.

As well as being a Catholic holy day it is a national Italian holiday, with all public offices and schools closed; shops however remain open as it is generally seen as the official start of the Christmas shopping season.

The pope