Saint AnneToday is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in the Catholic Church, which dates back to the 7th century when Eastern churches began celebrating the conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. That is the origin of the feast, but the feast day as we know it today in the West dates back to around the 11th century.

The “immaculate conception” does not refer to the conception of Christ by the Holy Spirit but, instead, refers to Mary’s own immaculate conception in the womb of her mother, St Anne, which meant that Mary had been conceived free from the taint of original sin.

On the 8th December 1854, Pope Pius IX wrote in “Ineffabilis Deus”, the Apostolic Constitution:-

“We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”

Apologies if I have explained that rather badly!

Anne Boleyn and St Anne

In his book, “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn”, Eric Ives explains how John Leland and Nicholas Udall’s tableau at Leadenhall in Gracechurch Street for Anne Boleyn’s coronation procession took St Anne as its theme. There, on a hill below a tree stump, sat St Anne and her descendants – her daughters, the Blessed Virgin, Mary Salome and Mary Cleopas; and their families. The message of this tableau was that the pregnant Anne Boleyn was England’s hope for an heir and that she “would go on to rival the maternal success of her patron saint” and namesake. At this tableau, Anne was addressed by a boy speaking verses written by Nicholas Udall:-
Anne Boleyn's Falcon badge

“For like as from this devout Saint Anne
Issued this holy generation,
First Christ, to redeem the soul of man;
Then James th’apostle, and th’evangelist John;
With these others, which in such fashion
By teaching and good life, our faith confirmed,
That from that time yet to, it hath not failed…”

As Ives points out, it was all rather ironic seeing as St Anne only produced daughters!

As the boy finished speaking, out of the tree stump flowed red and white roses and then, out of a cloud painted on the roof of the tableau, swooped Anne Boleyn’s white falcon. The falcon landed on the stump and flowers and was then crowned by an angel with an imperial crown. It was Anne Boleyn’s falcon badge brought to life, explaining that Anne would revive the dead, barren Tudor line with children that came from both the York and Lancastrian lines.

Nasim Tadghighi, in her wonderful article 31 May 1533 – Anne Boleyn’s Coronation Procession, explains also that “The name Anne was equated with ‘grace’ promoting the idea that through Anne’s marriage to the monarch and the bearing of issue, the realm would receive God’s favour, as St Anne was favoured by being the mother of the Holy Virgin.”

So, there’s the link between Anne Boleyn and St Anne!

As the theme of today is conception, you may also be interested in reading my article The Pregnancies of Anne Boleyn and Catherine of Aragon, which were obviously far from immaculate!

Notes and Sources

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13 thoughts on “The Feast of the Immaculate Conception”
  1. Hi Claire,

    Since I study psychology, whenever I read anything about Tudor times, I’m always wondering what made people do the things they did. Especially Henry, who is viewed by many as a monster. I was wondering if you were by any chance familiar with the work of Philip Zimbardo. He is a social psychologist who has studied the influence of the situation on people’s behavior. He’s also written a book about it called the Lucifer Effect. Basically he says that the situation people are in influences their actions much more than we think and that therefore there are no bad people only bad situations. I wonder what your thoughts are when you take his work into consideration when looking at Henry and other historical figures. This is a link to a talk he gave explaining his findings in 20 minutes. I wonder if you would take a look at it and tell me what you think. I’m curious about your opinion.

  2. I wasn’t able to link up to this site so if my post is contradictory please forgive me. I understand your view about how the society around us forms us as humans but yet in every single circumstance there is the exception that proves the rule. For instance in 1930’s Germany there was a situation where hatred of ‘inpure’ races was totally acepted, indeed raised to a virtue yet in that enviorment the White Roses tried to stand up to Facist policies. In the 18th century slavery was considered normal and yet there was a thriving abolitionist movement. Do you consider Henry VIII as simply a product of his enviroment of as someone who broke with the mould because his own personality was in conflict with that enviroment ? Because many of the things that he did at the time were considered by his contemparies to be unusual.

    1. I understand what you’re saying, but in his talk Philip Zimbardo also speaks about the people who do not conform. The rare exceptions, the whistle blowers as he calls them. You really should see the video. If you can’t use the link you can just go to and then search for philip zimbardo. I personally don’t think to have figured out Henry by any means. I just think this is one way to look at it. I wouldn’t say he’s a product of his time perse, though in his time cruelty’s were much more common than now. Or at least more common than they are for us in the western world. I mean people being able to witness executions and torture on a regular basis. Just the way people were executed by being quartered and hanged and dismemebered.. I just mean to say I do think people were primed in that way to find these things more acceptable. Whether they wanted to or not. As for Henry, I think it would have more to do with the fact that he was the king. Second only to god. The fact that he never had to account for what he did, because his will was gods will. I take it to be a fact that power corrupts. But what’s even more enabling for people to do cruel or ‘evil’ things is when they know they won’t be held accountable. If you really can’t see the talk look online for Stanford Prison experiment or The Milgram experiment. Both very interesting examples of how just ordinary people can do unimaginable things when the situation allows it. Personally I don’t study social psychology. I study clinical psychology so I would never say it is just a situation that is responsible for someone’s actions. It is a whole lot of things combined that determine how a person responds to a situation, in my view. Like personality traits, upbringing, past life experiences etc. Nevertheless, the experiments that I mentioned before are very very interesting and quite shocking. They make you wonder about how well you even know yourself, I think. I would be very interested to hear what you think after you see the talk or read a little bit about the experiments.

  3. You have given me a lot to think about. I totally agree with you that there are so many factors in determining how character and personality are shaped. I think a lot of people forget when discussing the Tudor period that this was an age that had beliefs and customs that were very different to our own. Henry VIII had a strong relgious belief that included the fact that as King he was annointed by God. The very fact that he had gone through the ceremony of coronation gave him a sort of mystic authority in the eyes of the country. Which is why monarchs made such a fuss about them. Elizabeth I’s position was actually strengthened through the fact that she had been crowned.
    I remember reading about the Milgram experiment and how the most respectable, femmine, middle class ladies would be the one’s to inflict the greatest physical torture. Something I have always kept in mind when confronted with all those silly Girls are natrually inclided to be passive, caring, crybabies theories. Even in the Tudor age which was, by our standards, incredibly misogynistic we get women like Anne Boleyn, Catherine Parr, Anne Askew, Margret Moor and Elizabeth Tudor who challenged what women could do.

  4. I think it’s so interesting that St. Anne was favored for being the mother of the Blessed Virgin, just like Anne Boleyn became favored for being the mother of the Virgin Queen. Very cool article.

  5. These are such interesting ideas–I will check onto the link when I get back home but off the cuff, I think every human being has choices to make and sometimes those choices are influenced by the culture and sometimes, not so much. I think Herny is the example of absoute power corrupts absolutely. He started out pious and devout but, especially in 1536, he began to do things that I believve he couldn’t face, executing Anne and the men, being one of them. Fropm then, it’s easier and easier to do wrong. But I don’t know…all so fascinating…thanks!

  6. Please correct me if I’m wrong but could it be possible that this Anne’s birthdate? I’m not sure if it’s only a modern catholic tradition to name your children the name of the saint they were born on? For example if they were born on st. Mary’s day the female children are called Mary ?

  7. I have been reading comments on King Herny and the power he had if you live or die,as all Kings and Queens had that power,lets not forget Queen Anne,Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth put many people to death.That is how they held there power they were not the olny Kings and Queens to put one to death, Far East China ,Bermma , some rulers still do. Also I think to name your child after a saint is wonerfull.

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