December 8th, Feast of the Immaculate Conception, has been celebrated in Spain since 1644 to commemorate a brilliant military victory against the Dutch, presumably achieved with the help of the Virgin Mary.
On December 7th, 1585, a Spanish Infantry regiment led by nobleman Francisco Arias de Bobadilla (1541-1610), composed of about 3,000 men, was fighting in the Eighty Years’ War (1568–1648), a revolt of the Seventeen Provinces of what are roughly the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg against Philip II of Spain (1527-1598).
On the island of Bommelerwaard, located between the rivers Maas and Waal, it had been completely surrounded by a squadron commanded by Admiral Philip of Hohenlohe-Neuenstein (1550-1606).
The situation was even more desperate for the Spanish troops due to the cold and a severe shortage of food after the local farmers had taken their livestock with them.
The Dutch Commander then proposed an honorable surrender, but the Spanish response was clear: “The Spanish Infantry prefers death to dishonor. We will talk about capitulation after death”.
Faced with such a response, Hohenlohe-Neuenstein resorted to a method widely used in that conflict: opening the river dikes to flood the enemy camp. Soon there was no more solid ground than the hill of Empel, where the Spaniards took refuge.
At that critical moment, a soldier who was digging a trench stumbled upon a buried wooden object, which turned out to be a tablet with the image of Mary.
They immediately placed it on an improvised altar and Bobadilla, considering the incident a sign of divine protection, urged everybody to fight by entrusting himself to the Virgin Mary.
That night, a steep drop in temperature started to freeze the shallow waters of the Maas. The Spaniards, marching on the ice, attacked the enemy by surprise at dawn on December 8th and overrun their enemies.
Faced with such an unexpected defeat, Admiral Hohenlohe-Neuenstein supposedly said: “It seems that God is Spanish to work such a miracle for them”. Since that day, the Holy Virgin has been venerated by members of the Spanish Infantry.
Pope Clement XIII (1693-1769) on November 8th, 1760 issued the bull Quantum Ornamenti, proclaiming the Immaculate Principal Patroness of Spain and the American Continent.
One of his successors, Pope Pius IX (1792-1878), in the bull Ineffabilis Deus of December 8th, 1854, declared the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin as a dogma of the Catholic faith.
On November 12th, 1892, by royal order of the Queen Regent and widow of King Alfonso XII (1857-1885), Archduchess Maria Cristina of Austria (1858-1929), Mary was finally made the official Patroness of the Spanish Infantry, the ecclesiastical army corps, its legal body and the military pharmacy.