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Our Lady of the Conception and the Restoration of Independence

In the darkest days of Spain's kings ruling Portugal - in 1640 the Duke of Bragança vowed to win back the throne and nation. This is how he gave up his crown to save the nation...

Portugal had been under Spanish rule since 1580, after Philip II of Spain claimed the Portuguese crown. The people of Portugal, discontent with Spanish dominance, dreamed to regain their independence.

On December 1, 1640, a group of Portuguese conspirators, supported by members of the nobility and clergy, orchestrated a successful coup known as the Restoration of Independence. Dom João, Duke of Bragança, was proclaimed king.  But to end the the Iberian Union would take a real fight.

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The connection to Our Lady of the Conception comes into play in the context of the political upheavals that followed. During the war of restoration, Dom João IV vowed to dedicate the Kingdom of Portugal to the image of Our Lady of the Conception in Vila Viçosa. The very image was donated by his ancestor, D. Nuno Alvares Pereira - who saved the nation in the 14th century. D. Nuno Alvares Pereira, Constable of the Kingdom, began the building of a church that was Nossa Senhora do Castelo, to celebrate the massive Portuguese victory over the Castilians in Aljubarrota (1385). The image of Our Lady of the Conception is thought to have been brought by the Constable from England. This dedication was a desperate call for her continued divine intervention in the fight for freedom.

After Dom João IV's promise, a formal ceremony took place on December 8, 1646, where he, along with the Portuguese nobility, officially dedicated Portugal to the Immaculate Conception of Mary. December 8th became a national holiday known as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Portugal won the war, and never lost a battle. The king offered the saint his crown, and no Portuguese monarch ever wore a crown again. So, it goes beyond religion to a spirit of independence and self worth that still defines the Portuguese state. It symbolizes hope in the aftermath of a war of restoration. A miracle attributed to divine intervention, and a promise that Portugal would never lose its freedom again.

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