The Holy Door (St. Peter’s Basilica)

All the four papal basilicas in Rome have what is known as a holy door. These doors are normally shut from the inside and cannot be easily opened; they are only opened during Jubilee years. When you enter St. Peter’s Basilica, the last door to the right hand side is the Holy Door. The door is bricked up on the inside. On the first day of the Holy Year (Jubilee Year), the pope strikes the brick wall with a hammer and then opens the door to let in the pilgrims who come to make the most of the indulgence. Once again, it is the pope himself who closes the door at the end of the Jubilee Year. The tradition of the opening and closing of the Holy door can be traced back as far as the 15th Century.

According to the Roman Catholic Church, the Holy Door represents Jesus, the Good Shepherd and the gate of the sheep pen. The bible says in John 10:9 that “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me, will be safe. He will go in and out, and find pasture”. The Jubilee Year is celebrated every 25 years, meaning that the Holy Door is opened every 25 years. The Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica was last opened by Pope John Paul II on 24th December 1999, when he simplified the ceremony for the Jubilee Year in 2000.

Above St. Peter’s Basilica Holy Door, there are two marble memorial plates which commemorate the last two times when the door was opened. It is Pope John Paul II who opened the door during the last two celebrations of the Jubilee Year, thus both plates show that the door was opened and closed by him. The St. Peter’s Basilica Holy Door was closed last on the 6th of January 2001.

Other churches besides St. Peter’s Basilica which have a Holy Door include: St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls and Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

The Holy door was cast in bronze by Vico Consorti in 1950. Before that, the Holy Door used to be wooden. The Holy Door is 3.65m by 2.30m. This “Holy Door” is also known as “Door of the Great Pardon”. The door’s panels portray scenes of man’s sin and his redemption through the mercy of God:

Jesus opens the door of new life to the woman who is sinful but can love. Jesus tells Peter that one must forgive seventy times seven times.Through baptism, Jesus permits us to join his People; he comes to seek us when we go astray, just as a shepherd goes to look for his lost sheep; he welcomes us at the door just as the father welcomes the prodigal son.

The Holy Door symbolizes redemption of man’s sins and starting a new life. Definitely a door that remains closed for more than twenty years is not an ordinary door. The next time you visit Rome, spare some time to go and see the Holy Door and if you can ,try to be there when it is next opened in 2025.