Pope Pius XI: 1925 Holy Year Souvenir of Hand Soap in a Carrying Case in the Form of a Book
There are tons of gift shops all around St. Peter’s Basilica. In fact, gift shops may be the fourth most popular place at the Vatican. This item is something you would have bought probably at one of the little shops that would have been around in 1925 and was done as a souvenir to commemorate the Holy Year of 1925.
I have several unique souvenirs in this Collection, all of which show the enormous interest by the people visiting Rome during both Holy Years and at other times.
This particular item is hand soap in a carrying case that has been made to look like a book, and it is packed with details. The cover of the “book” depicts an image of a holy door inscribed with the words of Psalm 119: 19—“Aperite mihi portas iustitiae:” Open to me the gates of justice.
At the top of the case Pope Paul V (1605-1621) is noted.
Inside the carrying case, a picture of Pius XI, convener of the Holy Year, is shown.
On the back of the case is an image of a pilgrim who has journeyed to Rome to celebrate the Holy Year. With his staff in hand and a satchel on his arm, he is ready to partake of the many activities of which he can avail himself while there.
Finally, these two images on the front and back covers are replicated on the soap itself.
All of this attention to detail is present in this souvenir of soap which adds to the living history of the papacy. It is truly a unique item to have as part of this collection. —Father Richard Kunst
The Tradition of Holy Years in the Catholic Church
In the Catholic tradition a Holy Year, or Jubilee Year, is a great religious event, a year of reconciliation and forgiveness. It dates to biblical times and was evident even in the Law of Moses where it was celebrated every fifty years.
Holy years are marked with much pomp and ceremony by the Vatican. There are specific Holy Doors at each of the four main basilicas, and they are marked by the Holy Year bricks which are ceremoniously removed, using a special hammer, before the pope can walk through the Holy Door to signify the start of the Holy Year. This hammer, a replica of the one used by the Pope, is a souvenir item that can be purchased in Rome during the time of these great festivals.
There are four major basilicas in Rome, each having a Holy Door. They are St. Peter’s, St. Mary Major, St. John Lateran and St. Paul Outside the Walls. These doors are normally sealed shut from the inside and cannot be opened until the Holy Year. Holy Doors are sealed shut with Holy Year Bricks. Upon opening the door at the start of the Holy Year, great ceremony is attached to the removal of these bricks.
Pilgrims flock to Rome during these Jubilees that occur every twenty-five years.
Great pomp and ceremony is connected to these bricks. In earlier times, the pope would literally take a hammer to smash through the bricks. Crowds gathered to watch this ceremony and to collect pieces of the bricks as souvenirs or relics of the Holy Year. This practice, however, became dangerous as people were killed attempting to grab the bricks.
Eventually that practice ended and the bricks are now removed in advance and distributed to people working at the Vatican.