The following commentary is from the EWTN series, The Papacy: A Living History, The Papal Artifacts Collection of Father Richard Kunst. The Holy Year Brick from 1775 was featured on the fifth episode of the series, Popes of the 17th Century and Earlier.
Here is Father’s Commentary:
The Collection has several Holy Year bricks, and this one is from 1775. If you remember, we talked about Holy Years occurring traditionally every 25 years and the Holy Year bricks actually brick up and block the holy doors in the various churches, especially St. Peter’s Basilica and the other basilicas around Rome.
This one is unique because of its age–from the Holy Year of 1775–which is actually 50 years older than the oldest one on display in the Vatican Museum. So what we’re seeing here is a very old example of this ancient tradition of blocking up the Holy Doors with these very ornate bricks.
In the Collection I have a number of these bricks, which are highly prized, ornate bricks that have the image of the tiara and cross-keys, the year, and the initials of the basilica foundry. I have about fifteen of these from the four major basilicas in Rome.
Other information about Holy Year Bricks:
It is impossible to go through the Holy Door in the Holy Year until these bricks are removed. Traditionally, in the early years of this practice, the pope would literally take a hammer and smash through the bricks. There would be a whole crowd of people gathered to grab portions of the bricks, either broken pieces or whole bricks. These would be considered mementos or relics of the Holy Year.
Smashing the bricks became quite dangerous for the pope as well as for the pilgrims. Many people got injured, and some people even died. So the church changed this practice by removing these bricks in advance, before they opened the door. Then they would be distributed to the people who were working at the Vatican.
These bricks are quite prized and very large and ornate with the image of the cross-keys and the tiara as well as the initials of the foundry of St. Peter’s Basilica.
The year was also included on the bricks.