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.
Holy Year bricks are quite prized, ornate and large with symbols of the papacy on them.
You may view several different ones from different papacies in the Collection.