Anniversaries of dedications were celebrated in the Vatican Basilica of Saint Peter and in the Basilica of Saint Paul on the Ostian Way as early as the 12th century. The two basilicas had been completed under Popes Sylvester and Siricius in the 4th century. More recently this commemoration was extended to the entire Latin Rite.
We honor the two princes of Christ’s apostles.
We know that at the beginning of his pontificate, really early on, John Paul II viewed his pontificate as the gateway to the new millennium and the Jubilee Year, 2000. During his pontificate, because it was so long, he had two Holy Years: he had an “extraordinary year” in 1983 to mark the 1,950th anniversary of the Crucifixion. Then he also had the Jubilee Year of 2000. And, of course, you know that the emblem of the Holy Year is the Holy Door. This is a brick from the Holy Door, 1975, which would have been in the Holy Year door until 1983. And then in 1983, they would have taken those bricks out, but this brick is significant, because it’s from the first Holy Year of Pope John Paul II.
In the Collection, there is also one from the next Holy Year, 2000. And along with that, these holy bricks that are quite hard to obtain, are even harder to obtain in their original boxes. The boxes have all the original information about what the particular Holy Year represents and what years the brick was in the Holy Door in Saint Peter’s Basilica.
Bricks are actually an historical marker of pilgrimage, of the call to pilgrimage, which also models our pilgrimage to eternal life. So the reason we pilgrimage is to grow closer to the Lord and to remember ultimately, the journey to heaven. So this marks an historic moment in the Church when John Paul II called us to celebrate and to make pilgrimage, in particular, to Rome, and to the tomb of Saint Peter.
The Holy Year was actually established in the year 1300 by Pope Boniface VIII, and he did it with the whole purpose of pilgrimage.
The cynical side of that is he did it, because he also knew there would be monetary benefit from it. But the spiritual point of it was that we are on pilgrimage to the threshold of the tombs of the apostles, Peter and Paul. And so, we see something like this brick as a tangible reminder of the pilgrimage that John Paul II called us to in the year, 1983.
Holy Year bricks are used to seal the Holy Year Doors between Jubilees at the four major basilicas in Rome. Since the Collection shows several Holy Year Bricks, this one was left in its box to show how it was given.
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 by typing the title, Holy Year Bricks into the Search space. Additionally, the Glossary gives information about Holy Years and Holy Doors.
A Unique Addition to the Papal Artifacts Collection
In 1994 a portion of the floor of St. Peter’s Basilica was removed to allow for the coat of arms of Pope John Paul II to be inserted in this area. Father Kunst was a seminarian then and his classmate, studying in Rome, befriended some of the workers and as a result secured this portion of flooring for this Collection.
This renovation occurred during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II.
This artifact is one of the earliest picture books created in the late 1700’s.
It contains 100 copper engravings. Among these engravings is one of St. Paul Outside the Walls, one of the four major basilicas in Rome, prior to the 1823 fire when it burned to the ground.
For that reason alone, the book is of special interest and value.
A Note about Pope Pius VII & St. Paul Outside the Walls
In the summer of 1823, Pius VII broke his leg and was unable to recover from the wound. Two weeks earlier, a fire had devastated his beloved church, St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, the abbey where he had both studied and taught in his younger years. He was not even told of the fire and died in August. He was buried in a mausoleum erected by Thorwaldsen in St. Peter’s Basilica.