The following commentary is from the EWTN series, The Papacy: A Living History, The Papal Artifacts Collection of Father Richard Kunst. It is from the first episode of Season 2: The Canonization of Pope John Paul the Great. A DVD of Season 2 will be available from EWTN in 2015.
The commentary provided here is a compilation of the conversation between Father Richard Kunst, the Papal Artifacts’ Expert, and his co-host, Father Ryan Moravitz. This particular commentary primarily involves information about Pope John Paul’s Extraordinary Holy Year, 1983. We have added it to this item since both bricks are mentioned in the commentary.
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 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.