A Holy Door is a door to a Catholic church that grants to those who pass through it a plenary indulgence. This means they are absolved of all of their sins. In addition to walking through the door, the person seeking absolution must also attend confession, receive Holy Communion, and recite the Creed. Finally, they must pray for the Pope and for their intentions. Once this is done, the person is forgiven for all of their sins. They will be able to enter Heaven without having to go to Purgatory first.
There are many Holy Doors around the world. Some have been Holy Doors for hundreds of years, others are granted this status for special reasons. For example, in 2016 for the Holy Year of Mercy, each Roman Catholic diocese throughout the world designated one or more local Holy Doors. This meant that people could gain indulgences without having to travel all the way to Rome.
The Holy Door of Santiago Cathedral
You will find Santiago’s Holy Door situated on the façade of the cathedral that faces the Quintana square. It is beautifully decorated but fairly small and humble.
When it is not a Holy Year the door is protected by iron gates and is walled shut. Knocking down the wall is part of the ritual which signifies the beginning of the Holy Year.
Holy Years occur every 50 years, though special Holy Years can be declared by the Pope at any time. There are also Camino Holy Years every time the feast of St James (25 July) falls on a Sunday.
The ritual is performed by the Archbishop of Compostela, who strikes the wall with a silver hammer. He will then ‘clean’ the area with oil and olive branches before entering through the door.
It is said that the pieces of the wall are good luck, so many people will try to find a piece.
In a standard Holy Year the door will be opened on the 31st of December of the year before the Holy Year and closed on the 31st of December of the Holy Year.
Closing the Holy Door in Santiago is also part of a ritual. There is incense, prayer, and the blessing of new stones which will block the door until it is opened again.
The Holy Door of St Peter’s Basilica
The Holy Door of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome is also only open during a Holy Year (Jubilee). Usually, these occur every 25 years, aside from Extraordinary Jubilees. The last normal jubilee was in 2000.
The Holy Door at St Peter’s is opened by the Pope. On the first day of a holy year, the Pope strikes the brick wall with a silver hammer and opens it to the pilgrims. The ceremony is similar to the one in Santiago.
There are other basilicas in Rome with Holy Doors. St. John Lateran, St. Paul Outside the Walls and the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore all have Holy Doors that are walled up outside of Holy Years.
Other Holy Doors
All Diocesan Cathedrals will have a door that they open during a Holy Year as their Holy Door. In 2016 these doors were opened to grant indulgence to people around the world.
In Dublin, where Follow the Camino is based, we had several Holy Doors opened for the 2016 Holy Year. You can visit these Holy Doors at St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Our Lady of Lourdes Church, the Church of St. Francis Xavier, the Parish Church of Sts. Peter and Mary, and the House of Mercy.
In London, Westminster Cathedral opened a Holy Door, as did many other cathedrals around the UK.
In New York City, the Cathedral of St. Patrick, the National Shrine of St. Gennaro, and the Shrine of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini also opened Holy Doors of Mercy.
The Myeong-dong Cathedral, Yakhyeon Church, Saenamteo Shrine, Jeoldusan Martyrs’ Shrine, and Armed Forces Central Cathedral in Seoul, South Korea had Holy Doors too.
These are just a small selection of the Holy Doors of Mercy that were opened for the 2016 Year of Mercy. You can find more of them here.
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Originally published on 5th April 2020, updated on