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The Holy Door of Santiago

The Holy Door of Santiago

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The Holy Door of the Cathedral of Santiago is a symbol of the Holy Year and the Camino de Santiago itself.

Entering the Cathedral of Santiago for the first time after travelling a long way is always something special for pilgrims. But there is something that can make it an even more special experience: being able to cross through the Holy Door, a door that only opens under exceptional circumstances and that will do so on 2021. Today we tell you about what the Holy Door is, as well as its origin and meaning.

What is a Holy Door?

If you're not familiar with the subject, this might be the first question to pop into your head. It makes sense, seeing as it's not usually talked about unless it's open to public access. And in Santiago de Compostela this occurs at least every 5 years.

A Holy Door is basically the door to a Catholic church that grants to those who pass through it plenary indulgence, i.e., the absolution of all of their sins.

The Holy Door is sealed from the inside so that it can not be opened from the outside. This only occurs during Jubilee years, when pilgrims pass through its doors and get rid of all evil.

Receiving this indulgence is not just a matter of physically passing through a door; it is also necessary to confess, receive Holy Communion, recite the Creed and pray for the Pope and for your intentions.

Once this is done, the person is forgiven for all of his or her sins, and will be able to enter Heaven without having to go to Purgatory first.

The Holy Door at the Cathedral of Santiago is the most well known amongst pilgrims doing any of the Jacobean Routes. But it is not the only one in the world. Not even in Spain, where there is another one at the Santo Toribio de Liébana monastery.

Other Holy Doors can be found at the Papal Basilicas of Rome (St. Peter, St. John Lateran, St. Paul Outside the Walls and Santa Maria Maggiore), the Basilica of Ars (France), the Cathedral of Notre-Drame de Quebec (Canada) and the Cathedral of Bangui, in the Central African Republic.

If you made it to this point you probably picked up that it only opens at least every five years. We are referring to the Holy Door at the Cathedral of Santiago, obviously, and it has a reason.

The Holy Door of Santiago only opens during the Compostelan Holy Years, which are those years in which the feast of the Apostle Santiago (25 July) falls on a Sunday.

This occurs every five, six or eleven years, except in exceptional cases (when the last year of a century is not a leap year, which can occur every seven to twelve years).

Next year, July 25th falls on a Sunday, so we celebrate the Xacobeo 2021, a new Holy Year and, therefore, a new opportunity to pass through the Holy Door.

Origin of the Holy Door of Santiago

Puerta Santa de Santiago de Compostela

The first Compostelan Holy Year, also known as the Compostelan Jubilee Holy Year or Jacobean Holy Year, was inaugurated by Pope Calixto II in 1122 (a year in which, coincidentally, the last stone of the Cathedral of Santiago was placed).

1126 was the first year in which it was celebrated, making Santiago de Compostela the second jubilee city in the world, just behind Rome.

Later, in 1178, Pope Alexander III declared that the privilege granted by Pope Calixto II would become perpetual, which gave rise to the European-wide pilgrims through the Camino de Santiago.

It is worth mentioning that at that time the Holy Door that we know today did not exist, since it was built sometime in the first half of the sixteenth century.

Located in the plaza of A Quintana, this symbol par excellence of the Holy Years immediately spoke to the pilgrim crossing it to the main altar, where one can find the tomb of the Apostle Santiago and, on this crypt, the medieval figure that is typically embraced.

The fact that the Door was built almost 400 years after the Church granted Santiago the privilege of having a Holy Year, indicates that it is not necessary to cross the Door  to achieve plenary indulgence.

However, doing so has become a rite that symbolises the physical, emotional and spiritual culmination of the Camino that the pilgrims have travelled.

The opening of the Holy Door

Opening a Holy Door is not an everyday occurrence. To do so, the Archbishop of Compostela performs an ancient ritual that is witnessed by hundreds of faithful, pilgrims and church members.

The ritual consists of striking a wall of slabs covering the Door, placed there the day before, three times with a silver hammer.

Once the wall falls, the Archbishop cleans the perimeters of the Door with holy water and olive branches. It is he who first crosses through the Holy Door.

This ritual takes place every 31 December of the year preceding the Holy Year, so it will take place the last day of 2020.

Apertura de la Puerta Santa de Santiago

The closure of the Holy Door

The Holy Door closes on the 31 December of the Jubilee Year. If everything goes as planned, the next closing will take place the last day of 2021.

However, the Xunta de Galicia has already asked to extend the Holy Year due to the extraordinary worldwide sanitary crisis caused  by Covid-19. The Pope will have the final say as to whether he accepts or denies this unprecedented extension.  

The Holy Door with a ritual similar to that of opening it. It is again the Archbishop of Compostela who is in charge of doing so: using incense and blessing the new stones, then placing one of them on the liminal space, thus ending the Jubilee.

We hope that this article has helped you to understand the Holy Door and all of its intricacies better. And remember that it is almost time to enjoy this unique experience!


Comments
Christine Taggart
Thank you, I am saying a prayer to be able to walk through the Holy Door in 2021.
16-10-2020

Maureen
Very interesting wonderful
15-10-2020

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