Holy Doors of Mercy, II

A couple of months ago, I posted a reflection on my experiences of walking through different Holy Doors during this extraordinary Jubilee Year.  I wondered what experiences others were having with the opened Holy Doors, which the U.S. Bishops had described as “one of the central components of the Jubilee of Mercy.”  I have now walked through two more Holy Doors, on two different continents, and my initial impression of the incredible diversity of expressions has only been confirmed.  Here are my two most recent experiences:

In terms both of context and content, the spiritually richest Holy Door was the one at the Cathedral of Speyer, in Germany.  The richness of the experience was due in part to the fact that this sanctuary is not only an ecclesial but also a culturally very prominent space.  Its full title, The Romanesque Imperial Cathedral Basilica of Speyer, points to the fact that the church is both the cathedral church of the bishop of Speyer and also a UNESCO world heritage site.  The door designated as the Holy Door at the Cathedral Basilica was one of the side doors, thus distinguishing this entry from the main tourist entry into the sanctuary.  The door was marked with banners, lights, and flower – all things I had witnessed in other cathedrals.  What distinguished this one was the thoughtfulness and care that had been taken to enable pilgrims who had walked through the Holy Door to continue to walk through the inside of the cathedral in meditative pilgrimage.  An attractive leaflet with contemplative texts and beautiful images guided this “journey of mercy” through the sanctuary, with stops at the baptismal font, the Romanesque nave, the statue of Mary, the main altar, and, finally, a corner of the church where one could linger, write a prayer on a piece of paper and pin it to a wall, or request a conversation with a priest.

My most recent walk through a Holy Door was spiritually compelling and moving for very different reasons.  I visited the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston last month, and walked through its Holy Door of Mercy.  This too was a side door, marked with banners, flowers, and lights.  Was made the visit so compelling was not so much the visuality of the Holy Door or the walk through the sanctuary (as beautiful as both are), but the fact that I learned of the unfolding mass shooting in Munich through a text alert on my smartphone while in the Cathedral.  Seeking mercy – especially for all those affected by this senseless mass killing – and walking through the Holy Doors with a feeling of carrying people on my back, gave this visit an unexpected urgency and depth.

If you have not walked through a Holy Door of Mercy and wish to before these doors are closed in late November, the Vatican website provides an interactive Google map that shows all the Holy Doors around the world (or at least all those that have been registered with the Vatican).


  1. I guess this (humorous) question should be filed under the ‘wit’ bit of ‘Worship, wit and wisdom’ …

    Are holy doors properly opened from the outside in or from the inside out ? A picture of the Bishop of this Diocese (Portsmouth, UK) opening the Holy Door in his Cathedral Church last Lent suggests that he was opening it from within.

    Alan Griffiths

  2. While looking at the interactive Google map it was fascinating to note that the number of Holy Doors dramatically decreased as you move farther west. Is that simply because many places never registered with the Vatican?

    1. @Ron Jones:
      Ron, the only reason I can think of (beyond the one you mentioned) is that in Europe, dioceses tend to be very small, geographically (for historical reasons), which means we have many dioceses all crammed together on the continent — and thus far more Holy Doors than dioceses that are geographically spread out. Moreover, many European dioceses also have ancient places of pilgrimage beyond the Cathedral, and some of these places have Holy Doors. If I remember correctly, in the diocese of Speyer, for example, there are three Holy Doors in addition to the one at the Cathedral.

  3. I certainly don’t pretend to understand the process by which Holy Doors were designated. In the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, I believe that we have been told that the Cathedral of St. Peter in Chains, Cincinnati, is a Holy Door site. It didn’t appear on the Google map when I checked. A number of pilgrimage sites throughout the Archdiocese were also designated, each with their own Holy Doors. None appear on the map. ????

  4. I inquired with a nearby parish which had been designated one of the Holy Door sites. As all of their other doors are designated as emergency exits, their Holy Door doubles as the front door. 🙂 I also learned that, at the time I talked to them (back in the spring), mine was the first inquiry they had had. They really had no program planned around it, e.g. to allow pilgrims to obtain a plenary indulgence.

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