A week today, on the feast of Christ the King, the Holy Father will close the Sancta Porta, the great Holy Door, at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome – after this, the Door will be bricked up again until the next Jubilee is called. However, the fruits of this particular Jubilee will live on. And the Holy Father has unveiled a very tangible reminder of this Jubilee of Mercy – a large mediaeval Crucifix.
The Crucifix dates back to the 14th Century, sculpted by an artist whose name has long been forgotten. What is known, is that this Crucifix is the oldest Crucifix in the Vatican – it once hung in the original Saint Peter’s Basilica, moving to the current Basilica when it opened in 1620.
Over the intervening centuries, the location of the Crucifix changed several times – indeed, it was moved in 1749 to make way for Michelangelo’s famous ‘Pieta’ – and it slowly moving further away from the commonly-trod paths and further into the shadows, even though the Crucifix had once been a great focus of the devotion of the faithful. Finally, it was taken down and almost forgotten about. Most recently, it had lain behind an elevator shaft connecting the Apostolic Palace to the Basilica.
Various documents gives glimpses into it’s history, and more has been revealed during the pains-taking efforts to restore it in preparation for the Year of Mercy. That work has now been completed and the ancient Corpus now rests on a newly carved Cross of walnut wood, and a real Crown of Thorns now encircles the head of Christ.
Finally, the Crucifix was revealed to the public on 6th November 2016, the Jubilee for Prisoners. At the Vatican this morning, Pope Francis celebrated Mass for the homeless and dispossessed and again, the beautiful Crucifix was on prominent display.
At the conclusion of the Jubilee Year, the Crucifix will be moved to a new and permanent location – within the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, a part of the Basilica which is in constant use by the public, who will see it to the left as they enter, meaning that the face of Christ, close to death, will gaze down upon them as they enter. Cardinal Comastri has noted that the dedication and placing of the Crucifix here is intended to make it a “perpetual memory of the Jubilee of Mercy”.
I hope that in the years to come, all who look upon this ancient Crucifix will be touched by the memory of Mercy and of this Jubilee Year.