Stephen Townsend

Deputy Head of Mission, British Embassy to the Holy See

Guest blogger for Nigel Baker

Part of UK in Holy See

10th December 2015

Entering the Holy Door of Mercy

St Peter's square, Vatican
Pilgrims’ walkway to the Holy Door at St. Peter’s at dawn.

Pope Francis formally inaugurated the Holy Year of Mercy in Rome when he opened the Holy Door at St Peter’s Basilica on 8 December.  He was the first through the Door, followed by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and the assembled throngs of cardinals, bishops and clergy.  We diplomats were also fortunate enough to be allowed to enter through the Door as well, as you might have seen from our live tweets sharing this experience.

But for those pilgrims making their way to Rome, planning to enter through the Holy Door of St Peter’s, what are the practical arrangements?  I decided to follow the procedure to find out.

Pilgrims planning to go through the Holy Door of St Peter’s should make a reservation on-line, through the official web-site (under Pilgrim Registration).  It is a three stage process – in the first you are asked for the name of the group, where you are from and contact details for group leaders (these pages are in Italian but is fairly easy to work out – the UK is under “Regno Unito”).  People travelling on their own should register under “singolo”.  The second stage will ask you to set a password, and the third will give you the option to reserve a date and time (either morning or afternoon).  At each stage you will be sent an e-mail with details to move on to the next page.  After completing the third stage, you will receive an e-mail a day or so before to give the exact time of start – make sure that you print off this ticket.  All this is only for the Holy Door at St Peter’s – when the other Basilicas (St John Lateran, St Mary Major and St Paul’s Outside the Walls) open their doors, there will be no need to reserve ahead of time.

If you have not booked before arriving in Rome, there is an office open at Via della Conciliazione 7 where you can make reservations.

The entry to the pilgrimage is in front of Castel Sant’Angelo, and there is a walkway down Via della Conciliazione to the edge of St Peter’s Square.  Look for the volunteers in their yellow bibs who can guide you in the right direction.  You  will have to show your reservation and you may be asked for identification, so please make sure that you have it to hand.  Once you get to St Peter’s Square there is another check of the reservation and identification, then you are directed to the metal detectors (I suggest that you think of it as similar to the airport – do not take large bags or liquids through).  After that it is a straight walk through the Square along the path which takes you directly to the Holy Door.

If you want a permanent record, you can get a testimonium from the office at Via della Conciliazione 7 after the pilgrimage.  This appears to be the only place which is authorised to issue them.

It is interesting how people approach the Holy Door in different ways.  Some stand for a few seconds in quiet contemplation, some groups go through singing, some kiss the Door or the crosses affixed to the sides.  It is a very personal moment. As Pope Francis said at yesterday’s General Audience, “mercy can really contribute to building a more human world”.

3 comments on “Entering the Holy Door of Mercy

  1. Me and my two sister want tickets for the closing ceremony of holy door in November 2016 in Rome to witness mass how can we get the tickets please

  2. Fantastic I hope to be out with our Diocese later in the year but it just highlights the significance of what you are doing amny thanks for this

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About Nigel Baker

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as…

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as Deputy Head of Mission in the British Embassy in Havana, Cuba (2003-6) and then as British Ambassador in La Paz, Bolivia (2007-11). In July 2016, Nigel finished his posting, and is currently back in London.

As the first British Ambassador to the Holy See ever to have a blog, Nigel provided a regular window on what the Embassy and the Ambassador does. The blogs covered a wide range of issues, from Royal and Ministerial visits to Diplomacy and Faith, freedom of religion, human trafficking and climate change.

More on Nigel’s career

Nigel was based in London between 1998 and 2003. He spent two years on European Union issues (for the UK 1998 EU Presidency and on European Security and Defence questions), before crossing St James’s Park to work for three years as The Assistant Private Secretary to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. At St James’s Palace, Nigel worked on international issues, including the management of The Prince of Wales’s overseas visits and tours, on the Commonwealth, interfaith issues, the arts and international development.

Nigel spent much of the early part of his FCO career in Central Europe, after an initial stint as Desk Officer for the Maghreb countries in the Near East and North Africa department (1990-91). Between 1992 and 1996, Nigel served in the British embassies in Prague and Bratislava, the latter being created in 1993 after the peaceful division of Czechoslovakia into the separate Czech and Slovak Republics.

Nigel joined the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) in September 1989. Between 1996 and 1998 he took a two year academic sabbatical to research and write about themes in 18th century European history, being based in Verona but also researching in Cambridge, Paris and Naples. The research followed from Nigel’s time as a student at Cambridge (1985-88) where he read history and was awarded a First Class Honours degree, followed by his MA in 1992.

Before joining the Foreign Office, Nigel worked briefly for the Conservative Research Department in London at the time of the 1989 European election campaign.

Nigel married Alexandra (Sasha) in 1997. They have one son, Benjamin, born in Bolivia in September 2008.

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