Pope Boniface VIII Proclaims a Jubilee Year, fresco by Giotto, St John Lateran
In the Roman Catholic Church, a Jubilee Year, also known as a Holy Year, is held once every twenty-five years. It is a year when the Pope grants a special indulgence to members of the faith who visit various holy sites in Rome.
The first Jubilee was proclaimed in 1300 by Pope Boniface VIII (r. 1294-1303) with the Bull Antiquorum Habet Fida Relatio. Pope Boniface VIII granted plenary indulgences for pilgrims who visited the tombs of St Peter and St Paul.
The Jubilee has its origins in the Old Testament. The Law of Moses prescribed a special year for the Jewish people: 'You shall hallow the fiftieth year and proclaim the liberty throughout the land, to all its inhabitants; it shall be a jubilee for you when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his family. This fiftieth year is to be a jubilee year for you: you will not sow, you will not harvest the un-gathered corn, you will not gather the untrimmed vine. The jubilee is to be a holy thing to you, you will eat what comes from the fields', (Book of Leviticus 25: 10-14). The trumpet with which this particular year was announced was a goat's horn called a Yobel in Hebrew, which is the origin of the word Jubilee.
Pope Boniface VIII declared that there should be a Jubilee every 100 years; In 1350 Pope Clement VI, from his exile in Avignon, declared there should be a Jubilee once every 50 years, in accordance with Old Testament tradition. In 1390 Boniface IX declared a Jubilee every 33 years in deference to Christ’s life. In 1450 Nicolas V declared there should be a Jubilee once every 25 years so that every generation should benefit from the grace of the celebrations and associated indulgences. By this time, two other churches had been added, namely San Giovanni in Laterano and Santa Maria Maggiore. This custom has remained ever since, although extraordinary Jubilees have also been held to celebrate special events or purposes.