To sanction the special bond uniting pilgrims to the Holy Land and its inhabitants, in 1901, Pope Leo XIII wanted to bless and encourage pilgrims along their path with a decoration, a medal in the shape of the Cross of the Holy Land, which is still given today to those who make the holy journey. As well as being a sign, the decoration is a gesture: apart from pilgrims on foot, or some people that the Custos wants to thank for their devotion to the service of the Holy Land, it is actually the pilgrims themselves who purchase this Decoration.
“Purchasing” the medal lets the Custody economically help the poor and sick of the Holy Land, offering all these donations to the poor.
The hope is that this decoration can remind the pilgrim of what the Holy Land teaches, the graces received, the encounters he has had and remind him that the Lord himself asks him: “Set me as a seal on your heart, as a seal on your arm” (Song of Songs 8, 6).
The medal of Pope Leo XIII: a sign of the Holy journey to Jerusalem
You come to the Holy Land to walk where Christ’s feet trod and where he lived, died and was resurrected!
You come to the Holy Land to confess and confirm your faith in the Son of God!
You come to the Holy Land to support the Christians who live here and await the prayers of pilgrims and their support to feel part of that one living Church!
Visits to the Holy Places began, as Saint Jerome’s expression would have it, with the Ascension of Our Lord.
The pilgrimage movement was particularly strong toward the middle of the 19th century. Since then, in spite of the events that regularly shake the country, the faithful still come to the Holy Land on foot, by bike, in ships, by plane…
At the beginning of the 20th century, Leon XIII, who blessed and encouraged pilgrims in their undertaking, also wanted to give them evidence of his approval in a way that would also be a special, personal souvenir of their voyage. To this end, he instituted a religious medal or decoration by a decree dated May 2, 1901
- This is the manner in which it should be struck
- A medal for today
- Meditation on the Holy Places
Decree of the Holy Congregation of Propaganda
In the midst of the cruel disquietudes to which the Church is subject in our time, Divine Providence, in its most bountiful counsel, takes care to provide the opportune remedy and, by its new growth, to give the faith unfailing vigor. It is not without reason that among the indices of this renewed growth of Christian piety, in recent times one notes a renaissance of zeal for venerating, one by one, by means of devout pilgrimages, the most holy places of Christianity. These religious manifestations are of particular character that is no longer isolated, but relates to numerous groups, taking place under the rules of a certain discipline that undertaken by these virtuous pilgrimages.
Chief among these sanctuaries, the Holy Places of Palestine impose themselves with a special force, these places that by his Incarnation, by the mysteries of his mortal life, by the bloody sacrifice of his death and by his glorious Resurrection, were sanctified by the only Son of God. It would be impossible, in fact, piously to visit these blessed Places without drawing from them an abundance of the fruits of salvation. In their regard is released a pious virtue that impresses itself upon hearts, revives to an extraordinary degree the sweetest memories of the Redemption of man, and gives birth to an irresistible desire to lead a way of life that conforms more closely to the examples and the holy teachings of Christ the Redeemer.
Moved by these motivations, the Sovereign Pontiff Leo XIII gloriously reigning, by virtue of his apostolic charge, embraces with attentive solicitude all those who belong to this growth of the religion, and resolves to encourage the salutary zeal that impels the undertaking of the voyage to Palestine. To this effect, by a decree, the execution of which he confided to the Holy Congregation of Propaganda, he instituted a decoration intended to perpetuate among the pious visitors to the Holy Land the memory and the fruits of their pilgrimage.
The decoration shall take the form of the cross referred to as the Cross of Jerusalem.
On the front, at the point of intersection of the arms, a small likeness of Leon XIII is sculpted with this inscription: LEO XIII CREAVIT ANNO MCM (Translation: Leon XIII created in 1900). In the crossbars are represented the mysteries of the Annunciation, the Nativity of Our Lord, his Baptism and the Eucharist; these words are read: CHRISTI AMOR CRUCIFIXI TRAXIT NOS (Translation: Christ’s love attracted us).
On the other side, in the center, is the image of the Risen Christ; In the crossbars: The Savior praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, flagellated, crowned with thorns and attached to the cross.
In the circumference: SIGNUM SACRI ITINERIS HIEROSOLYMITANI (Sign of the holy voyage of Jerusalem).
This insignia will be worn on the chest, on the left side. It will be suspended from a ribbon of red silk with four blue stripes in the middle; on the edges at each side will run a white band broken by a dark yellow bar.
These crosses will be in bronze, silver or gold. They will be awarded to each according to the rank he occupies in the world or in pilgrimage direction: one will also consider services rendered to the Holy Places. Two pilgrimages will give the right to a silver cross.
Conferment of the insignia belongs to the office of the Custos of the Holy Land resident at Jerusalem. It is he who presents it, with a certificate, in the name of the Sovereign Pontiff. The decoration will be given without ceremony to individual pilgrims, publicly and solemnly to large groups.
To be eligible, one must equip himself with a certificate from his parish pastor, endorsed by the Ordinary. The certificate should attest to the morality of the candidate and affirm that it was a pious motive that led him to undertake his voyage.
One should further remit to the hands of the Father Custos the sum of ten francs for the maintenance of the Holy Places, in addition to the price of the cross.
This decoration may not be worn except in religious solemnities, processions or pilgrimages, or in the presence of the Sovereign Pontiff.
By mandate of His Holiness, this present decree is to be signed, despite any contrary disposition.
- Given at Rome, in the Palace of the Holy Congregation of Propaganda
- M. Card. Lecochowsky- Louis Veccia Sec.
By mandate of His Holiness, this present decree is to be signed, despite any contrary disposition. Given at Rome, in the Palace of the Holy Congregation of Propaganda, on the second day of May 1901.
Most Reverend Father,
Desirous of augmenting the number of pious pilgrimages that, with such great profit for souls, the faithful accomplish to the sanctuaries of the Holy Land, the Sovereign Pontiff has deigned to institute a special medal or commemorative cross that will be given exclusively to pilgrims to Palestine, both men and women.
It is to your Reverence that the distribution is confided. Enclosed herewith I send you the decree of institution of this pious insignia, as well as the rules relative to its award and the certificate that it incorporates.
I send you, as well, one such medal, conformant to the model approved by His Holiness, as well as a copy of the catalogue of prices established by the goldsmith who executed the decoration and preserved the die.
Finally, every year, Your Reverence will be so kind as to address to the undersigned Congregation a report of the amount of alms that the distribution of these medals will have caused for the Holy Land, as well as of the number of pilgrims who received it.
In conclusion, I pray the Lord to guard you and to accord you all kinds of felicity.
Your most devoted servant,
- M. Card. Ledochowsky
- Louis Veccia, sec.
In the twenty-first century, the idea of a decoration might seem reserved to soldiers or to a few important personages honoured for services rendered to their country or for their work in such varied fields as science, art, performing arts, etc.
A pilgrim’s decoration: what does it mean today?
I. A Sign
“You shall also make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, as on a seal engraving, ‘Sacred to the Lord’” (Exodus 28:36). In this chapter alone, there are five occurrences of the word “engrave”… But throughout Scripture, the Lord invites mankind to commemorate his acts by engraving.
It is, therefore, an ancient gesture to engrave an object to keep as a memory, to have under one’s eyes a sign or symbol of what has been accomplished.
Holy Land pilgrim, what should be commemorated?
CHRISTI AMOR CRUCIFIXI TRAXIT NOS : Christ’s love attracted us. These words, engraved on the face, are part of the same breath as those of Saint Paul declaring to the Corinthians: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).
A pilgrimage to the Holy Land is just that: a confession of faith in Christ dead and resurrected in this country that he travelled.
Signum sacri itineris Hierosolymitani: Symbol of the holy voyage to Jerusalem.
The decoration, therefore, is the visible sign of a lived reality that remains engraved in the pilgrim’s heart. Each of the scenes represented on the medal evokes for him a place, a particular prayer, people encountered. As the pilgrim walked, he allowed the Word of God to touch him.
With the prophet Isaiah, he remembers that, “Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me; the Lord has abandoned me.’ Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name; your walls are ever before me” (Isaiah 49:14-16).
The Holy Land, engraved on the heart, engraved on the palms of the hands, engraved on a medal, is a symbol for the pilgrim, but also for those whom he meets after the pilgrimage, which is never really finished. “Engrave on your heart these words which I enjoin on you today. Teach them to your children. Speak of them at home and abroad.” (Deut. 6:6-7).
Today more than ever, Holy Land Christians are waiting for support: first spiritually, in praying with them, in not forgetting them, they who perpetuate here the Tradition of a living Church, by making their situation known. Coming here is already a way of helping them by favouring the country’s economy and with it, jobs.
Obtaining the decoration of Holy Land pilgrims attests further to this relationship that is created between the pilgrim and the residents of the country he visited. “These brothers who live where Jesus lived and who, gathered around the Holy Places, are the successors of the ancient, the very first Church, which gave birth to all the other Churches, have precious merit before God and we have a great spiritual debt to them; they participate daily and in a very special way in the suffering of Christ […]. If their presence were to end, the warmth of a living witness extended to the sanctuaries, and the Christian Holy Places of Jerusalem and Palestine would become like museums.” These words of Paul VI are astoundingly real today.
II. A Gesture
A sign, the decoration is also a gesture. With the exception of pilgrims who arrive on foot and a few people whom the Custody would like to thank for their devoted service to the Holy Land, it is the pilgrims who purchase the decoration.
The money thus obtained is more evidence of the concern the pilgrim has for the Holy Land and for the Living Stones who live in it. The money is used at the discretion of the Custody to proffer aid to the poor and the ill. Every year, the entirety of these donations is spent on the needy.
III. Conditions of Acquisition
The condition required by the decree (a certificate from the pastor of the parish) is no longer required, but the decoration is never sent; it must be collected at the Secretariat of the Custody, where the names of the beneficiaries are inscribed.
Like a seal on your heart
May this object remind the pilgrim of what the Holy Land teaches, of the graces he received there, of the meetings he enjoyed and of this memorial that the Lord himself asks of him: “Set me as a seal on your heart, as a seal on your arm” (Sg. 8:6).
“I come to these places that He filled with Himself once and for all time. […] O Place! How many times will you be transformed before, from being His place, you become mine! When He filled you for the first time, you were not yet an external place, only the womb of his Mother. […] A meeting with You through the stone that your Mother’s foot tread!
O earthly place, place of the Holy Land – what place are you in me? That is why I cannot tread on you, I must kneel. Kneeling, I confirm that you were a place of meeting. I kneel, and thus I engrave my seal.
You will stay here with my seal – you will stay, yes, you stay, and I will take you with me and transform you into a place of new testimony.”
John Paul II,
- in his letter on pilgrimage to the places of Salvation,
- June 1999.