What is the Pilgrim’s Medal?
The pilgrim’s cross is a medal in the shape of the Cross of the Holy Land which is still given today to everyone who makes the journey to the Holy Land and who explicitly requests it.
This religious honour was started by Pope Leo XIII in 1900, which is why it is called Pope Leo XIII’s Honour, or the Leonine Cross. The medal, which in the last century accompanied and protected the pilgrims on their homeward journey from the land of Jesus, is still an important symbol of devotion and veneration of the Holy Places today.
Thanks to the conferment of this medal, after the pilgrimage to the Holy Places and a donation, the Custody can help people in the Holy Land, by donating all the sums offered to the poor and needy in the local communities.
Pope Leo XIII’s endorsement of the pilgrims
According to St Jerome, pilgrimages to the Holy Places started immediately after the Ascension of Jesus Christ. Over the centuries, Christians wanted to visit and pray in the places where Jesus was born and lived (Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem). The Holy Land thus became a very popular destination for a pilgrimage even though it meant a complex and dangerous journey to reach it. The pilgrims often obtained, as is still the case today, ‘proof’ of their journey: small relics, a handful of earth from the places they visited, water from the River Jordan and devotional objects, considering that the pilgrimage was also in some way public proof of their piety.
The number of pilgrims to the Holy Land increased considerably, in particular towards the middle of the 19th century. Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903), who blessed and encouraged the pilgrims on their way to the Holy Places, wanted to grant a sign of his approval and, at the same time, he wanted to create a special souvenir of their journey.
This was why he established, with a Decree of 2 May 1901, the Pilgrim’s Medal, in the shape of the Jerusalem Cross, for everyone who had made the holy pilgrimage, as a visible sign of their achievement and experience which was sculpted in their hearts.
Each of the scenes shown on the medal evokes a place in the Holy Land: the hope is that this recognition can remind pilgrims what the Holy Land teaches, the graces they have received and the meetings they have had, as well as reminding them of what the Lord himself asks: “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm” (Song of Songs 8,6).
Sent to the Custos of the Holy Land, with the following letter of the Cardinal of Propaganda Fide (S. Gong. Of the Prop. Protocol no. 44275 – Rome, 10 June 1901), the measure states:
Most Reverend Father, answering the desire for the number of devotional pilgrimages by the faithful to increase more and more – with great profit for their souls - to the shrines of the Holy Land, the Sovereign Pontiff has decided to establish a special medal or commemorative cross which will be offered exclusively to the pilgrims of Palestine, both men and women. Your Reverence is entrusted with awarding this distinction.
Please find herewith enclosed the decree establishing this pious medal, together with the relative rules of conferment and the Certificate. I also enclose one of the medals, compliant with the model approved by His Holiness, and a copy of the list of price practised by the goldsmith who made the medal and keeps its master. At the end of each year, please send the Congregation the financial statement of the donations received for the medals and the number of pilgrim who have received it.
Assuring prayers to the Lord, may He preserve you and grant you every good.
You most devout servant Mons. Card. Ledochowsky and Louis Veccia, Sec.
The Most Reverend Father Custos of the Holy Land is given the right to confer this award and, on behalf of the Sovereign Pontiff, will grant the relative Certificate to the pilgrims; privately if the pilgrims are on their own, or in public and solemnly for large groups. To be awarded this sacred Honour the following conditions are required: the pilgrim must have a letter of reference from their parish priest, signed by the Ordinary, which certifies the honesty of their behaviour and that they have undertaken the pilgrimage out of devotion; the pilgrims must also leave, for the preservation of the Holy Places, a donation of ten francs, in addition to the price of the cross. This sacred Honour can be worn publicly only on religious solemnities, in processions or on pilgrimages and in the presence of the Sovereign Pontiff. Signed on the order of His Holiness. Holiness. Waiver for all contrary provisions. Given in Rome, on 2nd May 1901, in the Palace of the Holy Congregation of Propaganda Fide
Mons. Card. Lecochowsky – Louis Veccia, Sec.
Description and meaning
Today, some of the conditions required by the above Decree are no longer necessary, but some are still valid. It is still usual to wear the Pilgrim’s Medal on the left of the chest, showing that it has been conferred and a pilgrimage made, only on religious solemnities, in processions or on pilgrimages and in the presence of the Sovereign Pontiff. The sacred honour is suspended from a red silk ribbon, with four light blue stripes in the centre; a white band runs down the two edges, with a dark yellow bar.
The medal is minted in bronze, in silver or in gold-plated silver. On the front of the medal, where the arms cross, there is a small effigy of Leo XIII with the inscription Leo XIII P.M. creavit. Anno MCM (“Instituted by Pope Leo XIII in the year 1900”). Four mysteries are represented on each of the crossbars:
- The Annunciation (at the top);
- the Nativity (on the left);
- the Baptism (on the right);
- the Institution of the Eucharist (at the bottom).
Starting from the left and in a clockwise direction, there is the expression Christi Amor Crucifixi traxit nos: “The love of Christ Crucified has attracted us.” These words echo the spirit of St Paul, who said to the Corinthians: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you, except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1Cor 2,2). This is all that a pilgrimage to the Holy Land is: a confession of faith in Christ who died and rose in a Land that He crossed on foot.
On the reverse of the medal, in the centre, there is an engraved image of Christ Risen; episodes from the Passion are depicted on the crossbars:
- Jesus praying in Gethsemane (at the top);
- The Flagellation of Jesus (on the left);
- Jesus wearing the crown of thorns (on the right);
- Jesus crucified (at the bottom).
At the edges, from the left in a clockwise direction, there is the sentence Signum Sacri Itineris Hierosolymitani: “Souvenir of the pilgrimage in the Holy Land.” The medal is therefore the visible sign of an experience and which remains sculpted in the hearts of pilgrims. Each of the scenes shown evokes a place, a particular prayer and the people they met, as they walked along the roads of the Holy Land and let themselves be penetrated by the Word of God.
The medal is accompanied by a certificate in imitation parchment (about 42 cm x 30 cm).
Along the frame, made up of flowers and stylized scrolls, the following can be recognized:
- the Coat-of-arms of the Custody of the Holy Land (at the top, in the centre);
- the Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre – Jerusalem (top right);
- the Basilica of the Transfiguration – Mount Tabor (bottom right);
- the Grotto of the Nativity – Bethlehem (bottom centre);
- the Holy Cenacle – Jerusalem (top left);
- the Basilica of the Agony – Jerusalem (bottom left).
The printed phrase, all in Latin, means:
Fra X.X. ofm, Guardian of the Holy Mount Sion and of the Holy Sepulchre of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Custos of all the Holy Land and humble servant in God, to Mr [to Mrs, to Messrs] X.X., beloved by us in Christ. As, by Apostolic Authority, we have been granted the faculty of conferring on the faithful a commemorative medal of a pious pilgrimage to the Holy Places, through this recognition of honour (of bronze, silver or gold) we have decided to honour the zeal of your devotion, thanks to which you came here to venerate the Holy Monuments of human redemption, so that the fruits and the memory of this holy path you have completed may live in your heart [s] forever.
Given in Jerusalem on the … day of the month of ... in the year ...
The bond between the pilgrims and the Christians of the Holy Land
Today, more than before, the Christians of the Holy Land wait for support from the pilgrims which is spiritual, i.e. their prayers and the recognition of their presence in these lands where they perpetuate the tradition of a living Church. However, it is also important that their situation is made known: the pilgrimage is a way of helping them by fostering the economy and work in the county.
Obtaining the Pilgrim’s Medal is proof of the bond that is created between pilgrims and the inhabitants of the Holy Land. Pope Paul VI said: “These brothers, who live where Jesus lived and who, around the Holy Places, are the successors of the ancient Church which is always the first one, the Mother of all the Churches, have precious merits before God and we are in great spiritual debt to them: they take part every day in a very special way in the sufferings of Christ. If they were no longer to be present here, the warmth of the testimony would disappear in the same way and the Christian Holy Places in Jerusalem and Palestine would become museums.” These words are still surprisingly topical today.
Who can request the Pilgrim’s Medal?
The Pilgrim’s Medal is granted by the Most Reverend Father Custos of the Holy Land together with the aforementioned certificate of conferment. It is only for Catholic pilgrims who:
- Physically go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Places
- Make a contribution through a donation to support the local Church
The purpose of the honour of Pope Leo XIII is to be an attestation of the pilgrimage experienced in the land of Christ, therefore the medal cannot be awarded to someone who has never been a pilgrim in the Holy Land, as the certificate is evidence of the visit and devotion to the Holy Places. For these same reasons, any other Medal of the Pilgrimage to the Holy Land (regardless of its shape, size or material), if it is not conferred directly by the Custody of the Holy Land, is illegitimate and unauthorized.
How and where to request the Pilgrim’s Medal
- The Pilgrim’s Medal can be requested - possibly two weeks before the pilgrimage - from the Secretary of the Custody at the email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
- The exact name and surname of the applicant must be communicated, as well as the day on which they wish to collect their honour.
- The medal is minted in bronze, silver or gold-plated silver: it is up to the sensibility of the pilgrim to choose the preferred material. Usually the choice is based on the length of the pilgrimage or the number of times that the pilgrim has been to the Holy Land.
- The amount of the donation is variable, depending on whether the medal is in bronze, silver or gold-plated silver; to make the donation, please contact the Secretary of the Custody at the address shown above.
- The honour is strictly personal, as shown by the name and surname on the certificate; however, it is possible to obtain two names at the same time on the certificate, if a married couple goes jointly on a pilgrimage.
- The Pilgrim’s Medal is not sent by post. It must therefore be collected in person from the office of the Secretary of the Custody, on the first floor of the Curia, at St Saviour’s Convent in Jerusalem, next to the New Gate.
- The Pilgrim’s Medal is awarded by the Custody in private to the applicant (or applicants) by the friars or by the personnel of the office of the Custodial Secretary.