L’Aquila’s celebration of the Celestinian Forgiveness dates back to 1294 when, on the eve of his incoronation, Pope Celestine V issued the Papal Bull “Inter sanctorum solemnia”, also known as the Bull of Forgiveness, granting plenary indulgence to anyone who confessed, communicated and visited the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio from Vespers of August 28 to Vespers of the following day. Until then, plenary indulgences had only been granted to crusaders departing for the Holy Land and pilgrims who visited the Porziuncola in Assisi, a prerogative mostly for the wealthy. The Bull was unique in its openness to all the faithful, including the poor and the marginalized. Each year, the Holy Door of the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio is opened on 28 August.
After celebrating Holy Mass and reciting the Angelus outside L’Aquila’s Basilica, Pope Francis followed this seven-centuries old tradition, and knocked on the Holy Door three times with a staff made of olive wood. The door was then opened for all. Upon entering, the Pope spent time in prayer before the tomb of Celestine V.
The Forgiveness celebration became more popular among the faithful in 1327, when the relics of Pope Celestine V were translated from Ferentino to Collemaggio and shown to the people of L’Aquila. Modern Day celebrations of the religious event have evolved into several events leading up to the 28th of August, including pilgrimages and a procession in historical costume. In 2019, the Celestinian Forgiveness was inscribed on Unesco’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.