The holy cloak of St. Joseph, a unique relic of the foster father of Jesus, has traveled from church to church in Rome this year after spending 16 centuries in an ancient Roman basilica.
The cloak, which tradition says was brought from the Holy Land to Rome by St. Jerome in the 4th century, is accompanied by a still-colorful veil held to have belonged to the Virgin Mary.
Both relics were hidden in Rome’s Basilica of Sant’Anastasia for more than 1,600 years, until 2020. It is believed that St. Jerome may have celebrated Mass in the basilica, located close to the Circus Maximus.
In honor of the Year of St. Joseph, which ends on Dec. 8, the Diocese of Rome has allowed the two relics to tour Catholic parishes around the city.
The first and last stop of the tour was the Basilica of St. Joseph al Trionfale. On Dec. 2-8, Romans and pilgrims can stop at the minor basilica to pray before the relics, exposed for veneration in a glass case encrusted in gold and jewels.
The upper part of the reliquary holds the piece of Mary’s veil, while the chest below holds St. Joseph’s cloak.
The mantle is the inspiration for a Novena to the Holy Cloak. A novena is typically prayed over nine consecutive days, but some people pray this novena for 30 days.
One shorter version of the prayer reads as follows:
“O, Glorious Patriarch, St. Joseph, you who were chosen by God, above all others, to be the earthly head of the Holy Family, I ask you to accept me within the folds of your holy cloak, that you may be the guardian and protector of my soul, of my family, parish and world. From this moment on, I choose you as my father, protector, help, and patron — and I ask you to place me in your care — my health and well-being, my faith, my life, and my death.”
“Look upon me as one of your children; defend me from all harm and from my enemies — invisible or otherwise. Assist me always in all my necessities; console me in the bitterness of life, and especially at the hour of my death. Say but one word for me to the Divine Savior, who you were worthy to hold in your arms, and to Mary, your Spouse. Ask, please, for those blessings that will lead me to Jesus. Include me among those who are dear to you and I shall try to prove myself worthy of all I know you will do. Amen.”
There is also an old story that claims to reveal the origin of the sacred cloak as a relic. According to the tale, St. Joseph went to Mount Hebron, where he intended to buy lumber for his carpentry work, but he only had about half of the money he needed.
His wife, the Virgin Mary, had suggested that Joseph give the mantle she had gifted him on their wedding day to the lumber seller as a pledge to pay the rest of the money he owed.
The seller, named Ishmael, was a stingy fellow, and he protested at first, but eventually decided to accept the cloak.
It turned out that Ishmael had been suffering for some time from ulcers in his eyes, and had not been able to find a cure. But the day after St. Joseph gave him the mantle, he woke up healed. Ishmael’s wife, who was a hard woman with a difficult temperament, also woke that morning transformed into a mild person.
The lumber seller’s best cow was also cured of illness when the cloak was held over him, and after receiving these gifts, Ishmael refused to part with it. He forgave the debt and provided Joseph and Mary with all the free wood they needed from that point onward.
According to the story, Ishmael and his wife also visited the Holy Family in Nazareth, bringing them gifts, at which time, the Virgin Mary told them that God would bless anyone who placed themselves under the mantle of her husband, St. Joseph.