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The Scala Sancta: The Holy Stairs of Pilate’s Praetorium


Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA | i.MEDIA

Daniel Esparza - published on 04/01/23

Tradition claims these steps, known as Scala Pilati, the Stairs of Pilate, during the Middle Ages, were the same ones that Jesus Christ climbed during his trial.

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The Scala Sancta is, literally speaking, a staircase considered to be holy. Its 28 marble steps, according to tradition, were the same ones that Jesus Christ climbed during his trial before Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem. Tradition claims they were discovered at the site of Pilate’s Praetorium and taken to Rome by St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, in the 4th century.

Located across from the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, the building that houses the Scala Sancta is officially called theSantuario Pontificio della Scala Santa ­­– that is, the Pontifical Sanctuary of the Holy Stairs. It is one of the most revered pilgrimage sites in Rome, attracting thousands of visitors every year. The stairs may only be ascended on one’s knees.

The Scala Sancta is one of the most revered pilgrimage sites in Rome, attracting thousands of visitors every year. It can only be ascended on one’s knees.

The stairs were first installed in the Lateran Palace – the residence of the popes until the 14th century. In the 16th century, Pope Sixtus V had a chapel built to house the stairs, which were placed in their current location. In 1724, Pope Benedict XIII covered the marble stairs in wood for their protection, because the marble had already been significantly worn away by the many pilgrims ascending the stairs over time.

The Scala Sancta remained covered until 2019, when the wood covering was removed temporarily and the marble exposed following restoration work. After restoration, pilgrims were allowed to ascend the marble stairs on their knees for the first time in three centuries. The stairs are now again covered in wood, and they remain open to the public. Crosses set into the marble steps and accessible through openings in the wood covering mark spots where drops of Jesus’ blood are said to have fallen.

For functional access, four ordinary staircases flank the Scala Sancta. At the top of the stairs is the Holy of Holies, a former private papal chapel that now contains relics of early Christians for veneration.

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