Rome: The Sanctuary of the Holy Stairs (Scala Santa)
About the Basilica of the Holy Stairs:
Just across the street from the Basilica of Saint John Lateran is one of Rome’s most treasured places: the Sanctuary of the Holy Stairs (Scala Santa), under the custody of The Passionist Fathers. Helena, the Emperor Constantine’s mother, made it her personal quest to retrieve as many articles that were touched by Jesus from the area of Judea. Among the items she had shipped back to Rome were the steps that were in front of the Governor’s Palace in Jerusalem and which she assumed were the very steps that Christ climbed when he appeared before Pontius Pilate.
The steps were installed a short distance from the Lateran Palace, which at that time was the residence of the Popes. In 1859, Pope Sixtus V had the stairs moved to their present location to allow for the alterations of the Lateran Palace.
Their authenticity cannot be 100% confirmed; however, the marble is of the same type found in Jerusalem and archaeologists have confirmed that the marble steps are missing from the ancient site in Jerusalem.
As usual in these cases, believers need no further proof and sceptics may never have enough proof.
There are 28 marble steps, covered in wood, but with slots in the wood, so that you can actually see the steps. Without the wood covering it would be doubtful that there would be anything left of the stairs due to the number of pilgrims making this ascension every year. But beware, it is a tough climb! Of course when some little old nun goes scooting by you, you may feel a bit guilty for complaining.
You can attain a plenary indulgence, or remittance of temporal punishment due to sin, by climbing the stairs. To receive a plenary indulgence, they must ascend the entire staircase. Otherwise, a partial indulgence may be gained for every step on their knees while meditating on the Passion of Christ. The usual conditions for an indulgence must be met: making a sacramental confession, receiving the Eucharist, praying for the intentions of the Pope and being free of all attachment to sin.
At the head of the stairs is the Sancta Sanctorum (Holy of Holies) chapel, protected by an iron grating. According to medieval historians, this was “the most venerated sanctuary in Rome” and was, until the Renaissance, the private oratory of the Popes. It contains the Acheropita (Image of the Most Holy Savior) that is “not painted by human hand”. You can view the image, although the chapel itself may be open.
Note: The stairs themselves were closed through much of 2018 due to reconstruction work…not on the stairs themselves, which are covered in walnut wood, but on the frescoes that line the wall. There was an alternate set of stairs placed next to the originals and pilgrims could still visit the chapel.
The stairs re-opened on April 11, 2019 and you can see the beautifully restored artwork.
As mentioned earlier, the Holy Stairs are directly across the street from the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, so it is easy to combine the two during your visit.
Finding the Basilica of the Holy Stairs:
Address: Piazza di S. Giovanni in Laterano, 14, 00185 Roma RM, Italy
Tel: +39 06 77 26 641 (open 08:00 – 13:00) Fax:+39 06 77 26 64 219
Click here for the official La Scala Santa Website.