Life & Soul Life and Soul

How to… Climb the Holy Stairs

People use foot protectors as they climb the restored Holy Stairs (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

There is really only one way to climb the Scala Santa – or Holy Stairs – in Rome, and that is on your knees. Tradition holds that the white marble staircase, located opposite the Basilica of St John Lateran in Rome, led to the praetorium of Pontius Pilate and was ascended by Our Lord himself during His Passion and is still marked by His blood.

The stairs were brought from Jerusalem by St Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, in 326 AD and ever since pilgrims have climbed the 28 steps on their knees, praying as they go and reflecting on the sufferings of Jesus.

It is a popular devotion and papal indulgences were often attached to the act of ascending the staircase to the Sancta Sanctorum of the Church of St Lawrence. Countless pilgrimages began to erode the steps so by the 18th century it was necessary to encase them in protective walnut covers.

Until June 9 a golden moment exists to go up a section of the stairs on their original marble, since the wooden covers have been removed for restoration.

The new set will be in place by Pentecost Sunday.