La Scala Santa (Holy Stairs) is one of the most valuable relics of the Christian faith, located in Rome. 28 marble steps lead to the Holy of Holies (Latin: Sancta Sanctorum), the chapel of the popes, located in the Lateran Palace (Italian: Palazzo del Laterano).
The legend says, it is the very stairs, down which procurator Pontius Pilate walked Jesus Christ to judgement.
According to the Holy Scripture, the trial of Jesus was held in Pilate’s property (pretoria) in Jerusalem. Sentenced to death the son of God went along wide marble steps. Pontiff Sergius II writes that in the 4th century AD, due to Iulia Helena Augusta, mother of Emperor Constantine I, the relic remained in Rome. Bishop Sylvester I received gifts from her and ordered to establish the relic in the papal palace.
At the end of the 16th century, Lateran Palace was significantly reconstructed. The Scala Santa acquired its current location. It is also assumed that 4 more steps were added to the original 24 ones. Construction works were carried out in a short time, workers did not dare to desecrate the relic with their feet. The staircase was set out from top to bottom.
By the end of the 19th century, the worship of the Scala Santa or Stairs of Pilate (Latin: Scala Pilati) reached its peak. Numerous pilgrims flocked to the Lateran Palace on the eve of all the great church holidays. People gathered in order to walk the way from the foot of the stairs to the Basilica of San Lorenzo (Italian: Cappella di San Lorenzo in Palatio) on their knees reading the appropriate prayers at every step. Finally, they had to cover marble under the wooden blades to prevent it from complete destruction.
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All the believers feel a great thrill when looking at traces of blood from the Savior’s back tormented with whips during the procession to Calvary. The slits in the form of a cross on the protective wooden panels allow to reach the most valuable relics of the Holy Stairs. Now the stairs have special windows with a good field of view which are mounted in the 2nd, 11th and 28th steps.
The frescoes of medieval painter Baldassare Croce create special atmosphere of the path leading to the Sancta Sanctorum. The centerpiece is a painting depicting crucified Christ, Mother of God and St. John. The rest of the illustrations of the Holy Scripture emphasize the importance of the Lateran Palace and the Scala Santa. In 2007, restoration of the stairs was made and works of Croce found lost colors and expressiveness.
Near the first step of the Scala Santa, there are two white marble statues. One of them is “The Kiss of Judas” by Alberto Giacometti, and the second is ” Pilate’s court” made by the same sculptor. Giacometti lived and worked in XX century, his works are dated from 1901 to 1966.
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It is believed that the pilgrims who have climbed the Scala Santa during the celebration of a great post (every Friday) acquire indulgence. During all the other days, visitors get a partial remission of sins if they walk all the steps on their knees with an open and humble heart.
Being on the ancient steps, Catholics send up “Prayers while climbing the Scala Santa” and Orthodox – Akathist to the Divine Passion of Christ.
There are sidesteps to the Holy of Holies passing a series of worshipers on bended knees.
The Basilica of San Lorenzo or Sancta Sanctorum, where the steps lead, is the place where the treasures of the Roman pontiffs are kept. And the most valuable property of the chapel is the miraculous icon with a face of the Savior Akeropit (the 6th century AD).
Author: Kate Zusmann
For the last 6 years I live in the Eternal City. Traveling, exploring new things, writing blogs, shooting vlogs are my main hobbies, but the thing that I like even more is to share my experience and thoughts with you! Explore Rome with Us :)
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