I found out about Scala Santa (Holy Stairs) on a Virtual Tourist board and added it to my list of things to see when in Rome. It is definitely off the beaten path and unless you are on a pilgrimage or a local, you could easily pass it up.
Scala Santa is opposite of the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano (St. John Lateran) which is pictured above. Check this church out if you’re in the area visiting Scala Santa, it’s beautiful! You can take a bus to Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano to get to the Holy Stairs and St. John Lateran.
The staircase was brought to Rome around 326 A.D. by St. Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine. St. Helena loved to collect relics and these stairs are said to have been climbed by Jesus in Pontius Pilate’s palace in Jerusalem on the way to his trial. The Holy Stairs are 28 marble stairs protected by wood except for areas with holes cut through it to display blood marks that are believed to be Jesus’s blood. Climbing these stairs by foot is forbidden. Devout believers are seen climbing the steps on their knees, stopping for a prayer step by step on their way to the top. It’s only 28 steps, but it is a long process and looks very punishing. Those who climb the stairs acquire a plenary indulgence – a way to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for sins.
If you choose not to climb the Holy Stairs, there are separate staircases on each side that you can use to walk up and view the Sancta Sanctorum or Holy of Holies. Sancta Sanctorum was the first private papal chapel dated far back before the Renaissance in this Lateran Palace (former seat of the popes).
Below the alter are iron gates which protected over a thousand year old treasures, sacred objects and even the heads of apostles Peter and Paul and Saint Agnes. Under the supervision of Pope Nicolas III (1280 A.D.), the frescoes and mosaic seen in the chapel were created to decorate the papal chapel. Pope Callistus III (1458 A.D.) built the reinforcing wall at the back of the chapel.
Devout Catholic or not, this is one historic site you should not miss when in Rome! Do you have a favorite “off the beaten path” place (anywhere in the world) that you like to visit?