Treasures of the Church- Relics

The holy staircase (Scala Sancta)

In a building in front of St. John Lateran Basilica, one finds the stairs of the “Holy Staircase,” as they were placed by Pope Sixtus V at the end of the XVI century. The stairs were brought to Rome by St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, in the year 335. AD.
Due to the amount of visitors that the stairs attract, the 28 marble steps are actually protected by boards to prevent wear and tear.
These stairs were in the prætorium of Pontius Pilate when he was governor of Judea. Therefore, Jesus, on the day He was condemned to death, ascended and descended these very stairs. Through a protective crystal covering, even today one can see and appreciate the stains of the blood shed by Jesus.

In the Middle Ages they were known as the Stairs of Pilate and led to a corridor of the Lateran Palace, near the Chapel of St. Sylvester. They were covered by a special roof and next to them were other stairs for everyday use. When Sixtus V destroyed the old papal palace and constructed a new one in 1589, he had the Holy Stairs transferred to the site where we find them today, in front of a chapel known as the Sancta Sanctorum (Holy of Holies). The latter is the old private papal chapel, dedicated to St. Lawrence, and the only remaining part of the former Lateran Palace, receiving its name from the many precious relics preserved there.

The Sancta Sanctorum also contains the celebrated image of Christ, “not made by human hands,” which on certain occasions used to be carried through Rome in procession. In its new site the Holy Stairs are flanked by four other staircases, two on each side, for common use, since the Holy Stairs may only be ascended on the knees, a devotion that is very popular with pilgrims and the Roman faithful, especially on Fridays and in Lent.

Not a few popes are recorded to have performed this pious exercise; Pius IX, who in 1853 entrusted the Passionist Fathers with the care of the sanctuary, ascended the Holy Stairs on Sept. 19, 1870, the eve of the entrance of the Italian Army into Rome, who were ready to put an end to the temporal power of the Papacy. He climbed the stairs on his knees, as was the rigorous custom, and upon reaching the top he blessed the people. After this, he confined himself in the interior of the Vatican, from where he never left again. Furthermore, Pius VII on 2 Sept., 1817 granted those who ascend the stairs in the prescribed manner an indulgence of nine years for every step. Finally Pius X, on 26 Feb., 1908, granted a plenary indulgence to be gained as often as the stairs are devoutly ascended after confession and communion.

Imitations of the Scala Sancta have been erected in various places, as in Lourdes and in some convents of nuns, and indulgences are attached to them by special concessions.


siervas_logo_color.jpg (14049 bytes)
Return to main page
This page is the work of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary