The Scala Santa, one of the most important sacred places ever for Christian devotion, is located a few steps from St. John Lateran's Basilica.
After the long restoration works started and carried out by the Vatican Museums, the steps of the Holy Stairs have been freed from dirt, corrosion and encrustations.
They are twenty-eight and are made of Tyrian gray-veined white marbles, consumed little by little by the faithful who for centuries have climbed them on their knees.
It is called "Santa" because according to tradition Jesus Christ went up there to reach Pontius Pilate's palace in Jerusalem on Good Friday before the crucifixion.
Brought to Rome by empress St. Helen in the 4th century, they are considered so sacred that the faithful climb them on their knees in prayer. Pilgrims walk through it praying on their knees as this place speaks to us of the Passion of Our Lord.
On the Fridays of Lent this act of devotion ensures the indulgence of sins.
On the sides of the base of the Holy Stairs there are two imposing statues linked to the Passion: that one of Jesus with Pontius Pilate and another one depicting the kiss of Judas. Through the glass covers you can still see some stains of blood left by Jesus on this staircase, as tradition says.
In the Middle Ages the Scala Sancta was part of the Lateran Palace, near the Chapel of St. Sylvester. When in the year 1589 pope Sixtus V destroyed the old papal palace to build a new one, he ordered that the Scala Santa be moved to the place where it is today, in front of the entrance to a chapel known as Sancta Sanctorum (Holy of Holies).
The latter is an ancient papal chapel, dedicated to St. Lawrence, and is the only remaining part of the old Lateran Palace.
The name is due to the many and precious relics that are preserved there.
The Sancta Sanctorum contains the image of Christ "akeropita", which means "not painted by human hand", which is sometimes carried in procession.
Currently the Scala Santa is surrounded by four staircases, two on each side for common use, since the marble steps can only be climbed on the knees.
It is a very popular practice among faithful Romans and pilgrims, especially on Fridays and during Lent.
In 1723 Pope Innocent XIII decided to protect those steps with a wooden roof and for three hundred years they remained hidden. In addition to the Scala Santa, the sixteenth-century frescoes commissioned by Sixtus V have regained their light, covering 2500 square meters and adorning this very particular Sanctuary.
Round the right hand corner of the façade of the Holy Staircases is what appears to be the apse mosaic of a 9th century papal dining hall, Triclinium Leoninum, now displayed in an 18th century brick aedicule.
It depicts Christ with the Apostles in the centre, Christ with Constantine and Pope Sylvester on the left, and St Peter, Pope Leo III and Charles the Great (Charlemagne) on the right. Pope Leo III has a square nimbus, showing that he was still alive when it was made.
The original mosaic has been dated to just before year 800, when Charlemagne was crowned as emperor in Rome, but the present work is an 18th century copy.
If you are in the area, and you have already visited the Lateran Basilica, the Scala Santa is the ideal complement to the spectacular Lateran complex of the Catholic religion in Rome.