Scala Santa or Holy Staircase, Rome: a pilgrim’s destination

Opposite the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano (St. John Lateran), the Holy Stairs are reputed to be those walked up by Christ, preserved at this former Papal palace.

The 28 marble stairs carefully preserved in this handsome building are traditionally the steps walked up by Christ on his way to trial before Pontius Pilate. St. Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, was a pioneering collector of relics, and the staircase is supposedly among her finds, brought to Rome in c.326 AD.

Devout pilgrims still mount the steps on their knees, praying. The rate of progress is very slow and looks suitably punishing. Nowadays the stairs are protected by wood, although there are holes cut through above marks which are supposed to be Jesus’s blood (you won’t be able to see through these unless you do the kneeling).

Less devout visitors can walk up the alternative staircases on each side. At the top you can see into a small and lavish private chapel which goes far back in the history of the Lateran Palace, former seat of the popes. Once this chapel, first mentioned in the eighth century and called the Sancta Sanctorum or Holy of Holies, was the private oratory of medieval popes. After earthquake damage it was redecorated with mosaic pavements by Cosmatus.

The Scala Santa is over the road from the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano, close to San Giovanni Metro station. You can walk there from the Colosseum, or take a bus (numbers 85, 87, 850, 117). Like so many religious sights, the building is closed for at lunchtime.

In the immediate vicinity you can see the imposing Basilica itself, and the well-preserved Roman Aurelian Wall with the original fortified gateway alongside the present day Porta San Giovanni.

Useful external links

Scala Santa