Lonely Planet Writer

Pilgrims can ascend the holy marble stairs in Rome for the first time in 300 years

While pilgrims have ascended the steps of the Santuario della Scala Santa e Sancta Sanctorum in Rome on their knees for many centuries, they’ll be able to do so on the original bare marble steps until 9 June. The protective wooden covering that has been in place for the past 296 years has been removed to be restored, so those who ascend the steps to show their devotion and receive a plenary indulgence can temporarily kneel on the historic marble stairs.

Pilgrims ascending the marble stairs of the Santuario della Scala Santa e Sancta Sanctorum in Rome. Image: Tiziani Fabi/AFP/Getty Images

The reason that people choose to ascend these stairs is because it is believed that they were previously part of Pontius Pilate’s palace in Jerusalem, and Jesus Christ ascended them before receiving his death sentence. It is also believed that Saint Helena, the mother of Roman emperor, Constantine I, had the stairs transported to Rome in 326 AD. It is known that the stairs were originally placed in the complex of the Lateran Palaces, the ancient seat of the Papacy.

The stairs were originally believed to be from Pontius Pilate’s dwelling in Jerusalem. Image: Tiziani Fabi/AFP/Getty Images

Under the supervision of Sixtus V in 1589, they were then placed in front of the Sancta Sanctorum, creating the core of the Pontifical Sanctuary of the Holy Stairs that can be seen today. Situated near the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, the Sanctuary houses the Sancta Sanctorum, recognised as the first private Papal chapel. The walnut coverings were put on the steps in 1723, because Pope Innocent XIII grew concerned that all the traffic they were receiving was wearing away the marble.

The Pontifical Sanctuary of the Holy Stairs in Rome attracts many visitors. Image: Tiziani Fabi/AFP/Getty Images

When these coverings were recently removed, restorers found thousands of objects under the wood, including coins, photos, handwritten prayers and rosaries. The marble steps are covered in decorative crosses in four spots where Jesus’s blood was reportedly spattered. The protective coverings will be replaced again in June, but in the interim, pilgrims will have the rare opportunity to ascend the marble stairs.