Vatican unveils 'Holy Stairs' for first time in 300 years

The stairs are believed to have been stained by the blood of Jesus

pope-vatican-afp Pope Francis prays during the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) torchlight procession at the ancient Colosseum (Colosseo, Colisee) on Good Friday, in Rome | AFP

The visitors to Rome this Easter will be able to experience the 28 steps of Rome’s Scala Santa, the holy staircase, which is being opened to the public for the first time in 300 years. The stairs are believed to have been stained by the blood of Jesus during his ascent to be sentenced to crucifixion by Pontius Pilate, the prefect of Judaea.

The sacred staircase is popularly believed to have been transported from Jerusalem to Rome by Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, in the fourth century AD. During his reign, Christianity was given the status of the official religion of the Roman Empire.

The sacred staircase was first displayed to the public by Pope Sixtus V in the late 1580s. However, since 1723, the marble staircase had been encased in wood as the then Pope, Innocent XIII, gave orders for the steps to be covered as it could no longer bear the weight of millions of pilgrims, who famously ascend on their knees to earn indulgences as per the Catholic tradition.

The Vatican’s restoration of the 16th century frescoes that followed led to the discovery of many inscriptions and graffiti. During the process, the wooden planks were removed and the staircase was cleaned and returned to its original lustre.

At the top of the stairs, there is a room called the Holy of Holies, which was once a private chapel of Popes and it contains relics of saints and one of the oldest icons of Jesus found in Rome, dating back to the fifth century. The marble steps will be opened for the public, until June 9—the feast of Pentecost.