Vatican Corner 08-05-18

The ‘ Holy Stairs ’ or ‘ Scala Santa ’ are a set of 28 white marble steps located in Rome in extraterritorial property of the Vatican about 3 miles outside the walls near the Archbasilica of St. John in Laterano, the most ancient church in the world. That is the location of the Lateran Palaces, the ancient seat of the Papacy. The stairs are believed to be the very same stairs that led to the praetorium of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem, and which Jesus would have ascended on his way to trial before his Crucifixion. According to ancient Christian tradition, the stairs were brought to Rome by St. Helena the mother of Emperor Constantine the Great in 326 A.D. It is believed that she restored many holy sites in the Holy Land and discovered the True Cross, and other relics. In 1589 Pope Sixtus V had a special sanctuary built in front of the Sancta Sanctorum – the pope ’ s chapel contained important relics. The special sanctuary was designed to protect the Holy Stairs and have them lead up to the Sanctorum. There are actually 2 regular staircases on either side of the Holy Stairs because the Holy Stair are not intended to be used with one ’ s feet, but rather climbed with one ’ s knees. The white marble stairs are encased in wood for protection and in places there are squares cut out where pilgrims can reach down and touch the marble. For centuries, the faithful have climbed up the 28 steps in prayer on their knees to honor the Passion of Jesus Christ. About the experience, some of the pilgrims say that “ climbing on one ’ s knees is a little painful, but thinking about what Jesus experienced during the Passion and Death, makes it worth it. ” Some people are moved to tears and fill the sudden desire to go to confession and communion a%er many years away. Some say they feel union with Jesus, they feel loved by God. ” On average 3,000 people visit the sanctuary each day. Several popes have performed the devotion and Pope St. Pius X in 1908 made climbing the stairs a plenary indulgence, removing all punishment due to sin, if they are devoutly ascended a%er Confession and Holy Communion. Pope Francis has spoken of the importance of traditional, popular devotions and pilgrimages to sanctuaries and sacred places. The physical contact is a key feature of the Holy Stairs. However, Pope Sixtus wanted the sanctuary not only to preserve an important relic but also to display many colorful images on the walls describing key events in the Old and New Testaments. Since the faithful often did not read or write, the images were intended to bring the Bible stories to life. They were meant to amaze and attract the public. In the 16th century, forty artists painted images for about 2 years covering every square inch of, two chapels, five staircases, vaulted ceilings, wide high walls with frescoes and decorative art. But over the centuries, as dirt, grime, water and primitive restoration tech- niques had their effects, people barely glanced at the darkened surfaces. With the funding from the Getty Foundation and Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums, eleven modern day restorers have worked for nearly twenty years to bring back the original artwork so that people can observe and study the Bible stories and recall their meaning. Proper lighting has been installed and all is now restored except for the central staircase planned to be completed by the end of 2018 and the front atrium at the end of 2019.