Ascend La Scala Sancta in Rome: The Holy Stairs that Jesus Climbed

Scala Sancta e Sancta Sanctorum

Image by Stephen and Therese Jennings via Flickr

Italiano: Immagine detta acheropita (non dipin...

Italiano: Immagine detta acheropita (non dipinta da mano d’uomo) del Sancta Sanctorum della Scala Santa. Roma. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Italiano: Affreschi del Sancta Sanctorum della...

In close proximity to the archbasilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome, visit the Holy Stairs or “La Scala Sancta.” For centuries, the Scala Sancta has attracted Christian pilgrims. These pilgrims come to honor the Passion of Jesus.

Antonio Ciseri's depiction of Pontius Pilate p...

Antonio Ciseri’s depiction of Pontius Pilate presenting a scourged Christ to the people Ecce homo! (Behold the man!). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The building was designed by Domenico Fontana in 1589.  It houses two surviving parts of the old Lateran Palace.  One is the pope’s private chapel (Sancta Sanctorum) and the other is the Holy Staircase (Scala Santa).  The 28 steps, said to be those that Christ ascended in Pontius Pilate‘s house during his trial, were brought from Jerusalem by St. Helena in approximately 325 A.D.

English: Basilica and Palace of St John Latera...

English: Basilica and Palace of St John Lateran, Rome, Italy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Christ before Pontius Pilate, Mihály Munkácsy,...

Christ before Pontius Pilate, Mihály Munkácsy, 1881 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fresco at the Scala Sancta in Rome.

Fresco at the Scala Sancta in Rome. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When the Lateran Palace was destroyed in the late 16th century, Pope Sixtus V had the steps moved to their present site.  No foot may touch the holy steps, so they are covered by wooden boards.  They may be climbed but only on your knees, a penance that is performed especially on Good Friday.

Scala Sancta: the sacred stairs, exterior

Scala Sancta: the sacred stairs, exterior (Photo credit: SpirosK)

In Jerusalem, you can visit the Chapel of the Ascension near the top of the Mount of Olives. It is a Christian and Muslim holy site that is believed to depict the place where Jesus ascended into heaven 40 days after his resurrection. There is a small church/mosque with a stone imprinted with his footprint. Prior to the time of Emperor Constantine, Christians honored his Ascension by meeting in a cave out of concern for their safety. Constantine’s mother Helena was instrumental in marking this spot with a memorial chapel at the end of the 4th century.

Other highlights of this building include the sculpture, Ecce Homo, by Giosue Meli in 1874.  The Scala Santa lead to the Chapel of St. Lawrence, or Sancta Sanctorum, built by Pope Nicholas III in 1278.  This chapel contains many important relics, the most precious being an image of Jesus, the Acheiropoeton, or “picture painted without hands.” It is believed to be the work of St. Luke, assisted by an angel.  The image was taken on procession in medieval times to ward off plagues.

English: Lateran obelisk. Base of obelisk with...

English: Lateran obelisk. Base of obelisk with citatation of Emperor Constantine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are three surviving monuments from the original Lateran Palace. Two of these monuments are located in one building built by Domenico Fontana in 1589. These monuments are the Scala Santa and the Chapel of the Sancta Sanctorum. The third monument is the Triclinium of Leo III, which can be seen on the structure at the top of the stairs facing the archbasillica of St. John Lateran. Under the roofline, there is an incredible mosaic in the apse. In the center mosaic, Christ is surrounded by his Apostles.

Lateran Triclinium of Leo III, near the Scala Sancta; Jesus is surrounded by his Apostles under the roofline in the aspe.

The Scala Sancta are marble stairs that were brought  from Jerusalem to Rome in 326 AD by Saint Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine.  According to legend, these are the stairs that Jesus climbed on his way to his trial with Pontius Pilate after he was betrayed by Judas.

Lateran Scala Sancta Ecce Homo statue

This was the staircase that lead  to the praetorium of  the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem. Jesus was crucified in Calvary during the prefecture of Pontius Pilate, who governed Judaea from 26 to 36 AD.  In the Middle Ages these stairs were known as Scala Pilati, the Stairs of Pilate.

Lateran Scala Sancta Judas statue

Lateran Scala Sancta Jesus Statue

The Scala Sancta (Holy Stairs) consists of twenty-eight wooden steps that encase white marble steps. They are sanctified by the footsteps of Jesus Christ during his Passion. The marble stairs are visible through openings in the wooden risers. The Sanctury can be visited during these hours:

Scala Sancta sign

The stairs are located  in a building which incorporates part of the old Lateran Palace, located opposite the Basilica of Saint John Lateran. They are located next to a church which was built on ground brought from Mount Calvary. When Sixtus V in 1589 destroyed the old papal palace and built the new one, he ordered the Holy Stairs be transferred to their present site, before the Sancta Sanctorum (Holy of Holies).

The stairs lead to the Sancta Sanctorum  which is the personal chapel of the early Popes in the Lateran palace, the chapel deicated to St. Lawrence. This is the only remaining part of the former Lateran Palace. The name is derived from the many precious relics preserved there. The Sancta Sanctorum also contains the celebrated image of Christ which on certain special occasions was carried through Rome in procession. These holy treasures have not been seen by anyone since Leo X (1513-21).

Lateran Oratorium near Scala Sancta

Lateran Scala Sancta altar

The Scala Sancta are covered with a layer of protective walnut wood boards. These Holy Stairs are flanked by additional sets of stairs for common use on both sides  because the Holy Stairs may only be ascended on one’s knees in devout prayer. This devotion is favored by religious pilgrims and faithful Christians who are seeking an indulgence, especially on Fridays and during in Lent. In 1908, Pius X granted a plenary indulgence to be gained as often as the stairs are devoutly ascended after confession and communion. Imitations of the Scala Sancta have been erected in various places, such as in Lourdes and in some convents of nuns. Some indulgences are also associated with these stairs.

Lateran Scala Sancta stairs praying

In 1589, Pope Sixtus V relocated the steps to their present location in front of the ancient Palatine Chapel (Il Sancta Sanctorum).

Italiano: Interno del Sancta Sanctorum della S...

Italiano: Interno del Sancta Sanctorum della Scala Santa. Roma. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lateran Il Sancta Sacntorum

The decoration of the Scala Sancta was one of the major refurbishment exercises of the papacy of Sixtus V, led by Cesare Nebbia and Giovanni Guerra. Many artists were enlisted to decorate the premises with statues and  frescoes including:  Giovanni Baglione, Giacomo Stella, Giovanni Battista Pozzo, Paris Nogari, Prospero Orsi, Ferraù Fenzoni, Paul Bril, Paulo Guidotti, Giovanni Battista Ricci, Cesaro Torelli, Antonio Vivarini, Andrea Lilio, Vicenzo Conti Baldassare Croce, Ventura Salimbeni and Antonio Scalvati.

Lateran Scala Sancta ceiling

Pray these prayers as you ascend the steps:

At the foot of the Holy Staircase, before beginning your ascent
on your knees, recite:

“My Jesus, by the merits of your passion, I pray that you inspire
in me feelings of faith, of hope, and of charity, and that you grant
me pardon for my sins, while I, having decided to change my
life, proceed to climb the Staircase, which I venerate as a memento
of your sacrifice and as a spur to trusting in your mercy in this
life and to getting myself ready for eternal salvation in the next.
Amen.”

1st Step:
My Jesus, by the anxiety that oppressed you in taking leave of
Holy Mary and of your beloved disciples, have pity upon me!
Holy Mother!  Ah!  Bring it about that the wounds of the Lord be
impressed in my heart!

2nd Step:
My Jesus, by the mortal anguish that made you sweat living
blood in the olive garden, have pity upon me! Holy Mother!
Ah!  Bring it about that the wounds of the Lord be
impressed in my heart!

3rd Step:
My Jesus, by the bitterness that Judas’s betrayal caused you,
have pity upon me!  Holy Mother!  Ah!  Bring it about that the
wounds of the Lord be impressed in my heart!

4th Step:
My Jesus, by the confusion felt in the ways of Jerusalem, exposed
as you were to the taunts of the vulgar crowd, have pity upon me!
Holy Mother!  Ah!  Bring it about that the wounds of the Lord be
impressed in my heart!

5th Step:
My Jesus, by the meekness you displayed before the tribunal,
have pity upon me!  Holy Mother!  Ah!  Bring it about that the
wounds of the Lord be impressed in my heart!

6th Step:
My Jesus, by the patience you exercised during the mocking and
the insults that preceded your sentencing, have pity upon me!  Holy
Mother!  Ah!  Bring it about that the wounds of the Lord be
impressed in my heart!

7th Step:
My Jesus, by the fatigue you felt on climbing up and descending
this staircase a number of time, have pity on me!  Holy Mother!
Ah!  Bring it about that the wounds of the Lord be impressed
in my heart!

8th Step:
My Jesus, by the silence you met the false witnesses with, when
they accused you before Pilate, have pity upon me!  Holy Mother!
Ah!  Bring it about that the wounds of the Lord be impressed in
my heart!

9th Step:
My Jesus, by the humility with which you let yourself be jeered
at and dressed as a madman in Herod’s court, have pity upon me!
Holy Mother!  Ah!  Bring it about that the wounds of the Lord be
impressed in my heart!

10th Step:
My Jesus, by the shame suffered on seeing yourself stripped of
your clothing and chained to a column, have pity upon me!  Holy
Mother!  Ah!  Bring it about that the wounds of the Lord be
impressed in my heart!

11th Step:
My Jesus, by the torment of your pitiless flagellation, have pity
upon me!  Holy Mother!  Ah!  Bring it about that the wounds
of the Lord be impressed in my heart!

12th Step:
My Jesus, by the agony caused by the spines that pierced your
head, have pity upon me!  Holy Mother!  Ah!  Bring it about
that the wounds of the Lord be impressed in my heart!

13th Step:
My Jesus, by the humiliation suffered when you were dressed
in a mantle of purple, with your eyes blindfolded and saluted in a
parody of how a king is saluted, have pity upon me!  Holy Mother!
Ah!  Bring it about that the wounds of the Lord be impressed in
my heart!

14th Step:
My Jesus, by the pain you felt on being presented to the people
that cried out that you were to be sentenced to death, have
pity upon me!  Holy Mother!  Ah!  Bring it about that the wounds
of the Lord be impressed in my heart!

15th Step:
My Jesus, by the insult undergone in being put Bar Abbas, have
pity upon me!  Holy Mother!  Ah!  Bring it about that the wounds
of the Lord be impressed in my heart!

16th Step:
My Jesus, by the resignation with which you embraced the cross
and walked up to Calvary, have pity upon me! Holy Mother!  Ah!
Bring it about that the wounds of the Lord be impressed in my heart!

17th Step:
My Jesus, by the sadness you felt in meeting your afflicted
mother Mary, have pity upon me!  Holy Mother!  Ah!  Bring it
about that the wounds of the Lord be impressed in my heart!

18th Step:
My Jesus, by the efforts you tolerated in your trip to Calvary,
burdened by the weight of the cross, have pity upon me!  Holy
Mother!  Ah!  Bring it about that the wounds of the Lord be
impressed in my heart!

19th Step:
My Jesus, by the disgust that the bitter drink of wine mixed
with gall procured you, have pity upon me!  Holy Mother!
Ah!  Bring it about that the wounds of the Lord be
impressed in my heart!

20th Step:
My Jesus, by your suffering on feeling your clothes torn
from your bleeding and sore-strewn flesh, have pity upon me!
Holy Mother!  Ah!  Bring it about that the wounds of the Lord be
impressed in my heart!

21st Step:
My Jesus, by the strength with which you lay down upon
the cross and let your hands and feet be pierced with nails,
have pity upon me!  Holy Mother!  Ah!  Bring it about that
the wounds of the Lord be impressed in my heart!

22nd Step:
My Jesus, by the infinite love that induced you to pardon
those who had crucified you and to pray for them, have
pity upon me!  Holy Mother!  Ah!  Bring it about that the
wounds of the Lord be impressed in my heart!

23rd Step:
My Jesus, by the generosity with which you promised
paradise to the repentant assassin and, through John, gave
to the faithful Holy Mary as a mother have pity upon me!
Holy Mother!  Ah!  Bring it about that the wounds of the Lord be
impressed in my heart!

24th Step:
My Jesus, by the cruel thirst that sharpened the torments
of your frightful agony, have pity upon me! Holy Mother!
Ah!  Bring it about that the wounds of the Lord be
impressed in my heart!

25th Step:
My Jesus, by the horror you felt on feeling forsaken by
the Father and cursed by men, have pity upon me!  Holy
Mother!  Ah!  Bring it about that the wounds of the Lord be
impressed in my heart!

26th Step:
My Jesus, by the love with which you sacrificed your life
to reconcile me with God and make me worthy of eternal
salvation, have pity on me!  Holy Mother!  Ah!  Bring it
about that the wounds of the Lord be impressed in my heart!

27th Step:
My Jesus, by the wound in your side, from which the
church, mother and teacher of its faithful, was born, have
pity upon me!  Holy Mother!  Ah!  Bring it about that the
wounds of the Lord be impressed in my heart!

28th Step:
My Jesus, by the tears Holy Mary shed, she having
hugged you in her arms and arranged you in the tomb, have
pity upon me!  Holy Mother!  Ah!  Bring it about that the
wounds of the Lord be impressed in my heart!

You have finally reached the top top of the Holy Staircase.
Let us pray:

“Oh God, in whose passion a sword of grief, according to
Eimon’s prophecy, pierced the sweet soul of the glorious
virgin and mother.  Mary grant that, in celebrating with
veneration your grief, we may earn the fruits of your passion.
You, who live and reign forever and ever.  Amen!”

Dr. EveAnn Lovero writes Italy Travel Guides. To learn more about Rome visit www.vino-con-vista.com

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Ascend La Scala Sancta in Rome: The Holy Stairs that Jesus Climbed

  1. During my last visit to Rome, I toured St John Lateran, La Scala Sancta and the Sancta Sanctorum . It was truly a humbling experience. Pilgrims were climbing the steps on their knees to the top, praying the entire way. One has to wonder how many people over the last 2 centuries have participated in this ritual as the steps are so worn.

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