The Scala Sancta (Holy Stairs) are steps that can be found in what used to be the old Lateran Palace. The Lateran Palace is located in proximity to the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano, the cathedral church of Rome. The Lateran Palace used to be the residence of the Popes before the Avignon Exile and is now used as the Museo Storico Vaticano which is a museum of the history of the Papal States.

 

Traditionally, the Scala Sancta is the actual stair case that led to the praetorium of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem. Jesus Christ stood on the Scala Santa at the time of his Passion on the way his trial. According to this tradition in the 4th century the stairs were taken to Rome by St. Helena. The Scala Santa has attracted in the past and continues to attract millions of Christian pilgrims from all corners of the world.

 

Originally, the Scala Sancta was comprised from twenty-eight steps crafted in white marble. The steps are encased by wooden. They are adjacent to a church which was built on earth brought from Mount Calvary. The steps lead up to the Sancta Sanctorum. The Sancta Sanctorum, which is located on the first floor of the palace, used to be the private chapel of the early Popes in the Lateran palace. It is also named the chapel of St. Lawrence. Inside the are some well preserved relics which were brought from the old Lateran Palace. These holy relics gave the chapel its name- "Holiest of Holies." This chapel dates back as far as the 8th century and it was rebuilt in 1278. In the Chapel there are mosaics frescoes and commissioned by Pope Nicolas III. In the chapel there are 28 Gothic tabernacles with relics inside them placed along the walls. The Scala Sancta and the Sancta Sanctorum are two out of the three monuments who survived from the original Lateran Palace. They are now located in a building built in 1589 by Domenico Fontana. The third monument is called the Triclinium of Leo III. It used to be one of the most famous halls of the ancient palace and it served the banquet hall.

 

Today the staircase has side walls with frescoes on them and a vault and it leads from an atrium. In the vestibule you can find impressive sculptures by I.Iacometti from the 19th century. The walls of the Scala Santa, the vault, and the side staircases were embellished by a crew of artists led by Giovanni Guerra and C.Nebbia in the 16th century.

According to Roman Catholic custom he faithful should climb the Scala Sancta on their knees. Plenary indulgence was granted to the believers who climbed the stairs on the knees. Replicas of the Scala Sancta have been built in other places such as Lourdes, France as well several nuns' convents. Sometimes indulgences are attached to the replicas also. These plenary indulgences are granted by special concessions.