ROME — For the first time in almost three centuries, the stairs that Jesus is said to have climbed to receive his death sentence from Pontius Pilate are accessible to pilgrims in their original version.
Since 1723, at the request of Pope Innocent XIII, the Scala Sancta (Holy Stairway) was covered by a wooden casing in order to avoid the wear of the stone.
But now, until June 9, the Solemnity of Pentecost, pilgrims are able to touch and climb the ancient marble as it used to be 2,000 years ago. Christian tradition says the Holy Stairs were brought from Jerusalem to Rome by St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, at the beginning of the fourth century; they are now located in the Scala Sancta Sanctuary, just across the street from the Basilica of St. John Lateran.
During the reopening ceremony Thursday, Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, the vicar general of the Diocese of Rome, blessed the Holy Stairs, allowing a group of faithful to get down on their knees and climb the steps.
The reopening of the steps is the culmination of 20-plus years of restoration work in the whole structure, officially known as the Pontifical Sanctuary of the Holy Stairs, which was originally designed by architect Domenico Fontana in the 16th century to house the sacred steps.
The restoration process was started by the Congregation of the Passionist Fathers, who were entrusted with the care of the sanctuary from the adjoining convent by Pope Pius IX in the 19th century. Funded by numerous donors and philanthropists, the restoration work was then entrusted to the Vatican Museums, successively led by Carlo Pietrangeli, Francesco Buranelli, Antonio Paolucci and Barbata Jatta.
After the restoration of the private chapel at the top of the stairs, known as the Sancta Sanctorum, the work focused on the surrounding frescoes, which feature stories from the Old and New Testament. Commissioned by Pope Nicholas III, they were painted during the 13th and 14th centuries. For the past two years, the renovation was dedicated to the Holy Stairs.
Read more at National Catholic Register.