Christ was taken to His Trial at the Praetorium, Pontius Pilate’s palace, by way of 28 marble steps. Today, they are known as the Scala Sancta: the Holy Stairs.
“The soldiers led him away inside the palace, that is, the praetorium, and assembled the whole cohort.” – Mark 15:16
According to pious Catholic tradition the Scala Sancta, “Holy Stairs,” are marble steps leading up to the praetorium that Christ stepped on as He went to his Trial before Pilate.
In 326 A.D., Saint Helena brought the marble steps from Jerusalem to Rome where they become known as the Scala Sancta and later in the Middle Ages the Scala Pilati, “Stairs of Pilate.” The Holy Stairs originally led to a corridor in the Lateran Palace near the Chapel of Saint Sylvester, and were covered with a special roof.
In 1589, the Holy Stairs were moved by Pope Sixtus V when he had the Lateran Palace in ruins torn down and rebuilt. The stairs were reconstructed in their present location today, before the Sancta Sanctorum, Holy of Holies, chapel in the Lateran Palace.
Since they were brought to Rome, the Holy Stairs became a popular pilgrimage site for those who wish to honor the Passion of Christ. In devotion, Faithful ascend on their knees, including many popes in the past: Popes Pius IX, Pius VII, and Pius X all performed the pious exercise.
The “the most important step” is kissed by pilgrims, cracked down the middle with a metal cross and a raised metal grate. According to pious tradition, Jesus fell at the 11th step, cracking it with his knee. The cross marks the impact and the grate covers what is said to have been a drop of His blood. Another cross marks a step at the top of the staircase where tradition says there was another drop of His blood.
Since 1723, the Holy Stairs have been encased in thick wooden panels, left uncovered for the public to protect them. However, a week before Holy Week on April 11th, cleaned Holy Stairs and a restored fresco hallway will left open to the public temporarily after a special blessing ceremony at the Sanctuary of the Holy Stairs.