24 April 2019, The Tablet

Stairway to heaven: following Jesus' footsteps on the Scala Sancta in Rome

Stairway to heaven: following Jesus' footsteps on the Scala Sancta in Rome

The restoration of the Holy Stairs cost more than £1.73m and has taken six years
Photo: Vatican Museums © Pontifical Sanctuary of the Holy Stairs


Pilgrims are flocking to climb the newly restored Scala Sancta in Rome, the 28 marble steps Jesus is said to have ascended on his way to trial at the hands of Pilate

In 1845 Charles Dickens paid a visit to Rome, and witnessed pilgrims climbing the city’s so-called Holy Stairs on their knees. His verdict? He’d never seen anything in his entire life, he wrote afterwards, “so ridiculous and so unpleasant”.

A similar view seems to have been taken by the admittedly sceptical Martin Luther. Three hundred years earlier he was there too, and indeed climbed the Scala Sancta himself. Later, he said the experience did nothing whatsoever for the state of his soul.

Fast forward to April 2019: it might be hundreds of years on, and a considerably more secular age, but the 28 marble steps look exactly as they did to Dickens and Luther.  They’re crammed with people jostling for space as they trek heavenwards on their knees.

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