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Scala Sancta Is A Unique Experience For The Faithful

The Scala Sancta is a major stop on the Pilgrims Trail and if you visit this site near the Basilica of Saint John in Lateran you could receive you indulgence.

These are thought to be the stairs that Jesus climbed on his way to his trial during his Passion. The building is called the Pontifical Sanctuary of the Holy Stairs (Pontificio Santuario della Scala Santa), and includes part of the old Papal Lateran Palace. According to Catholic tradition, in 326 AD the staircase was transported from Jerusalem to Rome by the praetorium of Pilate at the request of Saint Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine.

According to the same Catholic tradition, the 28 steps that make up the staircase are exactly the same ones that Jesus climbed several times on the day of his death sentence in the palace of Pontius Pilate. Hence the name of Scala Pilati or Scala Sancta.

Climbing The Scala Sancta In Rome

The Holy Stairs can only be climbed on one’s knees. If you would prefer to walk to the top to see the chapels, there are four additional staircases, two on each side, which are functional and have less historical significance.

Scala Sancta - Climbing The Holy Stairs

Only On Your Knees

In the 18th century, the marble stairs were covered in wood to reduce the wear and tear after being significantly worn away by the many pilgrims climbing the stairs over time. Every Friday of Lent it is customary to go up the Scala Sancta on your knees while praying. Climbing the Holy Stairs is an act of devotion to relive the passion of Christ and to ensure plenary indulgence from one’s sins.

The Sancta Sanctorum

At the top of the staircase, protected by a massive metal window grate, is the ancient private chapel of the Popes, at least until the Renaissance. It is the Chapel of San Lorenzo in Palatio, called the Sancta Sanctorum for the many relics that are guarded within. On the wall behind the altar is the image of Jesus depicted sitting on the throne with his right hand blessing and with the Gospel scroll in his left. The image is considered a Acheropìta (in latin), which I just learned means that it is believed that the icon was made without human hands but came into existence miraculously.

Imitations Of The Scala Sancta

Imitations of the Holy Steps were built in many locations and indulgences were often attached to them. There are many replicas in Italy, but also in: France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Canada and the United States.

Doubts and Skeptics Of Scala Sancta

Martin Luther And The Scala Sancta

Martin Luther, who led the Protestant Reformation and who was unsurprisingly skeptical, climbed the steps in the required manner in 1510 AD. While doing so, he repeated the Lord’s Prayer on every step so that he could “redeem a soul from purgatory.” When he reached the top he made his doubts known by saying: “Who knows whether this is true?

Charles Dickens And The Scala Sancta

Charles Dickens, the well known author and skeptic, after visiting the Holy Steps, wrote: “I never, in my life, saw anything at once so ridiculous and so unpleasant as this sight.” He described seeing the pilgrims ascending the staircase on their knees as a “dangerous reliance on outward observances”. To put it in today’s parlance, I would suggest he is calling out the Virtue Signaling inherent in this type of activity.

What is in the Scala Sancta Neighborhood?

Important Religious Sites Nearby

This area of Rome is less touristy as compared to the area around the Vatican. The most obvious site nearby is of course the Basilica of Saint John in Lateran, which you should probably visit first.

Scala Sancta - Hidden Gems of Rome

Easy Access On Public Transportation

Not far from the basilica you can visit other monuments and churches. Among these is the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, which is one of the seven pilgrim churches in Rome and houses the relics of the Cross brought to Rome also by Saint Helena. Somewhat less religious but very tranquil is Villa Celimontana, a lovely green space near the ancient Roman Colosseum and an ideal place for outdoor breakfasts and walks. The three generations of San Clemente in Rome and the church of Santo Stefano Rotondo is also very close, albeit a bit hidden.

The San Giovanni Cultural Relevance

Although less of a tourist site and more of a cultural touchpoint, the neighborhood is connected to two of the most popular and influential Italian actors ever to grace the screen. The great actor Alberto Sordi, while born in Trastevere, has a museum in the area whose purpose is to take care of all of his important legacy and keep the memory of Alberto Sordi alive. Similarly, Marcello Mastroianni grew up in the San Giovanni district, although he was born outside of Rome in the Apennine Mountains.


Beyond the Porta San Giovanni, which is one of the doors that open into the Aurelian Walls of Rome, is the beginning of one of the main shopping streets of Rome, via Appia Nuova. The large street is lined with shops for all tastes and budgets.

Scala Sancta - The Sancta Sanctorum

The Sancta Sanctorum

How To Visit The Holy Stairs In Rome

Scala Sancta (Holy Stairs) Address

Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano, 14, 00185 Roma

Hours of Operation

  • Open from Monday to Saturday, 6:30 AM until 6:30 PM
  • Open on Sundays and Holidays, 7:00 AM until 6:30 PM.
  • Opening hours to the Sancta Sanctorum are from 9:30 AM until 12:40 PM. and from 3:00 PM until 5:10 PM.

Public Transportation

To take the subway, choose Metro A and get out at the San Giovanni stop. There is also a fairly big bus stop (Porta San Giovanni) where you can take the #16#81, #85 or the #87. There is also the #51, which takes passengers on a loop between San Giovanni and Largo Chigi, going through Piazza Venezia and by the Colosseum. There are other buses that serve the less touristy areas in Rome, like the #650, #665, #673, #218, #360, #590, #792. Less reliable, there is also a #3 and #8 tram that uses the Porta San Giovanni- Carlo Felice stop.

The Cost

  • To pray on the steps of Scala Santa is absolutely free. 
  • A prayer book written in one of the 8 languages ​​costs €2.
  • For a ticket to the Sancta Sanctorum, the cost is €3.50. 
  • You can also rent an audio guide for the Sancta Sanctorum.

Other Interesting Religious Sites In Rome

Include Scala Sancta in an expanded itinerary for a Second Time In Rome, and in addition to the Scala Sancta, there are other basilicas that make up the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome. You should check out:

Or if you are interested in other interesting churches, check out:

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