The marble steps Jesus is believed to have climbed before being sentenced to crucifixion have been unveiled after 300 years.
The Scala Sancta, or Holy Staircase, were encased in protective maple in 1723 in a bid to protect the steps from years of use.
But it has since been stripped back and restored with pilgrims now flocking to see the sacred steps. Three small bronze crosses are embedded in the marble and there are spots some believe are stained by Christ’s blood.
The marble was covered some 300 years ago on the orders of Pope Innocent XIII amid fears it was getting worn down by the hands and knees of worshipers, who caused a dip in the stone of 15cm in some parts.
The 28 steps were believed to be part of Pontius Pilate’s palace in Jerusalem and were moved to Rome in the fourth century AD by Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, who made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.
Now, after a year-long restoration, the staircase has been opened to pilgrims. It will stay open to the public for 60 days, covering the Easter period, ending on June 9.
The steps are now housed in an old papal palace in St. John’s Square in southeast Rome, across from the Basilica of St. John the Lateran.
There was unveiling ceremony yesterday marked by the Cardinal Vicar of Rome, Angelo De Donatis, kneeling as he inaugurated the restored Holy Stairs.
The stairs were last opened in the ’50s and as work commenced this year to see them opened again, experts from the Vatican Museums found notes and other offerings that were shoved under the planks.
Paolo Violini, the coordinator of the restoration, said: ‘We found them step by step as we removed the floorboards – many, many little notes and coins, left as offerings.’
The entire sanctuary is currently undergoing restoration work which has lasted 60 years, with frescoes already returned to former glory, and work is expected to be completed next year.
Guido Cornini, a curator from the museums, said: ‘If you close your eyes for a moment, you can imagine yourself back in the medieval era, the last time that people scaled these steps on their knees.