Rome's Holy Stairs restored

The Holy Stairs that Jesus is said to have ascended for his trial before Pontius Pilate have reopened after a painstaking restoration of neighbouring frescoes - and the removal of pilgrims' chewing gum.

The Age reports that the Santa Scala, or Holy Stairs, were brought to Rome and placed in the former papal palace opposite the basilica of St John Lateran.

However, restorers found that the sanctity of the staircase had not had an effect on the behaviour of some tourists.

"We found chewing gum stuck to the wood of the stairs," said Alessandra Scerrato, the secretary of the Friends of the Holy Stairs association.

The 28 white marble steps, which are encased in wood for their protection, are so holy that pilgrims are allowed to ascend only on their knees.

The kneeling position also allows them to gaze through holes in the wood that allegedly reveal spots of Christ's blood on the marble beneath.

Pilgrims who ascend the staircase are given a full indulgence of their sins. Charles Dickens, who visited the staircase in 1845, was unimpressed by the Catholic ritual, calling it a "dangerous reliance on outward observances".

He added: "I never, in my life, saw anything at once so ridiculous and so unpleasant as this sight."

In 1589, Pope Sixtus V commissioned 1580 square metres of frescoes to surround the stairs. The painted walls and ceiling had been darkened by centuries of smoke from the candles of visitors.

"The hardest part was to remove the soot," said Francesco China, one of the restorers.

Holy stairwell restored to glory (The Age, 15/6/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Scala Sancta (Wikipedia)
Scala Sancta (Catholic Encyclopaedia)

15 Jun 2007