VATICAN CITY – For more than three hundred years, thick wooden planks covered the marble Holy Stairs. But those planks didn’t stop millions of pilgrims from climbing the hard stairs on their knees while meditating on the passion and death of Christ.
But this year, pilgrims will be able to touch and climb the bare stones. A special blessing ceremony will take place on April 11, the week before Holy Week. The marble steps will remain open to the public temporarily for forty days before the restoration workers attach the original wooden planks again.
Tradition holds that Christ climbed the stairs before Pilate handed him over to the crowd to be crucified. Devotion to the Holy Stairs started in 362, when Saint Helena transported the twenty-eight steps from the Holy Land to Rome.
The uncovered stairs are part of a restoration project in the
Pontifical Sanctuary of the Holy Stairs. The restoration has been underway for twenty years, thanks to the donations of private donors, foundations, and the Patron of the Arts in the Vatican Museums.
The restoration team was amazed when they saw how many pilgrims had worn away the structure of the steps.
“It’s an extraordinary occasion to touch the same steps as Jesus and witness the faith of all the other people who came before us,” the sanctuary’s rector, Passionist Father Francesco Guerra, told Catholic News Service.
The workers cleared away handwritten notes, cards, photographs, coins, buttons, and dirt that pilgrims placed between the stairs. The Passionist Fathers in charge of the sanctuary collected the prayer requests and mementos and are in the process of cataloging them.