“I already did it when it was wooden steps but it’s much more moving now,” one pilgrim told AFP News. “If you think about the fact that Jesus was here, and where he was held and where he suffered, it’s very emotional.”
According to tradition, the marble stairs were brought to Rome by St. Helena, Emporer Constantine’s mother, around 300 years after Christ’s death and when Christianity was the religion of the Roman Empire.
The stairs were opened to pilgrims Thursday until Pentecost, a total of 60 days. The stairs have been encased in wood since 1723 to protect them from being worn down further when Pope Innocent XIII decided it could no longer stand the wear and tear of millions of pilgrims.
“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,” said Guido Cornini, a curator from the Vatican Museums.
Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, Vicar General of the diocese of Rome, blessed the staircase before crowds of Catholic congregants got down on their hands and knees to ascend the deeply worn marble stairway, as is the tradition.
There are three crosses along the stairs, believed to be the locations where Jesus fell and there are drops of his blood. Pilgrims kissed the crosses as they made their way up, with protective covers over their shoes to maintain the marble.
The steps lead to the Sancta Sanctorum, or Holy of Holies, which was once the private chapel for popes and where several Roman Catholic sacred relics are stored.
The restoration of the steps was funded by Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums and will be open until June 9, after which they will be covered once again.
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