A staircase believed to have been climbed by Jesus Christ and to have been transferred from Jerusalem to the Vatican by the Roman Empire has been opened to the public for the first time in 300 years.
Christians, who are currently celebrating Easter, believe Jesus climbed the Holy Stairs, or Scala Sancta in Latin, on his way to be judged by Pontius Pilate before his crucifixion.
The stairs in Rome were reopened earlier this month after more than a year of restoration, giving pilgrims a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to climb them the same way millions before them over many centuries did — on their knees.
According to tradition not supported by any written documentation, the 28-step marble staircase was brought from Jerusalem to Rome in the 4th century under the reign of Emperor Constantine, at the request of his mother, Helen, a collector of relics of Jesus.
It was visited by many worshipers before being covered in 1723 with wooden planks to protect it from damage caused by the pilgrims.
The protective planks were briefly removed in 1950 for cleaning — but not opened to the public — and since then the staircase, believed to be stained with the blood of Christ in several spots on the 11th step, had never been exposed.
Nina, a Ukrainian pilgrim living in Rome, was among the first to climb the stairs, which in some places have dents of up to 15 centimeters caused by knees and feet of worshipers over centuries.
“I came to pray for my country which is at war,” she told AFP.
“It was very moving to know that we were on the same steps as Christ,” said Angela, a Rome native.
Once the wooden protection was removed, the restoration workers were surprised to discover thousands of small notes and coins left by pilgrims, Paolo Violini, one of the works managers, told reporters.
They also discovered two crosses, one made of porphyry and the other made of bronze, inlaid on the top step and marking the place where Jesus would have been standing before his Roman judges.
However, no one knows for sure whether this staircase, which has been in Rome for centuries, is the same one that was in Jerusalem 2000 years ago.
“There is no scientific certainty, but there is now a possibility to perform some studies,” Violini told AFP.
The stairs were opened to the public on April 11 and will stay open for two months before being covered again, according to Barbara Jatta, the director of the Vatican Museums.