For the first time in 300 years, the marble steps of the Holy Stairs will be free from wooden panels installed in 1723 to protect the stairs and left uncovered for the public.
For about 40 days, people will be able to touch and climb the bare stones that, according to tradition, are the ones Jesus climbed when Pontius Pilate brought him before the crowd and handed him over to be crucified.
The cleaned steps will be uncovered the week before Holy Week, during a special blessing ceremony at the Sanctuary of the Holy Stairs.
This 20-year-long project was overseen by the Vatican Museums and funded with the help of private donors, foundations and the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums.
Tradition holds that St. Helen, mother of the Emperor Constantine, brought the stairs to Rome from Jerusalem in 326 A.D.
The sanctuary walls and ceilings are covered with newly restored decorative paintings and frescoes depicting Christ’s passion and events of the Old Testament. It was built specifically for the stairs to be venerated by the public in the late 1580s, by order of Pope Sixtus V.
Since then, millions of people climbed the steps on their knees.
According to tradition, Jesus fell at the 11th step, cracking it with his knee. A cross marks the point of impact, and an open grate covers what was said to have been a spatter of his blood.
Workers carefully bagged the written prayer requests and mementos, which had been stuck into the open slats in the stair risers. They were to be given to the Passionist Fathers in charge of the sanctuary for cataloging and study. Text Edited and Shortened from CNS