Among the most sacred Catholic sites in Rome, the Scala Santa (or Holy Stairs) is a solemn destination for believers from pilgrims to popes, who climb the 28 marble steps on their knees in devotion. Believed to have once led to Pontius Pilate’s praetorium, the stairs are said to have been climbed by Jesus on his way to trial.
St. Helena is believed to have taken the Scala Santa to Rome in the year 326 as a gift to her son, the emperor Constantine, who was building the Basilica of St. John Lateran. The stairs were installed in the Lateran Palace complex to lead to the Chapel of San Lorenzo, which contains some of the holiest relics in Christian history and is decorated with frescoed scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Pilgrims today climb a nearby replica of the Scala Santa, as the original staircase is closed to visitors.
The Scala Santa is a highlight of Christian Rome and Passion of Christ tours, led by a guide to best illustrate the historical and religious importance of early Christian landmarks. Some tours also include skip-the-line access to the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Wear comfortable shoes, a hat, and sunscreen if you’re joining a walking tour of Christian Rome, as you’ll be outdoors for long stretches.
- Knees and shoulders must be covered to access the Scala Santa replica and Chapel of San Lorenzo.
- Photography isn’t allowed.
- The Scala Santa replica isn’t accessible to wheelchairs.
- Visitors who can’t ascend the stairs on their knees are allowed to kneel on the lowest step and walk up the remaining stairs.
How to Get There
The Scala Santa and Chapel of San Lorenzo are part of the Basilica of St. John Lateran complex, about a 5-minute walk from the San Giovanni metro station on Line A.
When to Get There
Rome’s holy sites, including the St. John Lateran complex and Scala Santa, are especially crowded during Catholic holidays and Jubilee years; if possible, visit outside of these popular periods.
The Chapel of San Lorenzo (Sancta Sanctorum)
The first private papal chapel, the Chapel of San Lorenzo is known as the Sancta Sanctorum (Holy of Holies) because it houses a reliquary said to contain the bones of at least 13 saints. The chapel also contains other precious relics, including an icon of Christ Pantocrator.
Scala Sancta (the Holy Stairs) is open daily from 6 am to 1 pm and 3 pm to 7 pm. There is no charge for admission, and no reservation needed. To access the Sancta Sanctorum there is a €3.50 admission fee. Both are located in the Rione Monti of Rome at Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano 14. The closest metro stop is San Giovanni.