Every day many faithful rise on their knees and imbued in the silence of prayer the "Holy Stairs" of Rome, 28 marble steps that according to the tradition rose Jesus Christ to be judged and that from today, for the first time in three centuries, they are shown without the wood that protected them.
"For sixty days we can walk with our knees and touch the marble that Jesus himself stepped on in the Praetorian palace where he was tried by Pontius Pilate," said Father Francesco Guerra, rector of the Pontifical Shrine of the "Holy Stairs".
The marble staircase has been restored during the last two years, revealing some of its best kept secrets, and for its inauguration in the open it was blessed by the Cardinal Vicar of Rome, Angelo De Donatis, who sprinkled holy water with a hyssop.
The steps are located in a building that is close to, but independent from, the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome and is one of the most visited places of pilgrimage in the city.
According to an ancient tradition, Jesus climbed this staircase in the Praetorian Palace in Jerusalem where he was sentenced to death and was transferred to Rome in 326 AD by order of St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, who in 313, under the Edict of Milan, legalized Christianity and made it the official religion of the Empire after centuries of persecution.
A story that "remains covered by the haze of tradition", as recognized by Paolo Violini, restorer of the Vatican Museums, who took charge of cleaning up this relic.
At first the staircase was in a portico outside the Lateran palace, papal seat before the Vatican, but it was Sixto V who in 1589 ordered to build a specific building to house it given its already widespread veneration.
It consists of twenty-eight white marble steps leading to the "Sancta Sanctorum", a small chapel where the pontiffs were gathered in prayer until the Middle Ages, enormously rich in relics and can only be seen through a thick grid.
There is no Catholic pilgrim who does not pass through the "Scala Santa" on his journey to Rome and many every day fulfill the tradition of raising her on her knees to obtain in return the indulgence of her sins.
But from today and during the next 60 days, until Pentecost, they will also do so stepping on the original marble, since the walnut slats that covered and protected it since 1723, by order of Pope Innocent XIII, have been removed for restoration.
His discovery aroused great interest among the faithful, who crowded to the doors of the building to be the first to touch the marble, provided that plastic bags in the feet to avoid staining, especially in this rainy day in Rome.
By removing the boards that protected these steps have been revealed fascinating secrets, such as the presence of three crosses where it is believed that droplets of Christ's blood fell: one bronze on the last step, another red marble in the first and another in the Eleventh, where they say that Jesus stumbled and broke the stone.
But it has also allowed to discover a huge amount of coins, bills and letters with prayers, fears, wishes and concerns that for years the faithful have been straining through the cracks in the wood and now will be adequately studied, said the director of the Vatican Museums, Barbara Jatta.
What most attracts the attention of this staircase is precisely the form that marble has acquired, deformed by the passage of thousands and thousands of faithful during its untold history, to the point that the stone of some rungs is perforated.
The restoration of the "Holy Stairs" and the wood that covered it is only part of a much wider project of improvement of the whole complex launched since 2000 to clean it, especially its rich fresh, until now very damaged and even cracked.
In particular, the pictorial cycles of the walls and the vault that delimit the staircase, which for centuries served as "Biblia pauperum", the book of the poor, because they illustrated the illiterate faithful on the different biblical passages.
These labors have also revealed other surprises such as many graffiti, paintings canceled by the desire of some pontiff and even a scribble with which one of the painters who decorated the building left his improvised portrait for posterity.