When Christ was accused of rebellion by the Jewish Sanhedrin, he was sent to Pontius Pilate for judgement. Legend says that he ascended the 28 marble steps leading to Pilate’s Praetorium where Pilate questioned him prior to judgement. Three hundred years later, as Rome was converting to Christianity under the leadership of Emperor Constantine and his zealous mother St. Helena, Helena had the marble steps of the Praetorium extracted and sent to Rome. Tradition says that by ascending the steps on one’s knees, the Scala Sancta, Holy Stairs or Jerusalem Steps, will bring Catholic Pilgrims special blessings, especially on Fridays or during Lent. It was following an ascent of these steps that Martin Luther allegedly experienced a prompting from the Holy Spirit directing him to rely on Faith rather than works. This experience was a turning point in Luther’s life and launched the reformation.
Today, Christian pilgrims still ascend the Jerusalem Steps on their knees, seeking for spiritual insight, divine guidance or, in Catholic Terminology, plenary indulgence–remission of temporal punishment as a result of sin. Interestingly, there is a sign at the base of the Scala Sancta instructing pilgrims that climbing the Holy Steps on bended knees does not substitute for sincere repentance. To receive entrance to the true Holy City, one must ascend the golden steps with a broken heart and contrite spirit.