It is, at first, a startling sight to walk into the Lateran Palace in Rome and see a staircase crammed with people on their knees.
It all began with Saint Helena, mother of Roman Emperor Constantine, who went on a sanctified shopping spree in the Holy Land in the fourth century. She brought back to Rome a piece of the true cross, a few thorns from Christ's crown, and even the finger from doubting Thomas. She also brought back this staircase which allegedly came from Pontius Pilate's palace in Jerusalem. Which, for believers, means that these stairs are where Christ took his last few steps before being condemned.
Today, the Scala Santa, or Holy Steps, are one of the most popular spots in Rome for pilgrims who ascend the steps on their knees, reciting a prayer for each of the 28 steps.