From the Holy Land to Europe
Christian pilgrims contributed to the European development in Europe of the Stations of the Cross in its present form. Returning from the Holy Land, they brought oil from the lamps that burned around Jesus' tomb, soil. and relics from the holy places. More important, they brought memories of the liturgies, devotions, and shrines they experienced. Soon, churches and shrines were being built throughout Europe modeled on the pilgrim sites, and Jerusalem's devotions and liturgies influenced the liturgical and religious life of western Christians.
The Moslem conquest of Palestine in the 7th century contributed to the building of replicas of the holy places in Europe, as Christians, finding access to the holy places more difficult, sought places of pilgrimage nearer home. If they could not go to Jerusalem, they would have reminders of Jerusalem close by.
Bologna churches and shrines built by pilgrims to the Holy Land and modeled after important sites they had visited still exist throughout Europe. The complex of buildings called Santo Stefano (above, right) in Bologna, Italy, is an example. Four churches and oratories were constructed between the 5th and 17th centuries to recall the holy places, particularly the Holy Sepulchre. The complex was also called "Hierusalem" -- Jerusalem.
Scala Santa, Rome
For centuries, the Scala Santa (Holy Stairs) has attracted Christian pilgrims who wished to honor the passion of Jesus. The stairs are, reputedly, the stairs from Pilate's residence in Jerusalem that Jesus ascended to be judged by the Roman procurator and then condemned to death. Tradition says they were brought to Rome and located in the complex of buildings around the Basilica of Saint John Lateran. The stairs lead to the Sancta Sanctorum, the personal chapel of the early Popes, where papal relics and an ancient image of Jesus Christ have been kept for centuries. above, from left: exterior, Holy Stairs, Sancta Sanctorum.
The area is especially rich in relics of the passion of Jesus. Not far from the Scala Santa is the Church of Santa Croce (below, right), an ancient site where Saint Helena (depicted at left), mother of Constantine the Great, enshrined relics of the cross of Jesus that she brought from Jerusalem. Another portrayal of Saint Helena
From medieval times to the present, Christians have ascended the stairs on their knees to follow Jesus who was judged unjustly by Pilate. Pope Pius IX entrusted the site to the Passionists in 1853.
Are the stairs authentic? There is no evidence available about the origin of the Holy Stairs. The earliest sources that describe them are from medieval times when the site grew in importance as Christians sought contact with places and objects connected with the passion and resurrection of Jesus.