Sancta Sanctorum Chapel Rome

The Sancta Sanctorum Chapel is the chapel at the top of the Holy Stairs (Scala Santa) in Rome. After climbing these steps, which has to be done on one’s knees, one can pray in front of the chapel. On the wall behind the altar is a famous painting called Acheropìta.

Sancta Sanctorum Chapel Rome

Useful information

Sancta Sanctorum Chapel Rome
Sancta Sanctorum Chapel

Address: Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano, 14 – Roma. Phone: +39 06 7726641. Opening times: Weekdays from 06:00 till 13:30 and from 15:00 till 18:30 (till 19:00 from April to September); on Sundays and holidays the Sancta Sanctorum opens at 07:00. Price: 5 Euros.

History and description

The Sancta Sactorum Chapel is separated from the Scala Santa by a massive iron gate. In the middle ages, it was one of the main destinations for pilgrims in Rome. During the Renaissance, the chapel served as a private oratory of the popes themselves.

The chapel was originally dedicated to San Lorenzo in Palatio. It was not until the 11th century that people began to use the name Sancta Sanctorum, because of the many relics of the saints kept there.

The chapel is first mentioned in the 8th century Liber Pontificalis. In the 10th century, it gained importance because of the liturgy of the Settimana Santa (“Holy Week”) and because of the presence of the popes in the Lateran.

In the 9th century, pope Gregory IV had a private apartment, where he could pray quietly, built near the chapel. His successors had the chapel further embellished. Since the 13th century, when Niccolò III made the last changes, the monument has not changed significantly.

The wall paintings are attributed to the Romanesque school and date from that time, as do the mosaics above the altar and the cosmic floor.

Calixtus III had the robust retaining wall built in the middle of the 15th century.

The Acheropìta

The Acheropìta is the image of the Most Holy Redeemer on the wall behind the altar. The name Acheropìta means “not painted by human hands”. The Savior is depicted seated on a throne. His right hand makes a blessing gesture and his left hand holds the Gospel. Its origin is not known, but in the 8th century it was so venerated that Pope Stefano II carried it on his back in a procession through the city, to ward off a possible attack by the Lombards. The Acheropíta was restored several times and the face of the Redeemer as seen today is the result of a reproduction on a silk cloth that was attached to the original (12th century).


Below the papal altar are two bronze doors, decorated with 13th century bas-reliefs and inscriptions, protected by a huge iron cage. Here, the treasures and relics are preserved in a sarcophagus of cypress wood commissioned by Pope Leo III.

Between 1521 and 1902 the sarcophagus was never opened. In that year, P.F. Jubaru received permission to examine the head of Saint Agnes. In 1905, the shrine was reopened to view the collection of relics. A large number of reliquaries were subsequently transferred to the Museo Sacro e Cristiano of the Vatican Library. The heads of the Saints Peter and Paul, which were also preserved here, had already been moved to the main altar of the Basilica of St. John Lateran by Pope Urban V in the 14th century.

Sancta Sanctorum Chapel, Rome

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