Everyone who goes to Rome pays a visit to the Scala Santa, or the Sacred Stairs of the judgment seat of Pilate. It can hardly be credited that the actual marble stairs of Pilate's judgment seat were brought to Rome, although such a thing is within the realm of possibility.
Roman Catholic superstition bestows a special merit and grace upon the devout pilgrim who ascends those stairs on his knees. It was when he was in this act of devotion that Martin Luther, a pilgrim in Rome from Germany, heard the words sounding in his ear which afterward became the watchword of the Reformation—"The just shall live by faith!"
However one dismisses the likelihood of the stairs upon which he is looking being actually those of Pilate's judgment seat, it is not possible to stand there without thinking of Pilate and of Christ. Those two figures rise before you—the heavy-headed, large-bodied Pontius Pilate, sitting at the head of the stairs, perplexed as to his prisoner; and Jesus, standing on the marble flags at the foot of the stairs, his head crowned with thorns, a purple robe about him, the blood from his recent scourging making a crimson stain upon the white marble of the steps.
In his tale The Procurator of Judea Anatole France imagines Pontius Pilate meeting at a fashionable watering place on the Bay of Naples an old friend, Lamia, who had been exiled from Rome and had spent much time in Syria. The two men sit down together and have pleasant conversation about the events of thirty years before.
Pilate tells Lamia of his troubles with the Jews and incidents of his administration as procurator, and chides Lamia for his licentious habits and his failure to marry and give children to the state, as every good citizen ought to do. But Lamia's attention has been drawn to a group of Syrian dancers who are performing nearby. As he looks eagerly upon them, he tells Pilate how he once knew a Jewish dancer at Jerusalem, who, with her loins arched, her head thrown back, dragged down by the weight of her heavy red hair, her eyes swimming with voluptuousness, eager, languishing, and compliant, would have made Cleopatra herself grow pale with envy. He tells how he followed this fascinating dancer wherever she went and spent much time in her company. But one day she disappeared and he saw her no more. He sought for her in all sorts of disreputable alleys and taverns, but it was only by chance, and long months afterward, that he learned that she had attached herself to a small company of men and women who were followers of a young Galilean healer.
"His name was Jesus," said Lamia, "and he came from Nazareth. He was crucified for some crime, I don't know what. Pontius, do you remember anything about the man?"
Pontius contracted his brows, and his hand rose to his forehead in the attitude of one who probes the depths of memory. Then, after a silence of some seconds—"Jesus?" he murmured, "Jesus—of Nazareth? I cannot call him to mind."
Lamia remembered the Jewish dancer Mary of Magdala, but Pilate could not remember Jesus of Nazareth!