Even before midnight, people began gathering at the foot of Mount Adams to participate in a Good Friday tradition dating back to the late 1860s: praying the steps.
An estimated 8-10,000 people are expected to climb the stairs up the side of Mount Adams to Holy Cross-Immaculata. Some pray, some read the Bible, and some meditate.
Church historian Jim Steiner says it's not limited to Catholics. “It’s a spiritual experience,” he says. “You don’t have to be Catholic to be spiritual. You don’t even have to be religious to be spiritual.”
But the tradition does have its roots in Christianity. Steiner says it represents the Passion of Christ, the last 40 hours in the life of Jesus, and he says some people take that to heart.
“Some people start the pilgrimage from all the way down by Riverside Drive, also known as Eastern Avenue, and they come up 300 steps. I’ve never seen this, but I’ve heard of it, that people come up on their knees.
“I think a journey and destination is a really good way to describe it. It’s a personal journey,” Steiner says. “It’s done to remember Christ’s suffering on the cross.”
Steiner says, for some, the journey isn't over once they reach the top.
“When people get to the top, they often will go to the right of the entrance, which is right above the steps, and there’s a large crucifix there. They’ll kneel at the base of the crucifix. A lot of them will touch it and they’ll pray there. Then they’ll come inside and sit here quietly and pray or do what Catholics call the stations of the cross.”
Steiner says the earliest church records refer to people praying the steps in 1872, but he believes the tradition is older than that. When the church was under construction in 1860, people wore foot paths in the dirt to get there. Those paths were eventually replaced by wooden steps. Concrete steps were installed in 1911.
Steiner says the church is asking people to bring canned or non-perishable food, which will be donated to Hope Emergency Program, a food bank in Brown County.
Holy Cross-Immaculata will also hold two services during the day followed by an evening fish fry.