The Stations of the Cross (Way of the Cross, Via Crucis) are the path in the Old City of Jerusalem where Jesus walked after his trial, carrying his cross, on the way to his crucifixion. The Via Dolorosa pilgrimage been followed since early Christianity and is recorded from the mid 4th Century. The Via Dolorosa pilgrimage is followed by Christians of many denominations, but especially Catholics and Orthodox.
The Material Via Dolorosa
Historically, the Via Dolorosa has followed an alternative routes in the Old City of Jerusalem.
- Jesus’s Last Day: According to the New Testament, the day before his death, Jesus held the famous last supper with his disciples. It is believed that the location of the last supper was in the south of the Old City at what today is the Cenacle. Jesus’ group then spent the night at the Garden of Gethsemane east of Jerusalem. Here, Jesus was arrested by the Jewish priests and brought to the temple for trial. The temple was at the Temple Mount with its center presumably at the Dome of the Rock. From here, he was brought to Pontius Pilate. Traditionally, it is believed that Pilate resided north of the temple, where today’s Via Dolorosa begins.
- Byzantine Period: Byzantine pilgrims followed a similar path to the one taken today, but did not stop along the way
- Eighth Century: During the 8th Century there was a change in the route. Pilgrims began at the Garden of Gethsemane, headed south to Mount Zion then doubled back around the Temple Mount to the Holy Sepulchre.
- Middle Ages: Due to a split in the Latin Church, each sect brought the pilgrims to churches belonging to their sect. Those with churches to the west went westward and those with churches in the east went eastward.
- The Early Franciscan Route: Christian pilgrimage, especially Catholic, was organised by the Franciscans during the 14th Century 16th Centuries. The Franciscan route began at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and included eight stations in the direction opposite to that walked by Jesus in the New Testament. The Stations of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa were established by the Franciscans.
- The Later Franciscan Route: The route was reversed in the 16th century when the Franciscans began to follow the events of the Passion chronologically from the House of Pilate and ending at Golgotha.
- Today: The present route was developed by the Franciscans after the Ottoman Sultan granted them administration of the Christian holy places in Jerusalem in 1342. In 1342 Pope Clement VI declared that the Franciscans are the official custodians of the Holy places (“Custodia Terroe Sanctoe”). It follows that of the early Byzantine pilgrims. The route begins at the northwest corner of the Temple Mount just inside the Lions’ Gate (St. Stephen’s Gate), at the Umariya Elementary School, near the location of the former Antonia Fortress. The route ends in the west at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, within which the remaining five stations are located.
- Alternative routes: Anglicans believe Jesus would have been led north towards the Garden Tomb. Dominican Catholics start from Herod’s Palace near Jaffa Gate. Although the service of Stations of the Cross did not develop until after the schism of the 11th century, it is based on ancient custom originating in Jerusalem. Orthodox Christians are given permission to use post-Schism devotional material that is consistent with Orthodox theology.
Only eight of the fourteen traditional Stations of the Cross have clear scriptural foundation. Stations 3, 4, 6, 7, and 9 are not specifically attested to in the gospels. Station 13 seems to embellish the gospel record.
The Spiritual Significance of the Via Dolorosa
The devout believe that the Via Dolorosa is the actual path that Jesus walked, and the stations there, the actual places the events occurred. This involves meditating at each station on the way to the Cross, recalling Jesus’ journey along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem on Good Friday. Catholic pilgrims come with devotional booklets with prayers and Bible passages for each station.
Stations of the Cross tableaux in churches
The term Via Dolorosa also refers to a series of pictures or tableaux representing certain scenes in the Passion of Christ, each corresponding to a particular incident, or the special form of devotion connected with such representations.
Pontius Pilate condemns Jesus to death in the Praetorium. Jesus is held in prison. (Mathew 27,19), (Mathew 27,24)
Nobody knows the site of Pontius Pilate’s Praetorium. There are three possible locations:
- Herod the Great’s Palace or Citadel near Jaffa Gate
- The Antonia Fortress north of the Temple compound. The Umariyya School, now the location of the first Station of the Cross, is believed to stand on part of its site, the area Ecce Homo Arch.
- The Palace of the Hasmoneans located midway between Herod’s Palace and the Temple, in what is today the Jewish Quarter.
The Umariyya School is open Monday-Thursday and Saturday, 2.30-6pm, Friday 2.30-4pm. Entry with caretaker’s permission. The southern end of the courtyard offers a view overlooking the Temple Mount.
Jesus is made to carry the cross on which he will die. Jesus willingly accepts and patiently bears his cross. (John 19,17), (Luke 2,34-35), (Luke 3,31-32)
The Second Station is near the remains of an ancient Roman construction known as the Arch of Ecce Homo, in memory of the words pronounced by Pilate as he showed Jesus to the crowd. Only part of this triumphal arch, erected under Hadrian (135 AD) to celebrate the capture of Jerusalem, is visible nowadays. the right arch is still preserved today inside the Church of the Sisters of Zion. This site which has yielded the remains of ancient ruins, such as the lithostratus, ancient dice game and the Struthion Pool.
There are three interesting Catholic churches at the second station of the Via Dolorosa:
- The Chapel of the Flagellation – Franciscan
- The Chapel of the Condemnation and Imposition of the Cross – Franciscan
- Church of Saint Anne
- Pools of Bethesda (Beit Hisda)
Weakened by torments and by loss of blood, Jesus falls beneath his cross for the first time. This is near the The Ecce Homo Arch and The Ecce Homo Basilica. There are three Falls: stations three, seven, and nine. (John 1,29.36)
The place on Al-Wad Road is marked by a small chapel belonging to the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate. It is a nineteenth century building renovated and completed by Catholic soldiers of the Free Polish Army during World War II.
Jesus meets his mother, Mary, who is filled with grief. (Luke 2,49), (Luke 2,35) This station also on Al-Wad Road is commemorated by a small oratory with an exquisite lunette over the entrance.
Soldiers force Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross. The Cyrenian helps Jesus carry the cross. (Mark 15,21), (Mathew 11,28-30) An inscription on the architrave of one door recalls the encounter between Jesus and Simon the Cyrenian.
The Franciscan’s presence in the Holy Land started in the early 13th Century, when they resided in a small house on Via Dolorosa. The Franciscan chapel here, dedicated to Simon the Cyrenian, is on the site of the Franciscans’ first house in Jerusalem, in 1229.
Veronica steps through the crowd to wipe the face of Jesus. (Luke 6,21-24). The Church of St Veronica belonging to the Melkite Greek Catholics preserves the memory of the meeting between Jesus and Veronica, whose tomb may also be seen here.
According to tradition, the face of Jesus was imprinted on the cloth she used to wipe it. A cloth described as Veronica’s veil is reported to have been kept in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome since the 8th century.
Jesus falls beneath the weight of the cross a second time. The place of Jesus’ second fall is marked by a pillar, which rises at the crossroads between the Via Dolorosa and the picturesque and lively Market Street. Two Franciscan chapels, one above the other, mark the Seventh Station.
Inside the lower chapel is a large column of red stone, part of the colonnaded Cardo Maximus, the main street of Byzantine Jerusalem, which ran from north to south.
Jesus tells the women to weep not for him but for themselves and for their children. (Luke 23: 28-31) On the outer wall of a Greek Orthodox monastery is carved a small cross blackened by time. It was at that point that Jesus met the pious women.
Weakened almost to the point of death, Jesus falls a third time. The shaft of a pillar encased in the wall of the Coptic Patriarchate marks here the third fall of Jesus and is situated behind the apse of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. (John 19,17)
The third fall of Jesus is commemorated by a column of the Roman period at the entrance to the Coptic monastery. To the left of the pillar, three steps lead to a terrace that is the roof of the Chapel of St Helena in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Here, in a cluster of primitive cells, live a community of Ethiopian Orthodox monks.
Although not traditionally part of the Stations, the Resurrection of Jesus is sometimes included as a fifteenth station.