Via Dolorosa (Latin for Sorrowful Way) also known as the Jesus Way of the Cross
The Via Dolorosa, or Way of Suffering, goes through the busy streets of the Old City of Jerusalem. In 1217 Saint Francis founded the Custody of the Holy Land, its mission is guarding and promoting the devotion to holy places of the Holy Land and the middle east. During the 14th and 15th centuries, the Franciscans developed a pilgrimage route to recall the Sorrowful Passion of Christ known as the Via Dolorosa. The Via Dolorosa consists of fourteen stations, eight have a scriptural foundation and the remaining six are based on tradition. In 1991 Pope John Paul II introduced a form of the devotion which many of us know called the Scriptural Way of the Cross.
The current route of the Via Dolorosa is close to a half a mile in length with fourteen stations marked in varies ways along the route. The path requires one to stay alert as the path is slippery marble walkways switching from ramps to steps every few feet with no logical reason. Each station is said to be located on or near the actual spot of the scene. Nine of the stations are located along the winding streets of Old Jerusalem and the final five are within the compound of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The route of the Via Dolorosa begins near the Lions’ Gate in the Muslim Quarter and ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
Friday afternoons the Franciscan Friers lead a procession of the Via Dolorosa. Pilgrims from all Christian faiths join in this procession many caring large wooden crosses in remembrance of Christ’s passion. Our group awakes long before the sun rises to walk the Via Dolorosa. The early morning walk allowed us a bit more solitude to contemplate each of the stations with reverence. The morning was cool, cats were on the prowl along with a few folks on their way to work, our emotions were high. At each station, one of the group members read a passage provided by our guide. I read at station one, my voice cracked but I managed to hold back the tears. The reader at the second station released all her emotions and tears flowed. Reading/hearing the sufferings of our Lord’s sorrowful passion overwhelmed our senses and leaves us drained. Our early morning walk allowed for a peaceful walk but we do not have the opportunity to view the chapels as they are not yet open. Later in the day, I venture out on my own attempting to retrace our steps and visit inside each of the stations.
Below are pictures from both our early morning walk and my afternoon venture. I have included scripture or meditations to accompany the pictures.
The traditional 14 stations of the Via Dolorosa:
Station I – Jesus is condemned to death
The first station marks the traditional site where Jesus was condemned to death.
Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!” So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.
**The first station is located close to the Lion’s Gate in the courtyard of the Umariyya School. This site is believed to be the location of the Antonia Fortress which housed the Roman guard. Early in the morning, the gates are closed thus our first view of the stop is an advertisement… if there was an icon for this station I didn’t see it. During my afternoon venture forgot to take a map of the Old City and found myself walking in circles in the crowded streets of the Muslim quarter. I managed to find several of the stations then it started to rain. The marble became slippery and I feared I would slip on the meandering steps and ramps so I gave up and headed back to the hotel. I just found my excuse to return to Isreal…
Station II – Jesus carries his Cross
John 19: 16-17 …So they took Jesus; 17 and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha.
**The second station is located near The Chapel of Condemnation and the Ecce Homo arch. This is location is near the compound of the Franciscan monastery, across the street from the first station.
Arch of Ecce Homo, crosses over the Via Dolorosa. This Latin name is in memory of the words pronounced by Pilate, “Behold the Man”, 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 now visible.
The Monastery of the Flagellations courtyard houses two chapels. Per the Custodian website, They open at 8am and closes at 5pm or 6pm depending on the season. The floor of the Chapel of Condemnation holds several stones of the “Lithostrotos”. Lithostrotos means stone paved area and by Christian Tradition a certain area near where Jesus trial was held. Some of the stones have lines carved in them that were used to play games, perhaps even stones the Romans played on for the clothes of Christ. In addition, the papier-mache figures depicting the Passion and the Imposition of the Cross above the altar should not be missed, unfortunately, I could not find the area on my afternoon venture and missed it all. The Chapel of the Flagellation has beautiful stained-glass windows behind the altar and either side of the sanctuary. They show Pilate washing his hands; Jesus being scourged, and Barabbas expressing joy at his release. On the ceiling above the altar, is a mosaic on a golden background depicting the crown of thorns pierced by stars. Oh, how I wished I would have taken a map… but again this leaves me with a reason to return!
Station III – Jesus falls for the first time under the weight of the cross
This station has no specific scripture attributed to it however I found this beautiful meditation for the third station from then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger for the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum, Good Friday 2005
“Man has fallen, and he continues to fall: often he becomes a caricature of himself, no longer the image of God, but a mockery of the Creator. Is not the man who, on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho, fell among robbers who stripped him and left him half-dead and bleeding beside the road, the image of humanity par excellence? Jesus’ fall beneath the Cross is not just the fall of the man Jesus, exhausted from his scourging. There is a more profound meaning in this fall, as Paul tells us in the Letter to the Philippians: “though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men… He humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a Cross” (Phil 2:6-8). In Jesus’s fall beneath the weight of the Cross, the meaning of his whole life is seen: his voluntary abasement, which lifts us up from the depths of our pride. The nature of our pride is also revealed: it is that arrogance which makes us want to be liberated from God and left alone to ourselves, the arrogance which makes us think that we do not need his eternal love, but can be the masters of our own lives. In this rebellion against truth, in this attempt to be our own god, creator, and judge, we fall headlong and plunge into self-destruction. The humility of Jesus is the surmounting of our pride; by his abasement, he lifts us up. Let us allow Him to lift us up. Let us strip away our sense of self-sufficiency, our false illusions of independence, and learn from him, the One who humbled himself, to discover our true greatness by bending low before God and before our downtrodden brothers and sisters.”
**The third station is located on a sculpture above the door of a small chapel belonging to the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate. I don’t know how but I found the stations in this area! The nineteenth-century building has been renovated by Catholic soldiers of the Free Polish Army during World War II. I later learned I should have looked up as the dome depicts thorns, excuse number two for a return trip! Turning to the right is a gift shop, following signs I went down steps to find the remanents of a Mamluk-period public bath, known as Hamam es-Sultan. This station is located on the corner of via Dolorosa and El Wad (Hagai) street.
The encounter between Mary and Jesus is not described in the Bible but has been part of the tradition for centuries. The Gospel of Luke provides us with a look at Mary’s anguish.
**The fourth station is located close to station 3, further south on El-Wad (Hagai) street. at the Armenian Church, Our Lady of the Spasm also known as Church of Our Lady of Sorrows Church. The name of the church is meant to represent the deep grief felt by Mary. Above the door entrance is a lunette carved by artist Zieliensky depicting Jesus falling. According to the tradition here, Jesus met his mother Mary. Under the church, in front of the statue of Jesus with Mary, there is a 5th-century-floor mosaic outlining the sandals of Mary marking the place Mary was said to be standing when she embraced Jesus as he carried the cross through Jerusalem. I failed to notice this mosaic as I snapped a photo of the statue…hum…excuse number three for a return visit.
Station V – Simon helps Jesus to carry His Cross
Mathew 27:32 As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross.
**The 5th station is located at the corner of Via Dolorosa road and El-Wad (“The Gai”) road. At this corner is the fifth station, the Chapel of Simon of Cyren. a simple Franciscan chapel built-in 1895. The inscription, on one of the beams of the Chapel doors, references the Synoptic event. On the front of the altar is a red Jerusalem Cross, The five-fold cross represents the four quarters of the world, Christ and his four main disciples, or the five wounds of Christ. The cross originated in the 11th century and was used in the coat of arms of crusaders, and the seals of the crusader rulers of Jerusalem. Excuse number four for a return visit – it seems I failed to notice that towards the right of the concrete support, near the corner of the wall at shoulder height, is a smooth stone with a hollow. According to tradition, this hollow was an imprint made when Jesus stumbled and rested his hand upon the wall to keep his balance
Station VI – Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
This station is based on tradition and not found in the Bible. The tradition is Veronica wiped the sweat from the face of Jesus with her silk veil. Tradition says that the face of Jesus was then imprinted on the veil, and it is now kept as a relic in Rome.
“Your face, Lord, do I seek. Hide not your face from me” (Ps 27:8-9). Veronica embodies the wish of the devout men and women of the Old Testament, the wish of all believers to see the face of God. It is also thought Veronica is the woman who touched Jesus’s garment in Matthew 9:20.
**The six-station is located at the Church of the Holy Face and Saint Veronica, built by the Greek Catholics Church over what is thought to have been Veronica’s house. Next to the door icon on the wall of the chapel is a small pillar with a Latin inscription “6 ST PIA VERONICA FACIEM CHRISTI LINTEO DETERCI”. The building is administered by the Little Sister of Jesus and is not generally open to the public
Station VII – Jesus falls for the second time
There is no specific scripture for this station, I have chosen to use the meditation for the seventh station from then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger for the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum, Good Friday 2005
“The tradition that Jesus fell three times beneath the weight of the Cross evokes the fall of Adam – the state of fallen humanity – and the mystery of Jesus’ own sharing in our fall. Throughout history, the fall of a man constantly takes on new forms. In his First Letter, Saint John speaks of a threefold fall: lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life. He thus interprets the fall of man and humanity against the backdrop of the vices of his own time, with all its excesses and perversions. But we can also think, in more recent times, of how a Christianity which has grown weary of faith has abandoned the Lord: the great ideologies, and the banal existence of those who, no longer believing in anything, simply drift through life, have built a new and worse paganism, which in its attempt to do away with God once and for all, have ended up doing away with man. And so man lies fallen in the dust. The Lord bears this burden and falls, over and over again, in order to meet us. He gazes on us, he touches our hearts; he falls in order to raise us up.”
**The seventh station is located at the intersection of Via Dolorosa with Khan es-Zeit (the Oil Market) a black door decorated with gold and red leads to a small chapel owned by the Franciscans. This is the site where Jesus passed through the Gate of Judgment. I literally stumbled upon this small chapel tripping over the feet of a man sitting in a chair guarding the entry.
Station VIII – Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
Luke 23:28-3128 But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
**The eighth station is located next to the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Saint Charalampus. The outer wall of the monastery is marked by a carving of a cross and the Greek word ICXC NIKA which stands for ‘Jesus Christ Conquers’. One more thing I could not find… what are we on now..excuse number five…
Station IX – Jesus falls for the third time
There is no specific scripture for the third fall, I have found this lovely meditation by SR. ELENA MARIA MANGANELLI, O.S.A. that was used for the 2011 Good Friday Way of the Cross at the Colosseum
In his third fall, Jesus expresses the love with which, for our sake, he embraced the burden of suffering, and he renews his call to follow him faithfully to the end. But he also gives us a glimpse of what lies beyond the veil of the promise: “If we endure, we shall also reign with him”.
Jesus’ falls are part of the mystery of his Incarnation. He sought us out in our weakness, descending into its very depths in order to raise us up to himself. “In himself he showed us the path of humility, to open up for us the path of return”. “He taught us patience as the weapon that conquers the world”. Now, falling to the ground for the third time, even as he “sympathizes with our weaknesses”, he shows us how not to succumb to temptation: we are to persevere, to remain steadfast, in a word, “to remain in him
**The ninth station is located by the small Coptic Orthodox church of St. Helen and the entrance to the Ethiopian Orthodox Monastery, it is marked by a black disc on a column in front of the entrance to the Coptic monastery. I failed to find this area during my afternoon backtracing of the stations, I guess that makes Excuse number six now for the return visit to the Holy Lands.
The last five stations are found inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher
Station X – Jesus is stripped of His clothes
33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34 they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots;[a] 36 then they sat down there and kept watch over him.
**The tenth station is located in a small chapel at the top of the stairway to the right of the entrance of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This is the Chapel of the Franks, meaning Chapel of the Franciscans. The chapel is not open to the public. To get a peek of the chapel one must climb the stairs and peep in the glass windows panes.
Station XI – Jesus is nailed to the cross
37 Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
38 Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by derided[a] him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself.[He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him.
**The eleventh station Is located to the right in the section that belongs to the Catholic Church and is known as the Latin Calvary. The ceiling holds a 12th-century medallion of the Ascension of Jesus which is the only surviving Crusader mosaic within the Church.
Jesus was nailed to the cross, as depicted in the mosaic Nails of the Cross Altar, also known as Latin Calvary in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.The Twelfth
Station VII – Jesus Dies on the cross
19 Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek.
Matthew 27:45-50 – 54
45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land[a] until three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48 At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 54 Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
**The twelfth station is located in the area to the left and belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church this area is known as the Greek Orthodox Calvary. Underneath the altar, is a silver disk with a hole here pilgrims can kneel and touch the spot where the Cross stood. The chapel is very ornate and includes silver icons of the Virgin Mary and St John next to Jesus’ side. A walk around the church will take you to an area that is directly under the twelfth station where you can see the natural rock of Calvary and the fissure which was caused by the earthquake at the time Christ died.
Station XIII – Jesus is taken down from the cross
55 Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
**The thirteenth Station is located at the entrance of the church, this area is known as the Stone of Unction (Stone of Anointing) and is believed to be the site where Jesus’ was prepared for burial. The reddish marble slab on view was placed over the original stone in 1810 in order to protect it. Hanging above the slab are eight lamps adorned with cross-bearing chain links, these lamps are donated by Armenians, Copts, Greek, and Latin churches.
59 So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb
Station XIV – Jesus is placed in the tomb
Very low entrance from the Chapel of the Angel leading to the Tomb chamber.
John 19:38-42 Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.[a] 40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 41 At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42 Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
This was my second visit to the Holy Lands, my second time to walk the Via Dolorosa. I was so overwhelmed the first trip, my memories were just a mixture of the feelings I had during that trip, the overwhelming feelings of love, of the grief, of gratefulness. This second time I was able to focus and relate more to the scriptures to be more attuned to my fellow pilgrims. The most moving thing this time was having the honor to share with my fellow pilgrims’ emotional breakdowns and tears as the reality of Our Lords Love for us opened up our hearts. Coming to understand how much God loves us is the most amazing feeling! God loves us more than we can ever imagine.
God is Good all the time!