Via Dolorosa, also known as Way of the Cross is situated in the Old City of Jerusalem. It is the route that traditionally traces the steps of Jesus Christ on the way to Golgotha, the place of his crucifixion, burial and resurrection.
For centuries pilgrims have followed the Via Dolorosa daily, even though its path might not be exactly the one that Christ took on the last day of his life, as it has changed over the centuries together with the topography of the town. However, what is important, is the tradition and purpose of commemorating Christ’s passion under the cross.
Via Dolorosa has 14 stations, called Stations of the Cross, which relate to the particular events that happened on the way to the Place of the Skull. Let us take a closer look at each of the stations to understand better the events of the past.
Station I – Jesus is condemned to death
“So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor.” (Matt 27:2)
The Via Dolorosa starts in front of the Ottoman building of ‘Madrasa el-Omariyya’, a school situated in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, around 300 m from the Lion’s Gate. The tradition says that here stood the Roman Antonia Fortress where Jesus was sentenced to death. Here, every Friday at 3 pm through October till March or at 4 pm through April till September, the Franciscan brothers begin their walk along the Via Dolorosa.
Station II – Jesus carries His cross
“Then they led him away to crucify him.” (Matt 27:31)
This second station is in front of the Franciscan Monastery of the Flagellation, which was completely rebuilt in 1929 on medieval foundations. The church traditionally marks the place where Jesus took up the cross, after being flogged and crowned with thorns.
The Franciscan complex on the site contains two churches – the Flagellation and also the Condemnation. The buildings surrounding the monasteries house the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, a prestigious institute of biblical, geographical and archaeological studies and Studium Museum, which contains various archaeological items excavated by the Franciscans.
The Way of the Cross follows under the magnificent Ecce Homo Arch. The arch stands on the site where Pontius Pilate is said to have uttered the words: “Ecce homo” – Here is the man” (John 19:5) while exposing Jesus to the crowd. The arch was built in 70 AD to support a ramp being laid against the Antonian Fortress and after rebuilding Jerusalem in 135 AD the arch was reconstructed as a monument of Roman victory.
Station III – Jesus falls the first time
The third station is located on the crossroad between the streets of Via Dolorosa and El-Wad. It marks the moment when Jesus fell for the first time under the weight of the cross, commemorated by a relief above the door of a small chapel on this site.
The sanctuary once was the main entrance to the baths “Hammam es-Sultan”, built in 15th century. It was bought by the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate in 1856. It is sometimes called the ‘Polish chapel’ as it was renovated with the financial help of the Polish army in the late 40s of the 20th century.
Station IV – Jesus meets his mother
“When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” (Jn 19:26)
According to the tradition, the fourth station is situated at the place where Jesus met his mother Mary on the way to Golgotha. The location of this point, a bit further on El-Wad street, is exactly in front of the Armenian Church of Our Lady of the Spasm from 1881. When digging the foundations for the church, a great mosaic dating to the 7th century was found, which probably belonged to the church of St. Sophia (Holy Wisdom).
Between the third and fourth station, look under your feet and notice a well preserved stones remaining from the Roman street, probably the “secondary” Cardo of Aelia Capitolina (Jerusalem). It is well possible that Jesus could have walked on these stones.
Station V – Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry the cross
“As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross.” (Matt 27:32)
Jesus’ pitiful condition and the weight of the cross made the way extremely difficult. Roman soldiers ordered Simon of Cirene (today’s Libia) to help Jesus carry the cross. There are some theories that perhaps Simon might have been one of Christ’s disciples, however, he might have been just one of the pilgrims coming to Jerusalem in observance of Passover.
The fifth station commemorates this event and is located at the small church built in 1895, on the first Franciscan site in Jerusalem founded in 1229-1244.
Station VI – Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
This station is dedicated to a woman who wanted to ease the pain of Christ by whipping his face from blood and sweat with her veil. Then the piece of material she used revealed the impression of Christ’s face.
The exact story is not mentioned in the Gospels but can be based on those verses from Luke “A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him.”(23:27) proving the presence of women dedicated to Jesus at the site.
According to the tradition, which might be based on the writings of the ancient scholar Eusebius, it was Berenice (St. Veronica), a women once healed by Jesus, who wiped his face. The name Veronica could be a corruption of the name Berenice. However, the woman’s name could be also derived from the Latin words vera and icon which mean ‘true image’ – Jesus’ portrait on her veil.
In the wall of a small Greek Catholic chapel of “The Holy Face” there is an old stone with an inscription indicating the sixth station. The remains are probably parts of ancient monastery of St. Cosmas and Damian from the middle of 6th century.
Station VII -Jesus falls the second time
In the time of Christ, Golgotha was outside the city walls. Traditionally, the seventh station of the Via Dolorosa commemorates Jesus second fall under the weight of the cross. This time, he collapsed when crossing one of the gates of Jerusalem leading out to the country. The place is called “Gate of Judgment”.
The station is marked by a large Roman column placed in the Franciscan chapel, which once stood on the ancient thoroughfare, the Cardo Maximus, the main route of Roman Jerusalem.
Station VIII – Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
On the outer wall of a Greek Orthodox St. Charambalos monastery there is a small cross carved that marks the eight station, which is the traditional point where Jesus met the the women of Jerusalem, who mourned over his destiny. “Jesus turned and said to them, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.’” (Luke 23:28)
Station IX- Jesus falls the third time
A bit further and very close to Golgotha, the ninth station represents the site where Jesus fell for the third time. The spot is marked by a cross on a pillar located on the wall of the Coptic Patriarchate building, the northeastern part wall of the Holy Sepulcher.
Next to the ninth station there is a small Coptic Orthodox church of St. Helen. Inside there is a great water cistern, believed to be discovered by the mother of Emperor Constantine in the 4th century AD and has served as a source of water for the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
Station X- Jesus is stripped of his garments
“[…] they divided up his clothes by casting lots.” (Matt 27:35)
The tenth station is placed at the entrance of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and exactly in the Chapel of the Franks. At this spot Jesus was stripped off his clothes and once more ashamed in front of all the gathered people.
Station XI – Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross
After reaching the place of the crucifixion, the hill just outside Jerusalem, Jesus was nailed to the cross. This station is placed inside of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, at the Latin altar, which in 1938 was decorated with mosaic representing the scene of the crucifixion.
“They crucified him […]”(Matt 27:35)
These short sentence includes a very severe torture which was implied on Jesus for putting him to death.
Station XII – Jesus dies on the cross
“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.” (Matt 27:50)
After the last cry on the cross, the Christ died in agony – the Saviour consummated his great sacrifice for our sins. The Greek Orthodox altar marks the twelfth station, just next to the previous one. Under the altar can be seen a silver plate with a hole in the middle, which shows the spot where the Cross stood.
Station XIII – Jesus is taken down from the cross
After he died, Jesus was taken from the cross and prepared for entombment:
“Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.” (Jn 19:40) It was in the habit to break bones of convicts to check if they are really death. But in case of Jesus, a soldier stubbed his right side with a spear to make the scripture come true “”
The altar of the Stabat Mater, with a beautiful wooden 16-17th century statue of Mater Dolorosa donated in 1778 from Lisbon, marks the thirteenth station that stands between the eleventh and twelfth stations.
Station XIV – Jesus is laid in the tomb
This is the last station of the Way of the Cross, situated in Rotunda – a round hall of the Holy Sepulcher, with the Tomb of Christ in its centre.
Jesus’ body was requested by one of his disciples Joseph, a rich man of Arimathea, who placed the body in his own tomb situated close to the place of the Skull. Christ could not be entombed any further than that, because of the nearness of the Sabbath.
When to go:
It is possible to follow Via Dolorosa at any day of a week, however the most common days to do it are Fridays. The Franciscan brothers follow the Way of the Cross every Friday, starting at 3 pm(October – March) or at 4 pm (April – September) at the 1st station in front of the ‘Madrasa el-Omariyya’ school. On the Good Friday, 23rd of March 2013, the solemn procession of Via Dolorosa will start at 11:30 am.
- Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre – April – September: 5 am – 9 pm; October – March: 4 am – 7 pm; tel: 02 – 6267000
- Ecce Homo – Lithostrotos – 8 am – 5 pm; tel: 02 – 6277292
- Flagellation Church, Via Dolorosa – April – September: 8 am – 6 pm; October – March: 8 am – 5 pm;
- Flagellation Convent – Museum: 8 am – 1 pm & 2 pm – 4 pm; closed on Sundays and Mondays; tel. 02 – 627-04-56
- Most of the monasteries on the way are open daily during the daylight.
Carry your Cross
There is a possibility of borrowing a wooden cross, which group could carry during the procession. The cross could be picked up at the Monastery of Flagellation (2nd station). The service is free of charge. The owner of the crosses also offers group photographs to capture the great moment of their pilgrimage. For more information and reservation call: 057-444-97-48
Beata Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.
*For more information about booking an individual or group pilgrimage or tour to the Holy Land please contact us.