Via Dolorosa PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
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Via Dolorosa
Stations of the Cross

The Stations of the Cross

No matter where the historical route may have run, the fact remains that Jesus did walk through this city on his way to death. We can walk the Via Dolorosa while attempting to concentrate mind and spirit on that fact.

One can join the Franciscan procession, which begins at the first Station of the Cross, the Omariyya School, on Friday at 15:00. (To double check on the time, call 02 - 627 2692.) The procession forms a world apart from the bustle of the markets, stopping and praying at each station. Peddlers and shopkeepers do not disturb it. (Or one can form one's own procession.) As the Franciscans visit the stations, they are as follows.

1. The Condemnation. The event is remembered in the courtyard of the Omariyya school, accessible only after 13:00 on school days. At that time it is usually quiet enough that one may read from the Gospel, e.g., Mark 15: 1-20. The place offers a good view of the Dome of the Rock, such as Pilate would have had from here when supervising the Temple and its courts.



On this site stood part of the Antonia fortress. The cliff, 45 feet high above the Haram, may originally have extended southward -- and the fortress too. Standing below, one can see the cliff on which the Antonia stood.

2. Imposition of the Cross. We can remain out on the trafficked street or enter the Franciscan courtyard. Inside on the right is the Chapel of the Flagellation, renovated in 1929 on the basis of a medieval church, the first on the spot. To the left is the Church of the Condemnation of Christ and the Imposition of the Cross (1904). Inside one can see Hadrian's paving stones, which continue in the convent to the west. Some of the stones have grooves cut in them to keep people and animals from slipping. This grooved part must have been a street in 135 AD.

The courtyard also contains a Franciscan museum. This includes the 175 fragments of graffiti found at the "House of Peter" in Capernaum.

If the First Station is inaccessible, we can do the reading in this courtyard.

3. Jesus Falls for the First Time. (Not in the Gospels.) We descend the hill to the Cheesemakers' Valley. Turning left, we step on some ancient paving stones, discovered while renovating the sewage system a few decades ago. On the east side of the street, above, a relief shows Jesus falling under the weight of the cross. If the gate is open, we may enter the courtyard of the Armenian Catholic chapel to find some peace and read.

4. Jesus Meets His Mother. (Not in the Gospels.) On the street, this station is visible just south of the third. But if we can find the attendant in the courtyard of the Armenian chapel (see above), we can gain admission from there to the Armenian Church of our Lady of the Spasm. It contains a simple, powerful mosaic.


5. Simon of Cyrene. "They pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross." (Mark 15:21.) (Since Simon's sons are named without further identification, they were probably people familiar to the congregation that Mark was addressing.)

A short distance from where we turned into the Cheesemakers' Valley, there is an alley on the right leading up the western hill. This station is marked at its corner. The location fits the account: Jesus, exhausted from abuse, now faces this formidable ascent. The Romans judge it will be too much for him and impose the cross on Simon.

6. Veronica. (Not in the Gospels.) About 40 yards up the hill, the side of a small pillar protrudes from the wall on the left, containing the name Veronica. Legend has it that one of the women lining the road reached out with a cloth and wiped the blood and sweat from the face of Jesus. His image appeared on the cloth. The name of the woman may be derived from this event: vera icona, true image.

24112002063316.jpg7. Jesus Falls a Second Time. (Not in the Gospels.) At the top of the hill, this station may mark the western limit of the city on that day in 29 or 30 AD. Tradition places a gate here, with a copy of the death sentence posted on it. Christians later called it the Judgment Gate. Jesus is thought to have fallen here a second time.

A little more than a century later, one of the two main north-south streets of Jerusalem (then Hadrian's Aelia Capitolina) ran here. It was called the Cardo Maximus . The current alley, known as Suk Khan e-Zeit, occupies only a sliver of this, for the Cardo was a broad pillared street. Its southern extension, Byzantine period, is exposed in the Jewish Quarter.
8. The Women Weep. Just to the left (south) of Station VII, there is a lane going uphill. Taking it, we leave the city of that time. A few steps up, on the left, is a small stone in the wall, with a cross and an inscription including the letters NIKA, referring to the victory of Jesus Christ.

Here tradition places Luke 23: 27-31

And following Him was a large crowd of the people, and of women who were mourning and lamenting Him. But Jesus turning to them said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, 'Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.' Then they will begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us,' and to the hills, 'Cover us.' For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?"

9. Jesus Falls for the Third Time. (Not in the Gospels) A Greek convent blocks the approach to this station, so we have to retrace our steps to the street of Station VII, Suk Khan e-Zeit (on the line of the ancient Cardo), and head south. After a trek through the market, which serves the local people, we arrive at a staircase on the right, next to Zalatimo's Sweets. In the terms of 135 AD, we are standing before the entrance of Hadrian's Temple to Venus (or possibly Jupiter), built not quite perpendicular to his Cardo. In the terms of 336 AD, we are standing before the triple gate of Constantine's Church of the Resurrection.

We ascend the steps and head west, but before the gate of an Ethiopian monastery, we turn north and then west again. In front of us is the gate of the Coptic Patriarchate. In the left corner, tilted, a pillar marks the Ninth Station, where Jesus is thought to have fallen a third time.

holysep_domes.jpgWalking through a gate beside the pillar, we find ourselves on a roof with a dome. The latter was built by the Crusaders. Its windows let light into a large crypt below, called the Chapel of St. Helena, near the pit where the knights thought Constantine's mother had found the true cross. If we were here in the Crusader period, we would see church walls to the north, east and south (there is a remnant, still, on the south). They belonged to the convent of the Latin clergy, who officiated in the church. Ethiopian monks live here today, although the Copts claim the place.

To the southwest, on the roof, is a small white dome. Beneath it is an outcropping of bedrock, which tradition identifies as Calvary.

This roof is usually a quiet place. We can sit and read the Gospel account through the burial.

The remaining Stations of the Cross are inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We can reach it in two ways. (1) We can head through a small door SW of the dome. This leads through the Chapel of the Ethiopians, then down a staircase to the Coptic Chapel of St. Michael, and out into the courtyard. Or (2) we may head back the way we came, to the lively Khan e-Zeit, then keep turning right (west) until we reach the same courtyard.

For Stations 10-14, see Church of the Holy Sepulcher.