The Via Dolorosa – The Way of the Cross

The Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem is the most important street, or more aptly route, in the world for most of Christendom.  It is revered in most Christian traditions as the route which Jesus carried the cross from the Praetorium, where he was condemned to Golgotha or Calvary, with the addition of the Unction Stone and tomb.  It comprises 14 stations.  The last four are inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  It is not uncommon to encounter groups of pilgrims following the route.  Some pilgrim groups even ply the route carrying large wooden crosses.

There are also cross bearing processions on the Via Dolorosa most Friday afternoons.  Many merchants in the area sell a small black pamphlet entitled The Via Dolorosa, with pictures of all 14 stations that are helpful for finding them along the route.

The Via Dolorosa begins in Jerusalem’s Moslem Quarter.  Its first station may be reached on foot from various directions inside the Old City or by taking a taxi to Lion’s Gate.  The first nine stations are clearly marked, usually by brass medallions bearing Roman numerals indicating the specific station.

The Route – 14 Stations of the Cross

1st Station: The 1st Station, the Praetorium, is located on the steps leading to the El Omarya Boys School, opposite the Chapel of the Flagellation. The Praetorium is the site of Jesus’s trial and condemnation by the Roman Procurator Pontius Pilate.

2nd Station: The 2nd Station, located roughly 20 meters from the 1st Station, is dedicated to the Imposition of the Cross.  This is where Jesus was saddled with the cross and scourged by Roman soldiers.  Adjacent to this station is a compound containing the Chapel of the Flagellation and the Church of the Imposition of the Cross.

Continuing west along the Via Dolorosa the route passes several other significant Christian religious sites:  The Lithostrotos (stone pavement) is located inside and below the Sisters of Zion Convent; the Ecce Homo Arch, further west next to the Sisters of Zion Convent; and still further west on the same street is the Greek Orthodox Prison of Christ.

3rd Station: At the corner of Hagai St, turn left (south).  The building adjacent to you on the left is the 3rd Station, dedicated to where Jesus fell for the first time.  There is a small Armenian Catholic chapel at the site.

In the street next to the 3rd Station is a cluster of 2nd-3rd century C.E. pavement stones that were discovered 3 meters below ground, while replacing a sewerage pipe.  The stones were raised up and integrated into the present day street.  Also at the corner of the Via Dolorosa and Hagai St. is the Austrian Hospice, which offers exceptional views from its roof and is home to a ‘genuine’ Viennese coffeehouse.

4th Station: The 4th Station, known as Stabat Mater Dolorosa, is situated adjacent to the 3rd Station.  This station is dedicated to where Jesus met his mother Mary.  Behind this station is an Armenian Catholic Church called Our Lady of the Spasm.  In its crypt is a mosaic depicting of a pair of slippers, said to be where Mary stood and watched her son.  A separate small chapel is dedicated to their meeting place.

5th Station: Further down Hagai St. is a corner with a street sign marked Via Dolorosa.  The 5th Station is situated at this corner.  The 5th Station is dedicated to where Jesus met a pilgrim of Jerusalem named Simon of Cyrene, who helped him carry the cross.  On the wall to the right of the door is a stone with a peculiar depression and a small etching of a cross.  According to Christian tradition, this is where Jesus leaned to rest, while Simon carried the cross for him.  Pilgrims often place their own hands into this depression.

6th Station: Turning right and following the street uphill and beneath several arches brings us to the 6th Station, marked by a pillar with a Latin inscription embedded in the wall.  This station is dedicated to the place where a woman named Veronica wiped the sweat and blood from Jesus’ brow, leaving the impression of his face on her cloth.  The name Veronica is apparently derived from Latin vera icon, meaning ‘true image’.  A Greek Catholic church stands adjacent to this station.

7th Station: The 7th Station lies at the top of this section of the Via Dolorosa at its junction with Khan Ez-Zeit (Beit Habad) St., which runs along the course of Jerusalem’s Roman-Byzantine Cardo.  This station is dedicated to the place where Jesus fell for the second time.  There is a small chapel at the site with a pink limestone pillar marking the spot Jesus fell.  The chapel was originally a Coptic church, but was acquired by the Franciscans in the late 19th century.

8th Station: Leaving the 7th Station and turning right up El Khanqa St. is the 8th Station, dedicated to where Jesus met a group of ‘daughters of Jerusalem’ weeping for him and he told them to weep for themselves instead.  The 8th Station is marked by a stone, apparently part of a pillar, set into the wall.  The stone bears a carving of a cross and a Greek inscription IC XC NIKA, meaning “Jesus Christ Conquers”.

9th Station: Returning to Khan Ez-Zeit St. and following it to the south, a set of stairs opposite a sweet shop leads out of its bustling market to an alleyway, affording a first glimpse of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  The alley winds around and leads to the 9th Station, opposite and adjacent two small Coptic churches.  The 9th Station, dedicated to where Jesus fell for the third time, is marked by a limestone pillar next to a gate leading to a section of the the Church of the Holy Sepulcher’s roof.

The next station is located in the courtyard in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  It can be reached by crossing this section of the church’s roof adjacent the 9th Station and then cutting through two small Ethiopian chapels or by returning to Khan Ez-Zeit St., following it south and entering the next street on the right, and then keeping right till it leads through a low gate into the courtyard or parvis outside the main entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  For more about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – please see here.

10th Station: The 10th Station is situated on a set of steps with a broken column in the parvis, just east of the church’s main entrance.  It is revered as the place where Jesus was disrobed prior to crucifixion.  The glass enclosed room at the top of the stairs is referred to as the Chapel of the Franks.

11th Station: Entering through the churches massive wooden doors, turn right and ascend the steep stone stairs in the corner (handrail on right) to reach a platform beneath a vaulted mosaic ceiling.  This is the 11th Station.  The 11th Station is where Jesus was nailed to the cross, depicted in a mosaic on the opposite wall.  Today the 11th Station is a Roman Catholic chapel, as evidenced by the Latin inscriptions in the arches of its ceiling.

12th Station: The 12th Station is located adjacent to the 11th Station and can be reached by crossing beneath the thick low arches to the left (north).  The difference in décor found when crossing beneath the arches separating these two stations is like crossing the Adriatic Sea between Italy and Greece.  The 12th Station is a Greek Orthodox chapel.   It is dedicated to Golgotha or Calvary, the Hill of the Skull, where Jesus dies on the cross.  In the center of the station, in front of a large crucifix, is a table like altar.  Below it is a circular silver band around a hole marking the spot where according to tradition the cross stood.  There is usually a line of pilgrims filing by and crouching below the altar to touch this spot.

13th Station: The 13th Station is dedicated to where Jesus’ corpse was removed from the cross and prepared for burial.  It is alternately placed against the wall between the 11th and 12th Stations or at the Unction Stone below, just inside the churches main entrance.  To reach the Unction Stone, descend from the platform of Golgotha by a set of stairs on its west side and turn left.  The Unction Stone is a slab of pink limestone where according to Christian tradition Jesus’ body was laid out and prepared for burial.  It is a site of tremendous veneration for multitudes of Christian pilgrims, as can be seen by the acts of devotion that surround it.

14th Station: The 14th Station is the tomb or Holy Sepulcher itself.  It is located west and around the corner from the Unction Stone in the Rotunda of the church.  The tomb is enclosed beneath a large carved stone structure, sooty from many millions of pilgrims’ candles.  It is venerated as the site of the burial plot in a former rock quarry that Joseph of Aramathea offered as a tomb for Jesus, after negotiating the removal of his body from the cross.

The tomb is entered through a low door.  Usually there is a long line of pilgrims waiting to get in.  Inside, it is divided into two small rooms.  The first room with a stone bench is called the Chapel of the Angel, dedicated to where three women were informed by an angel that “he is risen”. The second, inner room is the tomb itself, lying beneath 42 oil lamps.

This concludes the Via Dolorosa.  It is possible to explore additional parts of the church or to exit through the same doors as you entered towards the Christian Quarter. See also Christian Quarter Photo Album.