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Stations of the Cross

Home > Jerusalem > Churches | Places of Worship | Unusual Things to do | Walks
by Cressida Ryan (subscribe)
Classicist and traveller
Published July 15th 2018
Around church walls across the world are fourteen pictures depicting the final journey of Jesus through Jerusalem, to his death. Praying these 'stations of the cross' is part of the Catholic Lenten tradition, particularly on Good Friday. Visit Jerusalem itself, however, and you can stop at each of these Stations in reality, tracing Jesus' steps, whether in homage or out of general interest. Also known as the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross), you trace the Via Dolorosa (Mournful Way), a mini-pilgrimage through the winding streets of the Old Town. Here is a description of the stations, with some biblical references too.

1st Station: Jesus is condemned to death

The journey starts with Jesus condemned to death by Pontius Pilate (See Mark 15:15, or Luke 23:24). Most of the stations are marked clearly by a Roman numeral, but in some places, you need to look out for longer Latin biblical quotations.

stations of the cross, jesus, jerusalem
Pilate condemns Jesus to death

2nd Station: Jesus carries His cross

The second station involves Jesus shouldering his cross and beginning the journey to Calvary. Before he does so, texts such as Matthew 27 describe the soldiers tormenting him, beating him and putting a crown of thorns upon his head. This is also marked along the way, over a now bricked-up arch.

stations of the cross, jesus, jerusalem
The soldiers beat Jesus

3rd Station: Jesus falls the first time

Not all the stations are explicitly mentioned in the gospels, and there have been variations suggested over time (including a revision by Pope Benedict XVI). Station 3 is not mentioned in the gospels but prefigures the falls when others come to help him. The site is now an Armenian church.

stations of the cross, jesus, jerusalem
Jesus falls for the first time

4th Station: Jesus meets his mother

Mary plays a key part in the Passion narratives, and at station 4, Jesus comes face to face with her.

5th Station: Simon of Cyrene helps carry the cross

Carrying the cross was too much for Jesus, and this station marks the point at which Simon of Cyrene was made to help him (see Matthew 27:32, Mark 15:21, Luke 23:26).

stations of the cross, jesus, jerusalem
Simon of Cyrene stops to help

6th Station: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

Women play a central part in the Passion stories, with both individual women and groups of women mentioned in the gospels. This station is not, however, a gospel story, and there is no clear evidence for it being part of the Catholic tradition until medieval times.

7th Station: Jesus falls the second time

Jesus falls again, and the station is marked by a simple numeral on the busy streets of Jerusalem. Many of the stations are now part of the market thronging around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the religious significance of the place lost in the hubbub of daily life. If you want time to find the signs in peace, go early in the morning, or on a Saturday when the Jewish Sabbath means things are much quieter.

stations of the cross, jesus, jerusalem
Jesus falls for a second time

8th Station: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

The sign for the eighth station, where Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem, signposts you to the Via Dolorosa itself.

stations of the cross, jesus, jerusalem
Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

9th Station: Jesus falls a third time

There is again no scriptural mention of this station, but it is part of the prayer and route. A small sign on the wall tells you that you are in the assigned place.
stations of the cross, jesus, jerusalem
Jesus falls for a third time

10th Station: Jesus' clothes are taken away

The gospels tell the story of Jesus' clothes being taken away and assigned by lot, or gambled for, by the soldiers (see Matthew 27:35 Mark 15:24, Luke 23:34) fulfilling the references in the Old Testament (e.g. Psalm 22:18) for this being the fate of the Messiah.

After this station, you enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the rest of the stations are all found inside.

11th Station: Jesus is nailed to the cross

Inside the church is a one-way system to process through the chapels on Calvary. The first chapel is a Catholic shrine, giving the 11th station.

stations of the cross, jesus, jerusalem
Jesus is nailed to the cross

12th Station: Jesus dies on the cross

You move on through the Catholic chapel into the Orthodox one, where a large cross hangs over a small altar, under which you can put your hand down through a hole to feel the top of Golgotha, of the limestone rock on which the cross was placed.

holy, sepulchre, church, jerusalem, israel, christianity
Jesus dies on the Cross

13th Station: The body of Jesus is taken down from the cross

In the entrance to the church is a rock of anointing, placed roughly between Calvary and the tomb, marking where Jesus was lain after he had died, to be prepared for burial. The scene is depicted on the wall behind, and many people stop to kiss and venerate the stone.

14th Station: Jesus is laid in the tomb

The tomb itself has been exposed from the surrounding rock and encased in marble. You can queue to get in, which may take an hour or more at peak times. Here marks the place where Jesus' body lay until the resurrection, finishing this physical re-enactment of his last hours. Tracing the stations of the cross brings the idea of a real, historical Jesus to life, and is a moving and thought-provoking experience, whether or not you are a Christian believer.

stations of the cross, jesus, jerusalem
The Holy Sepulchre

All stations are in free places, whether in the old town or in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The streets are narrow, crowded, and liable to go up and down unexpectedly, so be prepared for it not to be entirely easy walking. For more on the Catholic prayers accompanying this series of stations, see for example the BBC, or a Catholic Encyclopedia.
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Why? A pilgrimage of Jesus' last days
Where: Jerusalem old city
Cost: free
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