The Latin translations for Via Dolorosa are “way of grief”, “way of sorrows”, “way of suffering” and “painful way”. This is a street within the Old City of Jerusalem which was the path that Jesus walked while carrying His cross on the way to the crucifixion. This road starts from the Antonia Fortress west of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and continues on for six hundred meters to the spot where Christian Pilgrims celebrate Easter. In the fifteenth century there were fifteen Stations of the Cross, but nowadays the Via Dolorosa is marked by fourteen Stations of the Cross.
Old stone buildings rise up on both sides of the road where vendors sell their goods as a means of living. Endless stone steps mark the way where locals walk, where pilgrims walk yearly and where Jesus walked so many years ago. During Passover Week the city bursts out of its seems with pilgrims from both Jewish and Christian faith. For some Christians, going to the Holy City and walking the Via Dolorosa is a trip that they should make at least once in their lifetime.
As they follow the Stations of the Cross, they become part of the incidents that took place along the way. At least five of these incidents are not recorded in the Bible, but are rather Roman Catholic tradition, so many faithful Christians places significance on nine of these stations. The Catholics and Orthodox followers make up the highest number of pilgrims who visit the Holy Land.
During the eight century the route started at the Garden of Gethsemane towards Mount Zion and then went back to the Temple Mount, ending by the Holy Sepulchre. Between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, pilgrims followed the Franciscan route, which began at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and included eight stations. During this time the tradition of following the fourteen stations was developed in Europe and European pilgrims, who are until this day the majority of visitors, have since followed the fourteen stations. For most pilgrims the accurate location of each event along the Via Dolorosa is of slight importance as the pilgrimage has great meaning due to its proximity to the unique events and the reflection upon them along the way.
The Via Dolorosa is an active, lively and noisy road so it would be difficult to pray and meditate along the way. Each of the fourteen Stations of the Cross is marked with a plaque, but not always easy to spot. Having a tour guide would make a big difference, or joining one of the Friday processions for a guided walk.
Station 1; Jesus’ condemnation by Pontius Pilate – occurred at the site of Madrasa Al Omariya, which is west of the Lion’s Gate.
Station 2; Jesus took up His cross – located next to the Franciscan Monastery of the Flagellation, which is across the road from the first station. The Chapel of Judgment is where Jesus was sentenced to death and the Chapel of Flagellation is where He was beaten by the Roman soldiers.
The road turns south passing the northwestern gate of the Temple Mount. Just west of the entrance to the Lithostratos is the Ecce Homo Arch, where Pilate identified Jesus to the crowd saying "Ecco homo" ("Behold the man" - John 19:5).
Station 3; Where Jesus fell for the first time under the weight of his cross.
Station 4; Where Mary watched her son go by with the cross, and is commemorated at the Armenian Church of Our Lady of the Spasm.
Station 5; Simon of Cyrene was forced by Roman soldiers to help Jesus carry this cross. This is where the Via Dolorosa turns west off al-Wad Road and begins to narrow as it goes uphill.
Station 6; On a steep hill - according to a tradition dating from the 14th century, St. Veronica wiped Jesus' face with her handkerchief, leaving an image of his face imprinted on the cloth.
Station 7; Jesus fell for a second time. This is marked by a Franciscan chapel at the Via Dolorosa's junction with Souq Khan al-Zeit.
Station 8; Across the market street and Souvenir Bazaar - the place where Jesus consoled the lamenting women of Jerusalem
Station 9; Up twenty eight stone steps to the Coptic Patriarchate next to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus fell for the third time.
Stations 10 to 14 are all inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; Jesus is stripped of His clothes, Jesus is nailed to the cross, Jesus dies on the cross and Jesus is taken down from the cross. Jesus is laid in the tomb.
As Easter approaches and Christians contemplate this holiest of seasons, it makes sense to post a blog entry on the Via Dolorosa and a part of Biblical History that is of utter most importance to so many people of the world. We have a number of tours that visit Israel. Each of these will visit Jerusalem’s Old City where you can also see for yourself the Stations of the Cross.