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Via Dolorosa and the Road to the Crucifixion

If you’re a Christian taking a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, one of the most important—and worthwhile—things to do is walk the Via Dolorosa. Via Dolorosa (“Way of Grief” in Latin) is a road in the old city of Jerusalem. Visitors can walk the path where Jesus was led in agony while carrying the crucifixion cross.

It starts from the place where Jesus was tried and convicted. Fourteen stations line the path. Each one is based on the events that occurred on the way to Golgotha hill, the site of the crucifixion, located at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Eight of them are marked along the old city route, while the remaining six are inside the church.

A Bit of History

The Via Dolorosa pilgrimage has been followed since the days of early Christianity, once Constantine legalized the religion (mid-4th century) and it became safe to do so. In the beginning, Byzantine pilgrims followed a similar path to the one you can take today but they didn’t stop.

By the 8th century the route had changed. Starting at the Garden of Gethsemane, travelers headed south to Mount Zion before doubling back around the Temple Mount to the Holy Sepulchre. From the 14th to the 16th centuries, they followed the Franciscan route, which began at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and included eight stations. Around this time, the traditional 14 Stations of the Cross were developing in Europe. To keep from disappointing European tourists, six stations were added.

Today, Via Dolorosa’s main route is the same as that of the early Byzantine pilgrims, only with 14 stations.

What to See

The route of the Via Dolorosa starts near the Lions’ Gate in the Muslim Quarter and ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian quarter. Winding through busy streets lined with snack bars and tourist shops, it covers .31 miles.

Each Station of the Cross is marked with a plaque.

Station 1 is Jesus’ condemnation by Pontius Pilate. This event is said to have occurred at the site of Madrasa al-Omarlya, west of the Lion’s Gate.

Station 2 is where He took up His cross. It’s situated next to the Franciscan Monastery of the Flagellation, across from the first station. The Chapel of Judgment/Condemnation marks the site where Jesus was sentenced to death.

Station 3 marks where He fell for the first time under the weight of the cross.

Station 4 is where Mary watched her son go past with the cross and is commemorated by the American Church of our Lady of the Spasm. If you go inside, you’ll see the 5th-century floor mosaic, which includes an outline of a pair of sandals, said to be Mary’s.

Station 5 was where Roman soldiers forced Simon of Cyrene to help Jesus carry His cross.

Station 6 is at the top of a steep hill where, according to a tradition that began in the 14th century, St. Veronica wiped Jesus’ face with her handkerchief. An image of His face was left imprinted on the cloth.

Station 7 is where Jesus fell for the second time. It’s marked by a Franciscan chapel at the junction of Via Dolorosa and Souq Khan al-Zeit.

Station 8 is up the steps of Aqabat al-Khanqah. A cross on the wall of the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. Charalambos, with the inscription, “NIKA,” marks where Jesus consoled the lamenting woman of Jerusalem.

Station 9 is at the Coptic Patriarchate next to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. A Roman pillar marks the site of Jesus’s third fall.

Stations 10-14 are within the walls of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Station 10 depicts where Jesus was stripped. Station 11 is where He was nailed to the cross. Station 12 represents Jesus dying on the cross. Station 13 portrays when He was taken down and Station 14 illustrates when He was laid in the tomb.

Every Friday afternoon hundreds of Christians join in a procession through the Old City of Jerusalem, stopping at each station as they identify with the suffering of Jesus on His way to be crucified. It’s led by Franciscan friars, custodians of most of the holy places since the 13th century.

It starts at 4 pm (3 pm in winter), from late October till late March. Each procession is accompanied by Muslim escorts, in Ottoman uniforms of red fez, gold-embroidered waistcoat and baggy blue trousers, who signify their authority by banging silver-topped staves on the ground.

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