Via Dolorosa (Latin for "Way of Grief" or "Way of Suffering") is a street in the Old City of Jerusalem. Traditionally, it is held to be the path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion. It is marked by nine of the fourteen Stations of the Cross. The last five stations are inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is a focus of pilgrimage.
The traditional route starts just inside the Lions' Gate
(St. Stephen's Gate), at the Umariya Elementary School, near the location of the former Antonia Fortress, and makes its way westward through the Old City to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This route is based on a
devotional walk organized by the Franciscans in the 14th century AD.
Whereas the names of many roads in Jerusalem are translated into English, Hebrew, and Arabic for their signs, the name Via Dolorosa is used in all three languages.
A Byzantine Holy Thursday
procession started from the top of the Mount of Olives, stopped in Gethsemane, entered the Old City at the Lion's Gate, and followed approximately the current route to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre .
By the 8th century, several stops were made on a route along the south
side of the Old City, to Caiaphas' house on Mount Zion, to the
Praetorium, then to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Stations of the Cross
The First Station is near the Monastery of the Flagellation, where Jesus was questioned by Pilate and then condemned. "Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him. And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe, And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands" (John, XIX 1-3). The chapel, built during the 1920s on the site of a previous building erected by the Crusaders, is now run by the Franciscans, who set out from there each Friday for the traditional procession. The church possesses admirable stained-glass windows representing Christ Scourged at the Pillar, Pilate Washing his Hands, and the Freeing of Barabbas. Above the high altar, under the central dome, is a mosaic on a golden ground showing the Crown of Thorns Pierced by Stars.
The Second Station is near the remains of an ancient Roman construction known as the Arch of Ecce Homo
, in memory of the words pronounced by Pilate as he showed Jesus to the crowd. Only part of this triumphal arch, erected under Hadrian
(135 AD) to celebrate the capture of Jerusalem, is visible nowadays. The left arch, which no longer exists, formed at one time part of a monastery of Islamic
dervishes; while the right arch is still preserved today inside the Church of the Sisters of Zion. This church was built during the second half of last century on a site which has yielded the remains of ancient ruins, such as the already mentioned Roman arch, part of the fortifications and courtyard of the fortress Antonia and remarkable vestiges of the Roman-age street paving, the so-called Lithostratus. On some of the stones are the signs of an ancient dice game, which has given support to the hypothesis that this was the place where the Roman soldiers gambled for Jesus' clothes. Mention should be made, finally, of the Struthion Pool, an ancient water reservoir from 2nd century BC, later roofed over by the Emperor Hadrian.
The Third Station recalls to Christ's first fall on the Via Dolorosa. The place is marked by a small chapel belonging to the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate. It is a nineteenth century building renovated and completed by Catholic soldiers of the Free Polish Army during World War II.
The meeting between Jesus and his mother is commemorated by a small oratory with an exquisite lunette over the entrance, adorned by a bas-relief carved by the Polish artist Zieliensky. This however is not recorded in the Bible.
An inscription on the architrave of one door recalls the encounter between Jesus and Simon of Cyrene
, who was given Christ's heavy Cross to carry to Golgotha (Calvary), the place of the Crucifixion. This episode is confirmed by the Gospels, except that of John.
A church belonging to the Greek Catholics preserves the memory of the meeting between Jesus and Veronica
, whose tomb may also be seen here. The holy relic of this meeting, during which, according to tradition, Veronica wiped Christ's face with a silk veil on which his features remained imprinted, has been kept, since the eighth century, in the Basilica of St. Peter
The place of Jesus' second fall is marked by a pillar, which rises at the crossroads between the Via Dolorosa and the picturesque and lively Market Street.
On the outer wall of a Greek Orthodox monastery is carved a small cross blackened by time. It was at that point that Jesus met the pious women. This episode, recounted in the Gospel according to St. Luke, is quoted at the beginning of the chapter.
The third fall of Jesus is commemorated by a column of the Roman period at the entrance to the Coptic monastery.
The last five Stations of the Cross are situated inside the Holy Sepulchre.