Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem
The Via Dolorosa (Path of Sorrow or "Way of the Cross") is the route tradition says prophet Jesus (pbuh) followed, from his condemnation by the Romans to the spot where he was buried after the crucifixion. The path begins near Lions Gate (St. Stephen's Gate), in the Muslim Quarter, and ends within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, in the heart of the Christian Quarter. This route is marked by the 14 Stations of the Cross.
"And as they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus. And there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children" (Luke, XXIII, 26-28).
The name of "Via Dolorosa" (or "Via Crucis") is relatively recent; it dates from the sixteenth century, when a name was sought for the stretch of road, between the fortress Antonia and Golgotha, along which Christ walked bowed under the weight of the Cross. The present route, however, is somewhat different from the one Jesus walked. Of the fortress Antonia, for example, where Christ was judged before Pilate and where Herod the Great had his residence, only a few scraps of paving remain. This building, which stood near the Northwest corner of the Temple, was the starting-point for Jesus' painful walk toward Golgotha (Calvary), which at that time was outside the walls of the city. Every Friday afternoon the Franciscans lead a pious procession winding through the streets that witnessed Christ's suffering.
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 commemorates 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 (pbuh) 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.
An inscription on the architrave of one door recalls the encounter between Jesus (pbuh) and Simon the Cyrenian, 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 (pbuh) 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 in Rome.
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 (pbuh) 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 (pbuh) 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 Sepulcher.