The Stations of the Cross, one of the most popular devotions to the Passion of Christ, follows the final earthly journey of Jesus from the Garden of Gethsemane to Calvary where he was crucified and then to the garden where he was placed in a new tomb. Images of the Stations are found everywhere in the Catholic world in churches, shrines and country pathways.
The devotion grew in the high middle ages, but became especially popular in the 18th century inspired by the preaching of St. Leonard of Port Maurice (+1771).
A number of Christian themes appear in the devotion: the theme of life as a journey or pilgrimage, the passage from this life to a risen life, and the desire to see the Passion of Christ as a book of life revealing the wisdom and power of the Cross.
Like other devotions, the Stations of the Cross is not meant to be a prayer of set words or actions, but a meditational prayer that leads to a variety of insights. Like the four gospels it opens our minds to see the Passion of Jesus in different ways.
The Stations of the Cross should always offer a message of hope in Jesus who died and rose again. Like the Stations of the Cross pilgrims follow in Jerusalem, we should find ourselves as we pray this devotion led to the empty tomb of the Risen Jesus
Pilgims enteing the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem
This ancient ecumenical feast, celebrated by Christian churches throughout the world, commemorates the dedication of a great church in Jerusalem at the place where Jesus died and rose again. Called the Anastasis ( Resurrection) or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, it was built by the Emperor Constantine and was dedicated on September 13, 325 AD, It’s one of Christianity’s holiest places.
Liturgies celebrated in this church, especially its Holy Week liturgy, influenced churches throughout the world. Devotional practices like the Stations of the Cross grew up around this church. Christian pilgrims brought relics and memories from here to every part of the world. Christian mystics were drawn to this church and this feast.
Tomb of Jesus
Pilgrims still visit the church and the tomb of Jesus, recently renovated , after sixteen centuries of wars, earthquakes, fires and natural disasters. They venerate the rock of Calvary where Jesus died on a cross. The building today is smaller and shabbier than the resplendent church Constantine built, because the original structure was largely destroyed in the 1009 by the mad Moslem caliph al-Hakim. Half of the church was hastily rebuilt by the Crusaders; the present building still bears the scars of time.
Scars of a divided Christendom can also be seen here. Various Christian groups, representing churches of the east and the west, claim age-old rights and warily guard their separate responsibilities. One understands here why Jesus prayed that ” All may be one.”
Egyptian Coptic Christians
Seventeenth century Enlightenment scholars expressed doubts about the authenticity of Jesus’ tomb and the place where he died, Calvary. Is this really it? Alternative spots were proposed, but scientific opinion today favors this site as the place where Jesus suffered, died and was buried.
We wonder where the gospel events took place, especially during Holy Week.. Where was Jesus judged by Pilate? What way did he go to Calvary? Where was he crucified and where was he buried?
Reliable historians generally agree that the tomb of Jesus and the site of Calvary are in the Church of the Holy Sepucher. “Is this the place where Christ died and was buried?” Jerome Murphy-O’Connor asks in his solidly researched “The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide” (New York, 2008). “Yes, very probably,” he answers. (p 49)
Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem
Jerusalem’s “Via Dolorosa”, the traditional way of the cross, is less historically reliable. Beginning near St. Stephen’s Gate, where the Fortress Antonia once stood, it winds up at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Murphy-O Connor says it is “defined by faith and not by history.” (pp 37-38) Early Christian pilgrims created it.
Pilgrims on the Vis Dolorosa
After the Christian church was established by Constantine in the 4th century, pilgrims from Mount of Olives, where many stayed, walked through St. Stephen’s Gate up to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, stopping at certain places to recall incidents from the passion of Jesus. The present Via Dolorosa was formed from their devotions over the centuries. (cf. Murphy-O’Connor, p 37) Pilgrims, not archeologists, have given us the present Via Dolorosa.
Jerusalem at the Time of Jesus
Is their a more reliable way? A reconstruction of Jerusalem (above) from the time of Jesus at the Israel Museum–somewhat altered here– suggests another way that Jesus was led to Calvary. At the bottom right is the luxurious palace complex built by Herod the Great. (below) When Pontius Pilate came from Caesaria Maritima for Passover he probably stayed there and judged Jesus in the courtyard outside the palace.
Herod’s Palace, the Citadel
After sentencing Jesus to death, Pilate handed him over to a detachment of soldiers quartered somewhere in the great towers to the left of the palace, who scourged him and crowned him with thorns.
They then led him away to Calvary, probably parading him through part of the upper city as a warning to others. In our map of Jerusalem above, the rock outcropping near to the city wall is the site of Calvary where Jesus was crucified. The gospels say he was buried in a tomb only a stone’s throw away.
In Jerusalem today the Citadel stands on the ruins of Herod’s palace, still dominating the western part of the Old City.
You can walk on the southern ramparts of the city wall where Herod’s palace once stood and view some few remains of Herod’s building; the towers have been rebuilt.
Murphy-O’Connor suggests a way Jesus was taken to Calvary from here. “If, as seems likely, Jesus was brought into the city on his way to execution, the approximate route would have been east on David Street, north on the Triple Suk, and then west to Golgotha.” (p.38)
I walked that way some years ago, down David Street, to the Triple Suk and then west to Golgotha and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. My sense is Murphy-O’Connor is right, but I think we better not change the Via Dolorosa. For one thing, good piety has given us the present Via Dolorosa and it has a truth and beauty all its own. More importantly, it would start a war in Jerusalem, and the city has enough grief now.
For more information on the places of the Passion, see
The website has a commentary on the Passion Narratives by Fr. Don Senior, CP, and information on Passion sites, devotions, prayers, spirituality and recent studies.
In recent studies, for example, there’s a review by Fr. Paul Zilonka, CP. of Bill O’ Reilly’s recent book “Killing Jesus.”
It’s a work in progress. A lot more material will be added in days to come, so drop in every once in awhile. The Passion of Jesus is at the heart of the mission of the Passionists, the community I belong to. It’s a mystery that can feed your soul. I would be grateful for any suggestions you may have.
The site will play on any computer, iPad or smart phone. We hope eventually to develop the website into a multi-lingual site that will literally reach the whole world.
I’m very grateful to the person who did such a beautiful job in formatting the site. A work of art in itself. A special grace brought this site about.
June 30th, following the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, we celebrate the early Christian martyrs put to death by Nero after the disastrous fire that burned down much of the city July 19, 64 AD. If I were in Rome today I would go to the church of Saint Peter in Chains or to the gardens of Saints John and Paul on the Celian Hiill to remember them.
The two apostles were put to death around this time and many (we don’t know how many) followed them.
There’s a blog and a video on the church of St. Peter in Chains here and here.And a video on the Stations of the Cross in the gardens of Saints John and Paul here. There’s also a video on the Quo Vadis story here.
The persecution and martyrdom in 64 throws light on the creation of the Gospel of Mark, which many think was written in Rome afterwards.
One thing I think this feast and the Gospel of Mark suggests: the Church of Rome did not flee from the uncertainty and persecution it faced then. I think the Quo Vadis story indicates that. It didn’t give up.
We pray today:
you sanctified the Church of Rome
with the blood of its first martyrs.
May we find strength from their courage
and rejoice in their triumph.
We ask this through our Lord, Jesus Christ, your Son.
The tomb of Lazarus is only down the road from here, but unfortunately I’m blocked from getting there by the Israeli security wall at the end of our street. Instead of a few minutes walk, I can get there only by traveling a good distance around the Mount of Olives.
The security wall winds through our property and the property of the Camboni sisters, an Italian order who have a school and a hostel next to us. As they look out their back window, it looms over them, about twenty feet away, and it goes on as far as the eye can see.
I have been celebrating morning Mass these days for the sisters–in Italian– and they told me the wall has stopped many children, all Muslim, from coming to their school. Relations between Christians and Muslims in this neighborhood have always been good, thanks to the good works of these religious women.
If the Israelis want peace, it would be better to tear down the wall and sponsor some schools and clinics like those run by the sisters. A high barbed wire wall, patrolled by armed soldiers, blocking streets people have been using for centuries, running through the backyards of ordinary peoples’ homes, stopping the flow of business, doesn’t win you friends.
It makes enemies.
This afternoon Fr. Roberto drove me to the city where I made my way to the Via Dolorosa again, which was more crowded than ever with groups praying and groups shopping and gawking.
I did discover an Armenian church at the 4th Station that was an oasis in Babel. The church has some paintings of the 3rd and 4th stations. Jesus meets his mother at the 4th station. In the quiet courtyard before the church a mother was nursing her infant. In the church was a picture over the altar of Mary nursing her child.
The day ended at the Latin Patriarchate where Sir Patrick Allen, Knight of the Holy Sepulcher from Union City, NJ, met Bishop Shomali, who was born in Bethlehem, to receive an award for bringing over 100 people to the Holy Land on pilgrimage. I was a photographer and guest, and the bishop even said some nice things about the Passionists.