Via Dolorosa

| September 2, 2012 | 0 Comments
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David Shankbone  CC BY-SA 3.0 Via Dolorosa

David Shankbone  CC BY-SA 3.0
Via Dolorosa

The Via Dolorosa

The emotional highlight of a Christian pilgrimage to Jerusalem is retracing the steps of the Christian Savior as he walked to his crucifixion, a route known as the Via Dolorosa. This is the route that, according to tradition, the Christian Savior followed after he was condemned by Pontius Pilate. Today it has evolved to include 14 stops, five of which are inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Stations of the Cross

For many Christians, Visiting the Stations of the Cross is a very powerful way to connect to the crucifixion and burial of the Christian Savior. How long have Christians been following this route? Since the middle of the 4th century CE, when Constantine legalized Christianity. Earlier, the Byzantine pilgrims walked a version of this roadway without stops. As time elapsed, the route changed many times. But to pilgrims, the evolution of the exact route remains less important than the power of the stations of the cross walk itself.

Beginning in the 8th century CE, the route changed from what it had been during the Crusader Era. Starting at the Garden of Gethsemane, pilgrims headed south toward Mount Zion. The route then wound around the Temple Mount, after which it returned to the Mount of Olives and on to the Holy Sepulchre.

Ian and Wendy Sewell  CC BY-SA 3.0 Passerbys on the Via Dolorosa

Ian and Wendy Sewell  CC BY-SA 3.0
Passersby on the Via Dolorosa

During the Middle Ages, controversy within the Latin Church meant that the rival factions designated different routes for their adherents based on their own geographical locations: Churches from the west walked westward, while those with loyalties to the east walked in an easterly direction.

The Franciscan route was  followed between the 14th and 16th centuries CE by most pilgrims. This route departed from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and made stops at eight stations. But since there was a European tradition of 14 stations, the Franciscans added another six stations.

Lion’s Gate

For the most part, the Via Dolorosa today follows the same route walked by the Byzantine pilgrims, with a total of 14 stops. Pilgrims depart from the Lion’s Gate in the Old City’s Muslim Quarter and wind up at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter. This route encompasses some 500 meters –  less than a mile in total.

All of the 14 stations of the cross stops are marked with plaques, but if you think you may have difficulty spotting them or are concerned about navigating the route, plan to join the Friday afternoon procession. The Friday procession meets about 300 meters (1,000 feet) into the Lion’s Gate at 3:00 p.m. This is the approximate time of day the original events took place.

Kudomomo  CC BY 2.0 The 8th Station on the Via Dolorosa

Kudomomo  CC BY 2.0
The 8th Station

This is a spiritual highlight and extremely moving experience, potent enough to create the memory of a lifetime. You will be traveling in densely populated areas frequented by many people.

Naturally, there are also kiosks and shops selling touristy knickknacks and plenty of noise and commotion. The combination can be exhilarating, awe inspiring or simply overwhelming. But don’t let it stop you from entering  into contemplative reflection and prayer.

After all, you are walking in the Christian Savior’s footsteps, passing the places where he fell on three separate occasions and entering one of the holiest places on earth to Christians, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  It is here that the nailing, and eventual preparation for burial after the death occurred.  Preparing for this emotional journey ahead of time will help ensure you are able to note the historical significance of each station.

Via Dolorosa: Did You Know?

Another way to experience the Via Dolorosa is to take a guided walk. Contact the Christian Information Center at Jaffa Gate for more information. Phone: 972-2-627-2692 Fax: 972-2-628-6417 Email:

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Category: Christianity

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