Via Dolorosa (Latin for “Sorrowful Way” or “Way of Suffering”) is a route through the Old City of Jerusalem that is believed to be the path Jesus walked to his crucifixion. The route goes from Antonia Fortress to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a distance of about 600 meters, and is a celebrated place of Christian pilgrimage. The route was established in the 18th century. Today it is marked by the 14 Stations of the Cross, the final five stations of which are located inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
history of Via Dolorosa
Via Dolorosa is not a street but a route. After eating with his disciples at The Last Supper, Jesus went to Gethsemane. He was caught and surrendered to the Romans who sentenced him to die by crucifixion. The route Jesus took from the place of his judgment to the site of his crucifixion on Mount Calvary is sacred in Christianity. This final and fateful route is the Via Dolorosa.
Fourteen stations along this path signify events mentioned in the New Testament and Christian tradition, and different Christian denominations emphasize certain traditions and stations over others. For most pilgrims, the exact location of the events is of little importance compared to the deep meaning the route holds and its proximity to the original events. Pilgrims stop at each of the 14 Stations of the Cross for prayer and reflection.
The current route of the Via Dolorosa was established in the 18th century based on the events of Jesus’ crucifixion in the 1st century CE, but the significance for believers crosses the boundaries of time and space.
Walking the Via Dolorosa
The Via Dolorosa can be a challenging place for prayer and contemplation as it passes through busy streets. Each Station of the Cross is marked with a Roman numeral plaque, but they are small and can be easy to miss. It is a good idea to take a map with you. Better yet, join the Friday procession that takes place weekly, or take a guided tour.
Station 1: Jesus’ condemnation by Pontius Pilate, believed to have occurred at the site of Madrasa al-Omariya, 300m west of the Lion’s Gate. Today the madrasa is a school and can be entered with the permission of the caretaker at specific times (Mon-Thu and Sat 14:30-18:00; Fri 14:30-16:00).
Station 2: Where Jesus was handed his cross, located next to the Franciscan Monastery of the Flagellation. The Chapel of Condemnation marks the site where Jesus was sentenced to death; the Chapel of the Flagellation is where he was beaten by Roman soldiers.
* The Convent of the Sisters of Zion lies between Stations 2 and 3. Here you can see large pieces of the Lithostratos (Pavement of Justice). The Lithostratos stone slab has grooves in it, thought to be channels for rainwater. What is significant is the squares and triangles carved into the slab by Roman soldiers, bringing to life the Gospel account of the soldiers who gambled for Jesus’ clothes.
Station 3: Where Jesus fell for the first time under the weight of his cross.
Station 4: Where Mary watched her son pass by carrying the cross, marked by the Armenian Church of Our Lady of the Spasm. Inside the church is a remarkable 5th-century mosaic floor that includes an eery pair of sandals, said to be laid upon Mary’s footprints.
Station 5: The place where Roman soldiers forced Simon of Cyrene to help Jesus carry his cross.
Station 6: The spot where, ccording to a tradition, St. Veronica wiped Jesus’ face with a cloth that left an image of Jesus’ face forever imprinted on the cloth. The relic, known as the Sudarium Veronica, is at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Station 6: The Church of the Holy Face, which is attended by the Little Sisters, a Greek Catholic sect.
Station 7: Where Jesus fell for the second time. This is marked by a Franciscan chapel.
Station 8: A cross and the Greek inscription “NIKA” on the wall of the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. Charalambos mark the place where Jesus consoled the weeping and mourning women of Jerusalem.
Station 9: The Coptic Patriarchate next to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Here, a Roman pillar marks the site of Jesus’ third and final fall.
Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre:
Station 10: Jesus is stripped. Top of the stairs to the right outside the entrance.
Station 11: Jesus is nailed to the cross -upstairs just inside the entrance, at the Latin Calvary.
Station 12: Jesus died on the cross – Rock of Golgotha in the Greek Orthodox Calvary.
Station 13: Jesus is taken down from the cross – Statue of Our Lady of Sorrows next to the Latin Calvary.
Station 14: Jesus is laid to rest in the tomb – inside the altar on the main floor.
By now the spiritual significance of the Via Dolorosa must be clear. The path in Jerusalem has been followed by pilgrims for centuries and is a deeply moving experience, whatever your personal beliefs.
Visitors are advised to wear modest clothing at all times along the Via Dolorosa. Covered shoulders and knees and closed shoes are recommended, especially inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.