OLD JERUSALEM, Israek, March 26, 2016 – When travelers stroll through the agora in Athens or stand in the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, they often have sensations of awe that they are occupying the same space where Socrates walked or where Michelangelo created one of his greatest masterpieces.
In Old Jerusalem, however, where thousands of pilgrims travel each year to walk in the footsteps of Jesus on his way to Mount Calvary, the sensations are different because the path Christ took has been altered by layer upon layer of history.
Essentially, the Via Dolorosa represents the route Jesus took from his condemnation by Pontius Pilate to his crucifixion and burial. It goes by several names — the Stations of the Cross, the Way of the Cross, the Way of Sorrows and Via Crucis.
When Christ carried his cross to Calvary Hill, the route was basically straight. Today, though the merchant stalls and narrow streets are similar to how they would have looked 2,000 years ago, the path is no longer straight. Rather it zigs and zags through the city to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus is said to have been crucified and later resurrected.
Today there are 14 stations, each designated with a marker depicting a specific event in the story. The 14 images are numbered so that pilgrims can approximate the path taken by Jesus. Many visitors stop at each station for reflection and prayer.
Originally there were only seven scenes which today are stops 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 11 and 14. The scenes as they exist today are listed below with the original seven depictions highlighted.
1. Jesus is condemned to death
2. Jesus carries his cross
3. Jesus falls the first time
4. Jesus meets his mother
5. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross
6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
7. Jesus falls the second time
8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
9. Jesus falls the third time
10. Jesus is stripped of his garments
11. Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross
12. Jesus dies on the cross
13. Jesus is taken down from the cross
14. Jesus is laid in the tomb
Though the Way of the Cross features 14 scenes, only eight have specific references in scripture. Three of those events refer to Christ’s falling, which would seem logical given the circumstances, but apparently there is no actual evidence that he fell three times or even once.
Occasionally, though not a traditional feature of the Stations, another location is added for the Resurrection, which brings the number to 15. Though this is not the case in Old Jerusalem, it does occur now and then in other locations where the story is recreated on Good Friday.
Station #1 on the Via Dolorosa is said to be the site where Pilate condemned Jesus to death. In the 1953 movie “The Robe,” starring Richard Burton, Victor Mature and Richard Boone as Pilate, both the crowds and the location seemed massive.
In reality, the space is rather small and cramped. The diminutive area would certainly help to magnify the size of the mob, but historically the site itself far less spectacular in real life than it was in the film.
For the deeply devout, no manner of alterations to the path trudged by Jesus on his way to Calvary can destroy the imagery and spirituality of the story. Nor should they.
Nevertheless, visitors to the Holy Land should know in advance that they can only tiptoe into the space where the “greatest story ever told” took place. Without that realization, they may come away with a distorted or disappointing picture of the then and now that cannot be recreated because of the passage of time and the layers of history that have been built upon the sites.
Old Jerusalem is still properly dusty and filled with the earth tones and textures that easily carry travelers back into time. The sights, sounds and smells still exist much as they must have been centuries ago.
But, unlike the Sistine Chapel, where you can look up and undeniably view the genius of Michelangelo, in Old Jerusalem, you are required to muster your faith and awaken your imagination to see it as it truly was.
And perhaps, in the end, that’s a good thing. After all, faith is what Christianity is all about.
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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of the Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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