JERUSALEM, April 14, 2017 — Arguably the most meaningful thing a visitor can do when traveling to Jerusalem is to walk the Via Dolorosa in the footsteps of Jesus on the way to His crucifixion and burial.
Via Dolorosa has been a pilgrimage site for centuries, though the route has changed on several occasions. That doesn’t seem to matter to travelers who want to walk in some of the places where Christ trudged to his death through the ancient streets of Old Jerusalem.
Via Dolorosa has been a popular pilgrimage location since the middle of the 4th century when the Roman Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity, after which the route became safe.
Today, there are 14 stations where visitors can stop for historical information about the final journey of Jesus.
Byzantine pilgrims used to follow a similar path. However, that earlier route offered no stops.
In the 8th century the path began at the Garden of Gethsemane where Christ was arrested by the Romans after his betrayal by Judas. Pilgrims then made their way south to Mount Zion before doubling back around the Temple Mount to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
In 1054, a split between the Roman Catholic Church and its Eastern membership, known as the East-West Schism, resulted in a permanent break in which the Eastern Church became the Greek Orthodox Church, as the latter severed all ties with the Roman Church. In the Holy Land, this resulted in a divided pilgrimage route in Jerusalem, where western pilgrims walked west while eastern visitors walked in the opposite direction.
For 200 years, between the 14th and 16th centuries, the path known as the Franciscan route was the most popular trail. Beginning at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, eight historic stations were added to provide details about Christ’s journey. According to tradition there had been 14 Stations of the Cross, so six additional sites were added in order to avoid disappointing European travelers.
In its present incarnation, the Via Dolorosa esentially follows the route taken by the early Byzantine pilgrims, which now includes the 14 stations. There are alternative routes that can be taken based upon varying opinions of actual locations where specific events took place.
Much of the difficulty of being able to grasp the full meaning of the Crucifixion lies in the layers of history that have been built on top of the original route. Many experts believe the ordeal Christ undertook was, in general, a straight path. However, it is impossible to travel such a path today because of the myriad shops and stalls that line the way.
Most modern pilgrims find little importance in witnessing the precise location where specific events occurred. But those who do may have a difficult time grasping the magnitude of that final walk as they attempt to reflect upon how it may have actually looked.
On the other hand, Old Jerusalem looks and feels very much today as it did two centuries ago, and, in that sense, the contemporary ambiance does not detract at all from the meaning of those ancient events.
Station 1 is the site of Jesus’ condemnation by Pontius Pilate. This event is believed to have occurred at the site of Madrasa al-Omariya, 1000-feet west of the Lion’s Gate. An alternative location for this event is Herod’s Palace at Jaffa Gate.
Station 2 is where Jesus took up his cross. It located next to the Franciscan Monastery of the Flagellation, across the road from the First Station.
From here, Via Dolorosa turns south on Tariq Bab al-Ghawanima and passes the northwestern gate of the Temple Mount, Bab al-Ghawanima.
A relief sculpture above the door of a small Polish chapel at the junction with al-Wad Road marks Station 3 where Jesus fell for the first time under the weight of his cross. At Station 4, Mary watched her son pass by with the cross. It is commemorated at the church known variously as the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows Church, or as the Armenian Chapel of Our Lady of the Spasm.
Though neither of these events is recorded in the Bible, do not fail to go inside the church to view the 5th-century floor mosaic which includes an outline of a pair of sandals, said to be Mary’s footprints.
Roman soldiers forced Simon of Cyrene to help Jesus carry his cross at Station 5.
From here the path goes up a steep hill to Station 6, where, according to a tradition dating from the 14th century, St. Veronica wiped Jesus’ face with her handkerchief, leaving his image imprinted on the cloth.
Jesus took the second of three falls at Station 7.
Station 8 is across the market street and up the steps of Aqabat al-Khanqah. A cross and a Greek inscription mark the site where Jesus consoled the lamenting women of Jerusalem (Lk 23:27-31).
Though some historians dispute the third fall, Station 9 is said to be that location.
The remaining stations are inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. At Station 10, Jesus is stripped before being nailed to the cross at Station 11.
Station 12 marks the site where Jesus dies on the cross.
Jesus is taken down from the cross at Station 13, and at Station 14, Jesus is laid on the main floor in his tomb.
Walking in the footsteps of Jesus, even if the path has been somewhat obscured by time, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that brings to life what many have described as “the greatest story ever told.”
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
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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