Updated: Jul 22
There are some basic tours in Jerusalem. For most Jews the fundamental tour includes Mount Zion, the City of David, the Jewish Quarter, the Western Wall, the Western Wall Tunnels, the Jaffa Gate. Most Israelis have not visited other quarters of the city and do not know them. However, one cannot understand Jerusalem without knowing the shrines of the two major religions of the world, Christianity and Islam. I would like to invite you on another virtual trip to Jerusalem, the Via Dolorosa (the way of the Cross, or Via Crucis). Most tourists who come to Israel are Christians. The Catholics and Orthodox among them are looking for that one special path within the city for which they had taken the whole journey. According to tradition, this is the way Jesus carried his cross from the time of his judgement by Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, to Calvary Hill (Golgotha, in Aramaic), which was then outside the city walls. There, Jesus was crucified and died on the cross, then buried nearby and resurrected three days later, according to Christian faith. Opinions differ about where the exact route, described in the New Testament, actually passed. Some claim that it is based on later, medieval traditions and that only eight of the stations are mentioned in the Bible. Most Evangelicals think that this whole tradition is completely unfounded and therefore this devotion is meaningless, nor would they follow this path. The exact historical route is, to my opinion, immaterial. Where the "real" location this event took took place, as described in a spiritual, non-historical document is, to me, a futile discussion... as would be one about the exact location where Moses crossed the Red Sea.
The Way of the Cross is a Catholic devotion, tracing the journey of Jesus, as he undergoes suffering and hardship, carrying his cross up the hill where he is to be crucified. It highlights the moment of personal suffering, the mother's pain, the physical agony, the drop of sweat, the drop of blood, the weakness of the body. The person facing the cruelty of injustice on his way to an ignominious and horrible death. To the believers, the outrageous acts, committed by humanity to God himself, who descended within it in order to save it.
The journey was divided by the Catholic Church into fourteen Stations. At each of the stations, Jesus encounters a moment of an emotion or a hard reality which surround him. The pilgrim focuses on the sufferings of his Lord, and conducts reflection, profound examination and testing one's own faith, for the purification of the soul and repentance. To do this devotion there is no need to come to Jerusalem. You can find Way of the Cross stations marked in every Catholic church, on the walls or in statues in the courtyard, spread around the city, as well as in famous pilgrimage places, such as Lourdes in France, or Fatima in Portugal. But of course it has a special meaning in Jerusalem, where the events really happened. It is a regular but multi-versioned prayer cycle, which varies from community to community. The pilgrims and Franciscans of medieval Jerusalem, created this devotion, trying retrace the way Jesus walked within the city, to the site of the Crucifixion.
This is the map of the Way of the Cross. We must imagine Jerusalem as it was after in Jesus' time, around 33 AD. Present day walls of the Old City are marked on this map by a black line. Antonia Castle dominates the Temple Mount to the north. Today the stone cliff upon which it stood remains, but above it is a medieval Muslim building. From there the path passes through the city, along today's street layout. Around the seventh station, there was supposed to be another wall of the city (marked here in violet). This wall is of great importance to our story. One could not be buried within the walls of Jerusalem. In the area of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher ancient Jewish tombs were found, so it would make it viable to believe that the site of the crucifixion stood outside the walls, and Jesus was buried next to it. Today the Holy Sepulcher is within the city. There were many controversies amongst various churches as to the authenticity of the site, but today most Christians agree that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher be the place of crucifixion and burial place of Jesus.
I will present the stations in detail in the pictures. Some of the stations are noted by simple markings on the walls of the streets, and some are marked by small chapels. I will just mention that the last five stations are within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. In my opinion, if you have not seen the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, you have not really seen the city. Many of the pilgrims, who come from the four corners of the earth, devout believers dressed in colorful clothes from Benin or Nigeria, Koreans and Chinese Christians singing enthusiastically, processions by Italian and Americans or groups worshippers from Colombia and Brazil. It's just exciting. Besides the churches, there are countless hidden doors along the route that open onto wonderful worlds, underground halls, places above the bustling streets, some not necessarily related to the story. A good guide will choose which ones to open for his tourists during the tour, depending on their interests. The culmination of the voyage is Jesus' tomb, within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is one of the most exciting buildings in the entire world, and built above the presumed place where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected, according to the Christian faith. Many Christian travelers end the journey at the Western Wall, remembering the Jewish origins of Jesus, full of curiosity about the way of life, dress, and nature of Jewish prayer, which most regard with great astonishment.
Quite near the start, the route passes under the "Ecce Homo" arch (Here is the Man) built by Hadrian, a hundred years after the crucifixion. It was a celebratory arch, like it's copy in the Jordanian city of Jerash. This point is not officially included among the fourteen stations, but is where the Antonia Fortress, Pilate's presumed Praetorium, or headquarters, may have stood.
At this same place, according to tradition, Pontius Pilate stood, presenting Jesus to the Jewish crowd, with the words "Here is the man," and continued that he did not understand why they wanted him killed. The crowd replied: Crucify him! This might be an upsetting moment for the Jewish visitor, although it is important to understand how the terrible chasm between the two religions was created, which led to the deaths of so many of our people throughout history. Yet nowadays, the Catholic church tends to emphasize in the journey a more personal experience. An opening prayer in one of the Catholic cycles says, in the new spirit of the Church, which endeavors to downplay the role of all Jews throughout the generations, blaming only those who were then present and condemned Jesus, saying to their believers: "We, all of us, have condemned Jesus, each of us by his own sins." Painting by Antonio Ciseri, ca.1870.
Station I, Condemnation
Station I. The Condemnation. Jesus' trial in front of Pontius Pilate. In a nocturnal meeting, the Sanhedrin interrogates Jesus and demands that withdraw his claims to be the Messiah, son of God, accusing him of inciting against Rome. Jesus refuses. They condemn him to death, but because only the Romans had the authority to execute, the priests and the Sanhedrin appeal to the Roman governor, Pilate, accusing Jesus of inciting against Rome and purporting to be king of Israel. Pilate questions Jesus, while Jesus replies with evasive answers. The governor does not quite understand the allegations and implores Jews to repeal them, according to the New Testament. Finally, Pilate concedes to the Jewish leaders and the crowd they brought with them, as he washes his hands of the matter. Jesus is led to death by crucifixion. (Painting by Hungarian Mihály Munkácsy, 1881)
Antonia Castle overlooked Temple mount and Herod's Temple, that is where the roman garrison and this is where, eventually, Titus' forces attacked the Temple at the time of the Jewish War in 70 AD, 37 years after Jesus' crucifixion. We see the splendid view of Temple Mount/al-Aqsa mosque from the north. The first Station of the Cross. This is an internal building of the Omariyah boys' school. Its construction started in the 20th century by the Ottomans and was completed under British rule in 1923. It is built upon the ruins of a 14th century Muslim seminary, and probably where the headquarters of Pilate stood. From this point starts the Franciscan Way of the Cross procession every Friday to Holy Sepulcher. This is probably where Jesus was sentenced by Pilate, and it was here that the condemnation of the Sanhedrin was ratified. Here, the pilgrim might contemplate: What is Justice? How would I have withstood the trial? Do I judge people fairly? Am I right in my judgements of people?
Station II, Flagellation
Station II. The Flagellation and Acceptance of the Cross. According to the Bible, after a last attempt to convince the crowd to pardon Jesus, Pilate hands him over to the Roman soldiers, here in the painting Jesus leaving the praetorium by Gustave Doré, 1873. The soldiers torture him, tie him to a column and flagellate him. They put on him a crown of thorns, mocking the crown of Israel. This scene has endless representations by the greatest classical artist. This is one of the most renown, The Flagellation by Italian
Baroque painter Caravaggio, 1607.
Chapel of the flagellation
Station II in Jerusalem has 2 distinct churches, one of the Flagellation, and the other of the Condemnation and Acceptance of the Cross. The church of the flagellation was completed in 1929, built by the Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi, in a fusion Romanesque revivalism and Art-Deco style of the period. Above the entrance some of the attributes of this scene are presented. (from far left to right, in the medallions on top: The whip, Pilate's washing of hands, the crown of thorns, the column of flagellation with two whips, INRI standing for Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudeorum (Jesus of Nazareth King of Jewry) sign put on the cross to mock him. Then, to the right of the angel: The cock calling three times, the ladder or the cross, the scourge, the lance and instruments, the three nails. Contemplation: the suffering of humanity and our ability to relieve it.
In the church of the Flagellation, there are some impressive stained-glass windows in Art Deco style. The first to the left -Pilate washing his hands of the crucifixion. the central one above the altar, depicting Jesus tied to the columnת being whipped. The third and final on the right: the pardoning of Barabba.
Station III, Jesus falls for the first time.
Jesus accepts the cross and starts the march towards his death. Painting by El Greco, Spain 1580.
Station III. Jesus falls for the first time under the weight of the cross. The chapel is inside an old Turkish bath. The statue and relief were made by a Polish artist who stayed here with a Polish contingent under the auspices of the British army during WWII. Today it belongs to the Armenian Catholic Church.
Station IV, Jesus meets his mother.
Station IV of the cross. Jesus meets his mother as Our Lady of Sorrows, or Our Lady of the Spasm, as she observes her innocent son on his way to an ignominious death. This statue is in the crypt of the Catholic Armenian church of Our Lady of Sorrows. The Bas-relief , at the entrance.
Station V, Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry his cross.
Station V. Jesus struggles again with the cross. The Roman centurion accompanying them asks a passer-by, Simon of Cyrene to assist Jesus in carrying the cross. This Station invites us to contemplate help to others. Have I helped somebody, when asked, to carry their cross? Do I need help but dare not ask? Is there someone close to me who needs help and is reluctant to ask? Renaissance Italian artist Il Sodoma, 1510. At station V, there is a small chapel where, recently, the Vatican had added reliefs describing the event of the station. There is also a worn-out stone people believe Jesus had laid his hand upon. Many venerate it. The road now turns right and there is a climb up the hill from the vale, within the city.
Station VI, Saint Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.
Station VI Up the steep road, Jesus carries his cross when an old lady comes out of her house and wipes the blood and sweat from Jesus' face. Miraculously, his face remains imprinted on the cloth. This is Veronica's Veil, kept as a holy relic in the Vatican, to this day. A small column in the wall bears the Latin inscription: "6th St. Pious Veronica, Christ's face with her veil hath cleansed." Contemplation: pity, empathy, commiseration.
Painting of Saint Veronica by Mattia Preti 1660.
Station VII, Jesus falls for the second time.
Station VII. Painting by Matthias Grünewald 1524. Jesus falls for the second time under the weight of the cross. At the end of the street it arrives at the oil market, Souq al-Zeit, and there is a marking on the wall, and a small chapel.
Station VIII, Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.
Station VIII. Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed. Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ ’ Luke 23: 28-30.
The original painting by Nikolai Koshelev, 1899, is on display in Alexander Nevsky Church, on the Via Dolorosa.
Station VIII, is just a mark on the wall. As far as we know, this section is already outside the walls of Jesus' Jerusalem. Nowadays we have to take a detour to go to Station IX, also just a mark on the wall.
Station IX, Jesus falls for the third time.
Station IX, is also just a mark on the wall. Jesus falls for the Third time. Painting by Tintoretto. The ninth station of the cross in Jerusalem near the Holy Sepulcher. the rest of the stations are within the Basilica. ©Berthold Werner
Golgotha/Calvary in the time of Jesus.
This is the reconstruction of Calvary, in Jesus' time, 30 AD published recently on National Geographic. On the right, the city wall. Then we advance into a heightened rock, overlooking an abandoned quarry. This is Golgotha, Calvary – the hill of the Skull. There are tombs carved in the rocky walls of the quarry. The crosses are placed on top of this hill. Today, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is built over all of this. Traces of the quarry can still be seen in the church's basements.
Station X, Jesus is stripped of his clothes.
Station X. Jesus is stripped of his clothes. Painting by Edward Arthur Fellowes Prynne, 1920. Entrance to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher. This façade was built in the Middle ages. Station X id the domed little chapel on the right. It is closed to the public.
Station XI, Jesus is nailed to the cross
a. Christ is nailed to the cross Gerard David 1481. b. Mosaic in Station XI at Golgotha, Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem.
Station XII, Crucifixion. Jesus dies on the Cross
Station XII. Jesus dies on the cross. We are on Calvary, Jesus' crucifixion site. people kneel to touch the cavity in which the cross stood in the rock. Remains of the rock of Golgotha on both sides of the Altar
Various representations of the event. In almost every crucifixion painting, there is a skull. Marking Calvary, but also Adam, the first human, to be saved with the righteous of humanity anteceding Jesus. left to right, top to bottom: Andrea Mantegna 1460, Montorfano,1497, Polenov 1898, Paolo Veronese 1582, Vredeman de Vries 1596, Nesterov 1880, Vereshchagin 1887, Koshelev 1880, Repin 1869, Vasnetsov 1896
Station XIII, Jesus is taken down from the cross.
Yet many feel this place, intuitively, to be the 13th station. The Stone of Unction, where Jesus' body was purified to be put in the grave of Joseph of Arimathea, so as not to violate the Jewish Sabbath. this moment had been solemnly celebrated in Giovanni Battista Pergolesi "Stabat Mater" 1736
The most famous representation in art of this moment is Michelangelo's Pietà. The Lady of Sorrows with the body of her dead son. the Flemish school's Rogier van der Weyden Shows Joseph of Arimathea and the Virgin's sorrow. The last one is by dutch PP Rubens.
Station XIV, Jesus is laid in the tomb.
The Aedicule over the tomb today and the entrance to the tomb. This is the last station of the liturgy. Two more major events consequently happen there. Jesus is resurrected. The orthodox churches call this the Basilica of the Anastasis (Resurrection). The tomb is found to be empty, on the Sunday. saint Mary magdalen arrives and meets a gardener, who reveals himself to be the resurrected Jesus. According to tradition, this takes place in the illuminated area between the two pillars, in the photo above. There is a small chapel there to commemorate the meeting. he famously tells her: 'Noli me tangere' - Don't cling to me.
The Resurrection: painting by Karl Bloch. Appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene after resurrection, Alexander Ivanov 1835
I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour. Hope to see you soon on a real one.