Walking the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem

If you like to mix walking for exercise with history, the Via Dolorosa is one option to consider. The Via Dolorosa, which means "way of sorrows," is about a half-mile long, or just under 1 kilometer, and retraces the steps of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, Israel.

The 14 Stations of the Cross are stops along the Via Dolorosa that pay homage to the events during the torture, sentencing, carrying of the cross, crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus of Nazareth. The final stations of the crucifixion and burial are within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

What to Wear to Walk the Via Dolorosa

  • Walkers should wear sturdy and comfortable shoes when touring Jerusalem. The surface is rough cobblestones with steps. Flimsy shoes or sandals may lead to discomfort by the end of the walking day.
  • You should also dress modestly as you may be turned away from religious sites if you are wearing a sleeveless shirt, a skirt, or shorts that expose your knees.
  • It can be hot in Jerusalem, so be prepared for hot weather walking.

Follow the Signs

Via Dolorosa Signs

Danita Delimont / Gallo Images / Getty Images

The Stations of the Cross are marked by plaques with Roman numerals. Additionally, the streets are signed with "Via Dolorosa" along the processional path believed to be the route that Jesus walked from his condemnation to execution by crucifixion.

The current Via Dolorosa is based on tradition rather than archaeological evidence.


Shops Along the Via Dolorosa

Vendors on Via Dolorosa
Wendy Bumgardner

Much of the route of the Via Dolorosa is lined with shops on both sides selling souvenir items, food, and drink. Bargaining is common practice.

The shops generally accept Israeli shekels, U.S. dollars, and Euros. Shopkeepers generally speak English and Hebrew and may speak other European languages.


Carrying of the Cross

Ecce Homo Arch Via Dolorosa

Jon Arnold / Getty Images

While the rest of the Via Dolorosa is congested with vendors and shops on both sides of the street, the area between stations two and three has a wall on one side. You will be headed slightly downhill.

You may see some faithful pilgrims carrying a wooden cross themselves to experience the suffering of Jesus on this route to his execution by crucifixion.


Stations One and Two

Church of the Flagellation

RnDmS / Getty Images

The first station is the Chapel of the Flagellation at the Franciscan Monastery. It marks the traditional site where Jesus was condemned to death by Pontius Pilate, scourged, mocked by the Roman soldiers, and crowned "King of the Jews" with a crown of thorns (John 19:1-3).

Current archaeological evidence states that this would have happened instead at Herod's Palace, to the southwest.

The doorway to the church has the crown of thorns motif. Silence should be observed if entering the church as a ceremony may be underway.

The second station is nearby, at the Church of Condemnation, and is when Jesus took up the cross. The Ecce Homo Arch marks the location and the beginning of the path on Via Dolorosa.


Station Three

Roman Stones on the Via Dolorosa

 Wendy Bumgardner

The Armenian Catholic Chapel is at the site of the third station, which is where Jesus first fell. Here the route turns onto a busy street lined with shops on both sides.

Paving stones from the era of Jesus Christ are seen at the site of his first fall while carrying the cross toward his execution site. The Stations of the Cross now include three falls, but these are traditional only and are not described in the Bible.


Station Four

Via Dolorosa Station Four

Wendy Bumgardner

Jesus encounters his mother Mary at the fourth station, whose grief over the torture and execution of her son is unimaginable. According to the Bible, Mary was accompanied by her sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene (John 19:25-27).

The Armenian Church of Our Lady of the Spasm is at the site of the fourth station. The bas-relief was carved by the Polish artist Zieliensky.


Station Five

Penitents Carry a Cross on Via Dolorosa
Wendy Bumgardner

Many faithful pilgrims carry a wooden cross along the Via Dolorosa to empathize with the experience the suffering of Jesus on his way to the crucifixion site. Here, they pass by station five.

This is where Simon of Cyrene was pressed to help Jesus carry the cross up the hill of Golgotha. A Franciscan Chapel of Simon of Cyrene marks the fifth station.

From here, the route would have passed out of the city walls to ascend Golgotha hill. As you continue on the same alleyways, you just have to imagine you are leaving the city.

The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) all mention this incident, but the Gospel of John insists that Jesus carried the cross without assistance.


Station Six

Veronica Station on Via Dolorosa
Wendy Bumgardner

The sixth station is based on medieval lore not found in the Bible. Veronica wiped the sweat from the face of Jesus with her silk veil.

Tradition says that the face of Jesus was then imprinted on the veil, and it is now kept as a relic in Rome. Her name is composed of the words for "true image."

The Church of the Holy Face and Saint Veronica was built here in the 1800s, supposedly over the site of her house.


Station Seven

The Seventh Station is the Station of the Cross—the Gate of Judgment where Jesus falls for the second time. Tradition says that this gate is where Jesus left Jerusalem while traveling to the crucifixion and where he was proclaimed guilty as "King of the Jews."

The entrance to the gate has a Roman column that has stood since ancient times and remains present.


Station Eight

Eighth Station on Via Dolorosa

invisiblewl / Getty Images

The eighth station is recounted only in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 23:27-28). Jesus tells the daughters of Jerusalem to weep for themselves and not for him.

The eighth station is marked by the Greek word Nika (victory) carved in the wall with a cross. It is next to the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Saint Charalampus.


Station Nine

Station Nine on the Via Dolorosa
Wendy Bumgardner

The falls of Jesus are not described in the Bible. A Roman pillar marks the spot of the ninth station, denoting where Jesus fell the third time while carrying the cross.

The final outdoors station is at the entrance to the Ethiopian Monastery and the Monastery of Saint Anthony. These monasteries actually form the roof over of the Chapel of Saint Helena in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

From here, the remaining Stations of the Cross are within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.


Stations 10 to 14

Old Town, Christian Quarter, the entrance of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (also called the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre)
Atlantide Phototravel / Getty Images

The final stations 10 through 14 (Stations of the Cross) are within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which encloses the crucifixion, death, and burial sites of Jesus in Jerusalem. This has been the site of the church since the year 326 AD.

Those entering the church should show respect by wearing pants or skirts that cover their knees, and women should wear shirts that cover their shoulders.

Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, identified the holy sites and is said to have discovered the "True Cross" of the crucifixion of Jesus here, which became the source of relics throughout the Christian world. She also believed she had discovered Jesus's true tomb on the site.

The site is administered by several churches but seems to be the most associated with the Greek Orthodox Church.


Altar of the Crucifixion

Altar At Church Of The Holy Sepulchre
Georgy Rozov / EyeEm / Getty Images

A narrow stairway leads up the Hill of Cavalry at the church to a line awaiting admittance to the Rock of Cavalry beneath the Altar of the Crucifixion.

The site is based on tradition and revelation of St. Helena. Whether or not this was the exact location of the Crucifixion of Jesus has been heavily contested for centuries. Other Stations of the Cross are commemorated at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

  • Tenth Station: Jesus is stripped of His garments on the Calvary.
  • Eleventh Station: Jesus is nailed to the cross.
  • Twelfth Station: Jesus dies on the cross.
  • Thirteenth Station: Jesus is taken down from the cross.
  • Fourteenth Station: Jesus is laid in the tomb.

Lines form to visit the altars of the final stations. Those who wish to make the pilgrimage to each altar should start early in the day within the church. For those who don't wish to wait, you can see the rock of Calvary through the glass cases on either side of the altar.

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  1. Eglash R. Archaeologists find possible site of Jesus’s trial in Jerusalem. The Washington Post. 2015.