Walking the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem

Pilgrims have retraced the steps of the Crucifixion of Jesus in Jerusalem, Israel since before the eighth century. The Stations of the Cross are stops that commemorate events during the torture, sentencing, carrying of the cross, crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus.

The route is established by tradition rather than archaeological evidence. The final stations of the crucifixion and burial are within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The route is in the old city of Jerusalem. The Via Dolorosa is about a half mile long, just under one kilometer. 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 or a skirt or shorts that expose your knees. It can also be hot in Jerusalem, so be prepared for hot weather walking.

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Via Dolorosa Signs

Via Dolorosa Signs
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The Stations of the Cross are marked with plaques with Roman numerals and the streets are signed with "Via Dolorosa" along the traditional route that Jesus walked from his condemnation to execution by crucifixion.

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Stations One and Two at the Franciscan Monastery of the Flagellation

Church of the Flagellation
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The current Via Dolorosa is based on tradition rather than archaeological evidence. The Franciscan Monastery of the Flagellation at the first station marks the traditional site where Jesus was condemned to death, scourged, mocked by the Roman soldiers and crowned "King of the Jews" with a crown of thorns (John, XIX 1-3).

Current archaeological evidence is 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.

Nearby, the second station is when Jesus took up the cross. The Chapel of Condemnation and the Ecce Homo arch mark the location.

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From Station Two to Three on the Via Dolorosa

Ecce Homo Arch Via Dolorosa
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The route between the Ecce Homo Arch and the Station of the Cross is lined with vendors on one side of the street.

While the rest of the Via Dolorosa is congested with vendors and shops on both sides of the street, this area has a wall on one side. You will be headed slightly downhill. You may see some faithful carrying a wooden cross themselves to experience the suffering of Jesus on this route to his execution by crucifixion.

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Station Four: Jesus Meets His Mother

Via Dolorosa Station Four
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At station four, Jesus encounters Mary, his mother, whose grief over the torture and execution of her son is unimaginable.

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.

The encounter between Mary and Jesus is not described in the Bible but has existed in the popular tradition for many centuries.

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Jesus Falls the First Time

Roman Stones on the Via Dolorosa
Wendy Bumgardner

Paving stones from the era of Jesus are seen at the site of his first fall while carrying the cross towards his execution site.

The Armenian Catholic Chapel is at the site of the third Station of the Cross. Here the route turns onto a busy street lined with shops on both sides.

The Stations of the Cross now include three falls, but these are traditional only and are not described in the Bible.

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Penitents Carry a Cross on the Via Dolorosa

Penitents Carry a Cross on Via Dolorosa
Wendy Bumgardner

Some of the faithful carry a wooden cross along the Via Dolorosa, to better experience the suffering of Jesus on his way to the crucifixion site. Here, they pass by station five, where Simon of Cyrene was pressed to help Jesus carry the cross up the hill of Golgotha. The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) all mention this incident, but the Gospel of John insists that Jesus carried the cross without assistance. A Franciscan Chapel of Simon of Cyrene marks the spot.

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.

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Station Six: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

Veronica Station on Via Dolorosa
Wendy Bumgardner

The sixth station is based on a medieval tradition 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 icon." Church of the Holy Face and Saint Veronica was built here in the 1800's supposedly over the site of her house. 

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Shops Line 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 expected. The shops generally accept Israeli shekels, US dollars, and Euros. Shopkeepers generally speak English and Hebrew and may speak other European languages.

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Station Eight: Jesus Encounters the Pious Women

Eighth Station on Via Dolorosa
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The eighth station is recounted only in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 23:28-31). 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.

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Station Nine: Jesus Falls the Third Time

Station Nine on the Via Dolorosa
Wendy Bumgardner

The falls of Jesus are not described in the gospels. A Roman column 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 Orthodox Monastery and the Coptic Orthodox 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 Sepulcher.

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Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Old Town, Christian Quarter, the entrance of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (also called the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre)
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The Stations of the Cross now leave the Via Dolorosa. The final stations 10 through 14 are within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which encloses the crucifixion, death and burial sites of Jesus in Jerusalem. 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.

This has been the site of the church since the year 326 A.D. Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, identified the holy sites and he had the church constructed. Helena is said to have discovered the true cross of the crucifixion 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 nominally belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church.

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Altar of the Crucifixion in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Altar At Church Of The Holy Sepulchre
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A narrow stairway leads up the Hill of Cavalry in the church to a line awaiting admittance to the Rock of Cavalry beneath the Altar of the Crucifixion. The faithful wait in line for their turn to touch the site where the cross was erected and Jesus died. 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.

The site is based on tradition and revelation of Helena, mother of  Emperor Constantine. Modern archaeological evidence would put the site about 66 feet away.

Other Stations of the Cross are commemorated within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre:

  • Tenth Station: Jesus is stripped of His garments
  • 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 each of these stations. Those who wish to make the pilgrimage to each altar should start early in the day within the church.

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