4 days in Jerusalem - Part III: walking the Via Dolorosa

The Via Dolorosa (Latin for "Way of Sorrow") is a street in the Old City of Jerusalem believed to be the path walked by Jesus on his way to the cross. 

Today, it is one of the most popular places of Christian pilgrimage in Israel, where you can follow the nine Stations of the Cross before reaching the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where the remaining five stations are located.

Locating some of these stations in the winding streets of Jerusalem is not always an easy task, so find out how to follow this fascinating path through some of the most important events of the New Testament!


How to get there

 

The Via Dolorosa starts in the Muslim Quarter inside Jerusalem's Old City, just next to the Lions' Gate, where the first two stations are located. 

If you're coming from West Jerusalem, the easiest way to get there is by accessing the Old City through the Damascus Gate, and then walk for about 10 minutes until you reach the Lion's Gate at the other side of the Old Town. 

I had spent that morning visiting the Tower of David and Mt. Sion, so if you're coming from Mt. Sion like I did, it is also possible to go through Dung Gate and walk north-est for about 15 minutes, keeping Temple Mount on your right-hand side.

No matter where you come from, you will find signs on the way that will point you in the right direction. 

 

Map of the Via Dolorosa (click to expand) - Courtesy of ©tour-man.com


Stations I & II

 

The first Station of the Cross is the Praetorium, located where the Umariya Elementary School stands today. Here is where Jesus was condemned and whipped.

The second Station of the Cross is just a few meters ahead, next to the Ecce Homo arch. The Chapel of the Condemnation and the Chapel of the Fragellation are located here. 

Both of these stations commemorate Jesus' encounter with Pontius Pilate when he gave his famous Ecce Homo ('behold the man') speech. Here is where the tradition believes that Jesus was condemned, a crown of thorns was placed on his head, and he was given the cross that he would carry all the way to the Calvary.

When Pilate heard these words he brought Jesus out and seated him on the judge’s bench in the place called Stone Pavement, in Hebrew, Gabbatha… Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, and carrying the cross himself he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha.
— Gospel of John, 19:13, 16-17
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!”. And they slapped him in the face.
— Gospel of John, 19: 1-3
 

Ecce Homo arch

Chapel of the Condemnation

Chapel of the Fragellation

Station III

 

The third Station of the Cross marks Jesus falling for the first time due to the weight of the cross when he was walking along the Via Dolorosa. 

The station is marked by an image of Jesus falling, which gives entrance to a Polish Catholic Church. On the inside, we can appreciate another depiction of Jesus falling for the first time, and in the underground, you can access a cave that forms part of the remains of a former Turkish bath.

 

Third Station of the Cross

Former Turkish bath

Jesus falls the first time

Station IV

 

The Armenian Catholic Church of our Lady of the Spasm marks the fourth Station of the Cross, when, according to the tradition, Jesus meets his mother. 

The church dates from 1881, but the original church was built in the 5th century during the Byzantine period. Inside the church, we can find a mosaic depicting a pair of sandals, symbol of the place where it is believed that Mary stood while watching his son.

The name of the church, Our Lady of Spasm, refers to the emotional state of grief of Mary when she faced his son from the crowds of onlookers.

...but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!”. Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
— Gospel of John, 19: 25–27
 

Fourth Station of the Cross

Depiction of Jesus meeting his mother & mosaic of a pair of sandals

Armenian Catholic Church of our Lady of the Spasm

Station V

 

The fifth Station of the Cross marks the place where it is said that the Romans asked Simon of Cyrene to help Jesus carry the cross. From here began the final ascent to the Golgotha.

The station is located in the Chapel of Simon of Cyrene, and it marked by the Jerusalem cross: a symbol of the Franciscan order that depicts a large cross with four smaller crosses in each corner, with the intertwined arms of Jesus and St. Francis of Assisi right below. 

As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross.
— Matthew, 27:32
 

Fifth Station of the Cross

Stations VI & VII

 

The sixth Station of the Cross is marked by a brown wooden door in the place where it is believed that woman, known as Veronica, exited her house and wiped Jesus' face with a cloth.

This cloth, known today as the Veil of Veronica or Sudarium, has become one of the most important relics in Christianism, as it is thought that it still bears the face of Christ after it was used to wipe his face. 

The seventh Station of the Cross, marked by a small chapel on the walls of the souk, is the place where Jesus fell for the second time.

 

Sixth Station of the Cross

Seventh Station of the Cross

Arabic souk

Arabic souk

Station VIII

 

Going up towards Aqabat al-Khanqah St, a stone with a Latin cross marks the eighth Station of the Cross

The inscription ICXC NIKA, coming from the Greek Ιησούς Χριστός Νικά  ('Insoús Xristós Niká'), stands for 'Jesus Christ Conquers'. This is the site where Jesus addressed the daughters of Jerusalem when they were weeping for his fate:

Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are 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.’ For nif they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?
— Luke, 23: 27–31
 

Eigh Station of the Cross

 

Backtracking to the souq, turn right in Khan al-Zeit St. towards the south. The ninth Station of the Cross marks the place where Jesus fell for the third time.

As you continue down Khan al-Zeit, you'll need to access an entranceway to the right. You can identify it as it will be decorated with green flags. The station is located next to the Ethiopian and Coptic Monasteries, and it is the last station before the Holy Sepulchre. 

The compound, known as Deir as-Sultan, is the rooftop of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and is managed by Ethiopian monks. 

 

Ninth station of the cross

Terraces of the Ethiopian and Coptic Monasteries

Ethiopian and Coptic Monasteries

Stations X - XIV

 

The remaining stations are located inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. You can access the church directly through the Coptic chapel. The following 4 stations are:

  • X: Jesus is stripped of his garments
  • XI: Jesus is nailed to the cross 
  • XII: Jesus dies on the cross
  • XIII: Jesus is taken down from the cross

The church was built in 335 AD in the biblical place considered by Christians to be the Calvary or the Golgotha, the site where Christ was crucified, buried and resurrected. 

The complex is managed by different Christian denominations (Greek Orthodox, Catholics and Armenians), while some of the chapels are used by the Coptic Orthodox and Syrian Orthodox. However, it is a Muslim family in charge of opening the doors at sunrise and closing them at sunset.

I had already been in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre the previous day during my visit to the four quarters of the Old City, but this second visit impressed me as much or even more. 

 
When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom...
— John, 19:23
And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take.
— Mark, 15:24
And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.
— Mark, 15:37
Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid.
— Luke, 23:53

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Lamps lightning the church

Chapel of Calvary

Station XIV

 

The very last Station of the Cross marks the moment when Jesus was laid down in the tomb and resurrected.

Just before the Sabbath was approaching, Jesus was removed from the cross and placed on the Stone of Unction, where his body was anointed with oils and spices in preparation for his burial. Pilgrims visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre nowadays kneel in front of the stone and pour oil to rub it with crosses, holy cards and kerchiefs to bring a relic back home.

The tomb of Jesus is marked by the Aedicule, a very impressive construction with two separate rooms: the first one contains the Angel's Stone, a fragment of the stone that once sealed the tomb, while the second room is the actual tomb where Jesus' body was laid to rest.  

...and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away.
— Matthew, 27:60
 

Pilgrims praying at the Stone of Unction

Cupola of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Tomb of the Holy Sepulchre

 

The Via Dolorosa constitutes a fascinating walk through the Christian tradition and some of the most important events of the Bible.

No matter whether you're a believer or not, or whether you're following this path as a pilgrim or a tourist, it still is a fantastic way to discover some of the hidden spots of the Old City of Jerusalem. 

The next day, I would wake up early in the morning to ensure that I could visit Temple Mount during the limited opening hours for non-Muslims. A fascinating day was ahead of me exploring the Temple Mount with Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, as well as The Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane and the City of David archaeological site!

 

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