History Tour


At Gethsemane


            The Way of the Cross, “Via Crucis” in Latin, also called The Sorrowful Way, or “Via Dolorosa”, commemorates the way that Jesus trod in Jerusalem, from the Garden of Gethsemane or from the court of Pontius Pilate, to the hill of Golgotha, that was then just outside the city walls.


            The Stations of the Cross, as we know them today, are fourteen stops along the Way of the Cross that are clearly marked in the streets of Jerusalem. The last five are enclosed in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The fourteen stations erected in most Catholic churches throughout the world  are those commemorated since the Seventeenth Century in Jerusalem.


At the First Station: Jesus before Pilate


            When we go into the history of the origins of the Way of the Cross in Jerusalem, we cannot say that an eyewitness who followed Jesus from Pilate’s palace to Calvary would claim that all the events commemorated by the fourteen stations actually took place on the spots marked in the streets of Jerusalem. We are not dealing with that kind of historical veracity. The Way of the Cross is based mainly on the gospel accounts and on local traditions in Jerusalem, but it has been greatly influenced by the prayerful meditation of spiritual giants, men and women saints, as well as of ordinary faithful Christians in Europe.


At the Second Station: Jesus carries the cross


            Christians in Jerusalem and from elsewhere venerated the places of Jesus’ death and resurrection from the earliest times, especially after the Edict of the Roman Emperor Constantine in the year 313. A pilgrim from Bordeaux, France, in 333, and the Spanish lady Etheria later in that century, both described the ways in which Christians venerated the places made holy by the suffering and death of Jesus, especially Calvary and the Holy Sepulchre of his burial and resurrection.


At the Third Station: Jesus falls the first time


            In the first ten centuries, there was no question of venerating the Way of the Cross as we know it, either in Jerusalem or anywhere else. Our Way of the Cross evolved slowly out of a patchwork combination of veneration of the holy places in Jerusalem and various forms of devotion to the Passion of Jesus in Europe which pilgrims carried over to Jerusalem.


At the Fourth Station: Jesus meets his mother


            From the Eleventh Century, Christians in Europe venerated the suffering and death of Jesus and accepted their own sufferings as Jesus had accepted his. Great saints and mystics, such as St Bernard of Clairvaux, promoted this devotion. Some of the Stations originate from their meditations on the Passion, for example, this fourth Station, Jesus meets his mother, and also the Sixth Station, Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. St Francis of Assisi carried the wounds of Jesus in his own body and the Franciscans promoted everywhere the veneration of the suffering of Jesus.


At the Fifth Station: Jesus is helped by the Cyrenean


            Christian pilgrims flocked to Jerusalem in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries, while the Crusaders made the place safe enough for pilgrimages. There is mention in 1228 of the way trodden by Jesus on his way to Calvary. The Franciscans were installed in Jerusalem and in other holy places in 1333, and have remained there ever since. In the 1400s, they made visits to the Holy Places connected with the suffering and death of Jesus. They were similar to our Stations of the Cross. They had evolved from the places venerated by Christians from the earliest times. So the Franciscans venerated many of the spots commemorated in our present Way of the Cross, but, strangely to us, in reverse order, from Calvary to Pilate’s palace.


At the Sixth Station: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus


            As we noted already, this Station originated from the meditations of saintly men and women on the Passion of Jesus. You will notice that the most touching, most compassionate Stations often derive from the piety of Christian people over a long period of time, rather than from the sober gospel accounts.


At the Seventh Station: Jesus falls the second time


            Three of the present Stations derive directly from a widespread European veneration of seven or more falls of Jesus under his cross on the way to Calvary. These falls are not mentioned in the gospels but are the product of prayerful and compassionate meditation on the Saviour’s sufferings.


            There was also a popular devotion in Europe to sorrowful processions during which the faithful moved from one church to another, sometimes to nine churches, and meditated on the painful progress of Jesus carrying his cross, uniting their own sufferings to his.


At the Eighth Station: Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem


            Most of these Stations, including this one, are based on the gospel texts that describe the way that Jesus took to Calvary. Luke’s gospel reads: “Large numbers of people followed him, and of women too, who mourned and lamented for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children” (23:27-28), and there follows his terrible prediction that was verified in the Romans’ destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 A.D.


At the Ninth Station: Jesus falls the third time


            While the veneration of the falls of Jesus and the devotion of sorrowful processions were popular in Europe, yet another practice developed, namely, veneration of the stops that Jesus made on his way to Calvary. These stations commenced in some places with Jesus saying farewell to his mother, in other places they began with the Last Supper, or in the Garden of Gethsemane, or at the palace of Pilate.


            The Way of the Cross as we have it today is therefore the product of a long evolution of popular piety in Europe over a period of a thousand years, and transported to Jerusalem by European pilgrims. In the Seventeenth Century, the Franciscans adapted their visits to the Holy Places connected with the suffering and death of Jesus to the European Way of the Cross. And so we arrive at our present-day Way of the Cross.


At the Tenth Station: Jesus is stripped


            Many of the faithful in every country had a great desire to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but relatively few could make it. Since the end of the Fifteenth Century, “spiritual pilgrimages” to Jerusalem became popular and people at home were assured that they enjoyed the same spiritual advantages as those who actually reached Jerusalem.


At the Eleventh Station: Jesus is nailed to the cross


            Since the Seventeenth Century, the fourteen Stations of the Cross as we know them had been reproduced in Franciscan churches throughout Spain, from where they spread through Sardinia, then through Italy. Early in the Eighteenth Century, they spread to churches outside the Franciscan Order, largely due to the preaching of the Franciscan friar St Leonard of Port Maurice, who died in 1751, a year after he had erected the Stations of the Cross in the Colosseum in Rome, at the request of Benedict XIV.


            Today, the Stations of the Cross have been erected in practically every Catholic church throughout the world. They have been erected also in the open air in many sanctuaries, as at “Maryfields”, Campbelltown NSW, and at Lochinvar NSW.


At the Twelfth Station: Jesus dies on the cross


            In 1975, Pope John Paul II introduced a Way of the Cross that is based totally on the gospel accounts of the suffering and death of Jesus. He replaced those Stations that had developed in Europe out of prayerful meditation without a scriptural basis, namely, the three falls of Jesus under his cross, Jesus meets his mother, and Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.


              This set of Stations is more appropriate for ecumenical services, where all Christians join in making the Way of the Cross, since we all share the same gospel accounts of the suffering and death of Jesus. Only the titles of the Stations are given, with no set gospel texts or prayers.


At the Thirteenth Station: Jesus is taken down from the cross


              The Scriptural Way of the Cross is similar to the traditional Way of the Cross, except that there are three stations before “Jesus before Pilate”. They are: “The Last Supper”, “The Garden of Gethsemane ”, and, “Jesus before the Sanhedrin”.  “Jesus is whipped and crowned with thorns” comes before “Jesus carries the cross”. There is no first, second or third fall in the Scriptural Way of the Cross, or Jesus meeting his mother or Veronica wiping the face of Jesus. “Jesus and the good thief” and “Jesus speaks to Mary and John” precede “Jesus dies on the cross”. Most important of all, after “Jesus is buried”, is added “Jesus rises from the dead”.


At the Fourteenth Station: Jesus is buried


            How do we make the Way of the Cross? We begin by recollecting our minds and situating ourselves in the gospel scene of Jesus at the Last Supper (if we are following the Scriptural Way of the Cross) or of Jesus before Pilate. As we proceed through the fourteen Stations, we stand in front of the representation of the scene. We recall that Jesus the Risen Lord is present among us and accompanies us while we remember his last hours before his death.


            At each Station, we read or listen to a relevant passage from the gospel or other sacred Scripture. We speak to Jesus by joining others in a common prayer, and by praying silently.


            We process from station to station, singing appropriate hymns, or in silent reflection. We are moved to compassion for Jesus and for all who suffer, to admiration of his forgiving his enemies, to compunction for our poor following of him, to imitation of his patience, to thanksgiving for what he did for us, to hope and trust in his power to save us, to love for God who gave him to us as our brother and Saviour.