HISTORY OF THE WAY OF THE CROSS
Way of the Cross, “Via Crucis” in Latin, commemorates
the way that Jesus trod in Jerusalem, from the court of Pontius Pilate
to the hill of Golgotha that was then just outside the city walls. It is also
called “The Sorrowful Way”, or “Via Dolorosa”.
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 ones 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.
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 state 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 as well as of ordinary faithful
Christians in Europe.
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 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.
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 veneration of the holy places in Jerusalem and from various forms of devotion to
the Passion of Jesus in Europe which pilgrims carried over to Jerusalem.
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: Jesus meets his
mother, and 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.
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.
In the 1400s, the friars 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 in reverse order, from Calvary to Pilate’s palace.
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.
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.
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.
Way of the Cross as we have it 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.
Local Stations of the
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.
the Seventeenth Century, the fourteen Stations of the Cross as we know them had
been reproduced in Franciscan churches throughout Spain, from where it spread through Sardinia, then through Italy. Early in the Eighteenth Century,
it 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.
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.
The Scriptural Way of
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.
Scriptural Way of the Cross begins with the Last Supper, and proceeds to the Garden of Gethsemane, then to Jesus before the
Sanhedrin. After Jesus is buried, it adds Jesus rises from the dead.
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. The Pope gave only the titles of the
Stations, with no set gospel texts or prayers.
Scriptural Way of the Cross compares with the traditional Way of the Cross as
Scriptural Way of the Cross
Jerusalem Way of the Cross
The Last Supper
The Garden of Gethsemane
Jesus before the Sanhedrin
Jesus before Pilate Jesus before Pilate
Jesus is whipped and crowned with thorns
Jesus carries the cross
carries the cross
falls the first time
meets his mother
Jesus is helped by the
is helped by the Cyrenean
wipes the face of Jesus
falls the second time
Jesus speaks to the
women of Jerusalem Jesus
speaks to the women of Jerusalem
falls the third time
Jesus is stripped
and nailed to the cross
Jesus is nailed to the
Jesus and the good thief
Jesus speaks to Mary and John
Jesus dies on the cross
on the cross
is taken down from the cross
Jesus is buried
Jesus rises from the dead
How do we make the Way
of the Cross?
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. 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.
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
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.
Picard, “Croix (Chemin
de)”, Dictionnaire de Spiritualité
Ascétique et Mystique,
Doctrine et Histoire. Beauchesne, Paris, 1953. Tome II Deuxième Partie, pp.
Brown, “Way of the Cross”, New
Catholic Encyclopedia. McGraw-Hill, 1966. Vol. 14, pp. 832-835.