1st prel. Stat.
2nd prel. Stat.
3rd prel. Stat.
The Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem - Reflection
along the streets of Old Jerusalem
The Franciscans sometimes with only
a few pilgrims for the Way of the Cross
We find the first
references to a rough sketch of the Way of the Cross marked out with holy
places only towards the end of the 13th century. The devotion itself began to spread in the 16th centuty.
Today we are so used to seeing this pious
practice as a normal part of religious life in Jerusalem, that we can hardly
imagine a period when it did not exist; so we look for the reasons to explain
such a state of apparent indifference.
It is true that for a long time preachers and spiritual writers tended to see Christ as the Risen One, or as
the Child of Bethlehem, rather than as the Man of Sorrows. For them the Cross
was a victory emblem rather than an instrument of torture.
It is also true that
artists preferred the theme of the Good Shepherd, Christ in Majesty, or Christ
Pantocrator. They saw the crucified Saviour as a triumphant king rather than
as a sacrificial victim.
If however we read certain liturgical prayers from
the 3rd or 4th century, we can easily see that the memory of the Passion was not
foreign to Christian piety. In fact it was at the heart of this piety, since
from the very beginning the Eucharist perpetuates and re-enacts the sacrifice
of the Cross.
Devotion to the Passion was expressed in a simple and moving way
by the veneration of relics which recalled one or other of the last moments of
Jesus. Pilgrims faithfully went to pray for instance before the so-called
pillar of the scourging, on Mount Sion. There are also the many would-be relics
of the Passion, which abound in the treasuries of monasteries and churches in
both East and West.
This devotion was also expressed in stone, through the
construction of sanctuaries, even outside Jerusalem, dedicated to some episode
of the Passion.
The Good Friday liturgy and procession is another example of
this devotion, but all this was still far removed from our present devotion of
the Stations of the Cross.
The beginning (end of 13th century-14th century)
Prelates participate with the Franciscans for the Way of the Cross
The 14th century is rightly held to be all-important in the history of the Way of
the Cross. Obviously we are still far removed from the Way of the Cross with
its 14 stations, and the pious practice of today's devotion; but the seed was
sown, and impatient to grow.
Three things then happened which in the long run
proved decisive. The first two are directly related to the Way of the Cross in
Jerusalem. First, the definite localisation of the Praetorium on the site of
the Antonia Fortress. Second, the appearance of the elements which were to give
rise to the "stations".
Though of a more general order, the third factor was
also to have a decisive influence. It was caused by the grave crisis into which
the Western world was sinking; a crisis which, by the reaction it provoked,
fostered a spiritual and moral climate favourable to reflection on the
sufferings of Christ.
The Franciscans at the Ninth Station
In view of the fact that from the first half of the 17th century the Way of the
Cross with 14 stations was so widespread in the West, one could easily suppose
that from then on, uniformity was an acquired thing.
In reality however, and
for a long time to come, pious Christians favoured a variety of forms. Many
regions remained faithful to seven stations, others followed the twelve
stations of Adrichomius, adding on the burial; others again kept to nineteen
Polish Christians preferred a form which had eighteen stations; as
for religious in Peru, in 1659 they set up a Way of the Cross with twenty seven
It seems moreover, that popular enthusiasm was lacking, in response
to the hopes of those religious who had set themselves the task of spreading
devotion to the fourteen stations in their own countries.
This form of the
devotion was helped to final supremacy, by the backing it received from the
Popes and by the apostolate of the Franciscan St. Leonard of Port Maurice.
situation in Jerusalem was equally confused, even after Fr. Eleazar Horn's
efforts to adapt the stations of Adrichomius to the Way of the Cross. Here
also, to reach uniformity it needed time, both in respect of the nomenclature
of the stations and for their localisation.
Franciscans during the Way of the Cross
Since the middle of last century, without interruptions, the Franciscans, Custodians of the Holy Places since the thirteenth century, carry
out this devotion along the roads of the Old City of Jerusalem every Friday
afternoon at 3.00pm (solar time).
It is true that even prior to this date,
since the middle ages the devotions towards the various "stations" was
celebrated by the Friars and pilgrims alike. But there was also a period when
the Franciscans were forbidden to perform any form of public prayer, including
the Way of the Cross.
The procession is lead by the Franciscan Custos of the
Holy Land, or his representative. The Friars gather in the courtyard of
El-Omari Madrasah (school of Islamic studies) from all the different friaries
of Jerusalem, especially that of St. Saviour.
Accompanied by the "kawas" (a
sort of bodyguard dressed in a Turkish costume) the procession winds up through
the narrow streets of the city. Hundreds of pilgrims and local residents take
part in this weekly public Christian manifestation in a city with a
In front of each station the relative gospel or another scripture text is read
accompanied by a prayer. It is performed in Italian and English all year round
but during the Fridays of Lent, when the number of participants grow into the
thousands, it is also performed in Arabic as the local Christian population has
a particular devotion during these Fridays of Lent.
Between each station hymns
are sung, especially the Stabat Mater, and prayers are recited.