Walking in the Footsteps of Christ on the Via Dolorosa
As soon as we arrived in Jerusalem to spend Christmas in the Holy Land, we headed for the Old City and quickly found ourselves on the Via Dolorosa, walking the path of Christ to Calvary. From Damascus Gate where we entered, we made our way to Lion’s Gate where the Way of Sorrows begins. Though the Old City can be a confusing place to navigate, each of the Stations of the Cross are marked by a bronze disc with Roman numerals, and usually a commemorative chapel. They will be easier to locate than you expect, but you’ll still need at least half a day to allow time for locating the stations while you enjoy the bustle of the Old City. The first eight stations are along the path from Lions Gate leading to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and stations 9-14 are all located on the grounds of the church. It’s important to remember that the city has been built upon for centuries, meaning the original street level where Christ would have walked is about 20 feet below the current street level.
Entering Lions Gate, you’ll soon see St. Anne’s Church on the right, built over the grotto where the Virgin Mary was born. Though not a station of the cross, this crusader-era chapel should not be missed. The acoustics are incredible, and we were lucky to walk in just as a lone pilgrim was singing “O Come Emmanuel” which took my breath away. The Pools of Bethesda are just next to the church.
1 | Jesus is Condemned to DeathThe first station is the Antonia Fortress, where Jesus was tried and sentenced by Pontius Pilate. Today it houses Al-Omariya School, so you can only enter when school is not in session.
2 | Jesus Carries the CrossThe second station is just across from the first, in the Franciscan Monastery. There are two chapels here marking the condemnation and flagellation of Christ. On Fridays, the Franciscan monks lead a procession down the Via Dolorosa starting from here.
3 | Jesus Falls for the First TimeReturning to the street, turn to the right and continue until you reach Al-Wad Street, which will be familiar to you if you entered the Old City from Damascus Gate as we did. The Armenian Hospice is located on this corner on the right, and on the corner to the left is where you’ll find the third station.
4 | Jesus Meets His MotherContinue through a gift shop and downstairs to find the fourth station, which is closer to the original level of the street.
5 | Simon the Cyrene Carries the CrossContinue South along Al-Wad and you’ll soon come to Aqabat al-Khanqah Street where the Via Dolorosa turns to the right. On this corner is the fifth station where Simon carried Jesus’ cross. Just across the street is Abu Shukri’s, a good place to stop for a rest. There were so many restaurants we wanted to try, that we opted for small snacks of hummus and falafel throughout the day.
6 | Veronica Wipes the Face of JesusComing out of the fifth station, you will turn left onto Aqabat al-Khanqah street and ascend into the souk. On the left is a chapel built where Veronica wiped the face of Jesus.
7 | Jesus Falls for the Second TimeContinuing through the souk, you’ll soon reach a door with bright red details which marks the place where Jesus fell for the second time.
8 | Jesus Meets the Women of JerusalemBe on the lookout for the Greek Orthodox Monastery, which is adjacent to the eighth station. This is the only station that does not have its own chapel and is marked only by the bronze disc.
9 | Jesus Falls for the Third TimeThe Church of the Holy Sepulchre is shared among the different denominations. We entered the church grounds from the rooftop level through the Coptic chapel which houses the ninth station. From here, we crossed the rooftop courtyard and descended back to ground level through a series of Ethiopian chapels.
10 | Jesus is Stripped of His GarmentsThe compound of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was first built in the 4th century under Helena, mother of Constantine. Today it is jointly managed by the Catholic, Greek, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian and Syrian Orthodox. Interestingly, the keys to the church were handed to a trusted Muslim family in the 7th century to avoid conflicts between the rival Christian sects, and this family is still today responsible for unlocking the doors at sunrise and locking up at sunset.
Enter the church and you are immediately facing the Stone of Unction, which commemorates Jesus’ body being prepared for burial. Ascend the steps to your right to visit stations 10-13 at the Chapel of Calvary.
11 | Jesus is Nailed to the CrossAfter ascending the steps, you arrive in the Chapel of Calvary, the location of Christ’s crucifixion. Glass covers the rock of Calvary, which pilgrims may touch through a hole under the altar.
12 | Jesus Dies on the Cross
13 | Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross
14 | Jesus is Laid in the TombReturn downstairs and follow the path to the right. A series of small chapels can be found along the path that curves around the building to the final station, where a shrine is built over Jesus’ tomb.
As you complete your tour of the Holy Sepulchre, you may want to sit in the courtyard of the church to reflect on your visit, or head back into the souk for some mint tea or fresh pomegranate juice. After all, the souks have always been part of the pilgrim’s journey!
No matter your religious beliefs, completing the Via Dolorosa is a good way to understand the Christian heritage of Jerusalem and the centuries of pilgrimages that have defined this city. May the path bring you enlightenment!