Suitcase and World: Via Dolorosa and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Via Dolorosa and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Via Dolorosa and the Holy Church of the Sepulchre (Image from Destinaton360)
I'm still in the very, very early stages of planning this trip so nothing in is written in stone yet but my current thought is to walk the Via Dolorosa after visiting Temple Mount as the starting point is near by.

The Via Dolorosa translates to *Path of Sorrow* and is also known as the “Way of the Cross” .  It is the route that Jesus Christ, after having been condemned to death by Pontius Pilate, took to his crucifixion and burial.

For many Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem, the most important and meaningful thing they will do while they are here is walk the Via Dolorosa.

The Via Dolorosa is marked by fourteen stations, each of which represents a milestone in Jesus’ long walk from condemnation to crucifixion.  The New Testament does not mention the stations as such; the 14 Stations of the Cross were designated by monks in Western Europe in the 17th century.

The Via Dolorosa pilgrimage been followed since early Christianity, beginning as soon as it became safe to do so after Constantine legalized the religion (mid-4th century). Originally, Byzantine pilgrims followed a similar path to the one taken today, but did not stop along the way. Over the centuries, the route has changed several times.  Today, the main route of the Via Dolorosa is that of the early Byzantine pilgrims, with 14 stations along the way.
The route of the Via Dolorosa begins near the Lions' Gate in the Muslim Quarter and ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter, covering 500 meters (1640 feet) and incorporating the 14 Stations of the Cross.  The route travels through busy streets lined with snack bars and tourist shops - not exactly ideal for prayer and contemplation.

Stations 1-9 are located outside and there are black colored plaques (with the station number engraved in Roman numerals) to mark them.  I've have read that the plaques can be difficult to spot.  I'm hoping to find a good map and then hope I can spot them.....I have pretty good eyes when it comes to finding things :-) has a layout of the route and pictures - very useful resource.   If you happen to be in Jerusalem on a Friday, you can join the weekly procession along the Via Dolorosa is led by Franciscans at 3pm, which is approximately the time and day of the original events. The procession begins at the Pilgrims' Reception Centre, about 300m inside the Lions' Gate in the Muslim Quarter.

Church of the Flagellation (Image from triposo)
The first station is situated in the courtyard of the Madrasa al-Omariya.  It is here that Jesus was publicly scourged and condemned to death by Pontius Pilate. It believed that in this small domed building that Jesus was crowned with the Crown of Thorns.  The madrasa is still used as a school and can be entered with the permission of the caretaker at specific times (Mon-Thu, Sat 2:30-6; Fri 2:30-4pm). As mentioned above, an alternative location for this event is Herod's Palace at Jaffa Gate.  Based on the opening times, this means I can only begin my walk down Via Dolorosa a t 2:30p at the earliest.  Good to know.

Located right across the street from Station II are two churches. The Church of Judgment/Condemnation, on the left, marks the site where Jesus was sentenced to death; the Church of the Flagellation, on the right, is where he was beaten by Roman soldiers.  Inside the Church of the Flagellation, the stain-glassed windows depict Pontius Pilate washing his hands of the blood of Christ before Jesus was flogged by the angry masses. On the ceiling of the chapel is a depiction of the Crown of Thorns.

The Lithostratos
Inside the Convent with the Lithostratos (Image from
From the Church of the Flagellation, the Via Dolorosa turns south on Tariq Bab al-Ghawanima and passes the northwestern gate of the Temple Mount, Bab al-Ghawanima. Up ahead on the north side of the Via Dolorosa is the Convent of the Sisters of Zion. The convent is not considered to be one of the fourteen stations but is associated with Jesus’ last steps.

The convent contains large pieces of the Lithostratos (Pavement of Justice) which is traditionally believed to be part of the same floor on which Jesus was condemned.

Ecce Homo Arch (Image by צילום: דרור פייטלסון )  
Several of the stone slabs that make up the Lithostratos stone have grooves carved into them.  It's believed that some of the grooves served as channels for rainwater but that he squares and triangles on the slabs were made by game-playing Roman soldiers. The floor has been dated to the time of Hadrian (AD 117-138) and therefore postdates Jesus.

The Homo Ecce Arch
Adjacent to the Convent of the Sisters of Zion is the Ecce Homo Church famous for its ancient arch which spans the Via Dolorosa. For centuries people have believed that this is the spot where Pontius Pilate presented Jesus to the people with the words “Ecce Homo” - Behold the Man.

The arch is part of a gate dating from Emperor Hadrian's time and was given its present name in the 16th century.  From what I read, many people begin their walk down the Via Dolorosa at this point but I'm planning to start at Station I or as close to it as I can get.

Station #3  (Image from

Marked by a relief sculpture above the door of a small Polish chapel at the junction with al-Wad Road, Station 3 is where Jesus fell for the first time under the weight of his cross. The fall of Jesus is not mentioned in the Gospel but it is believed that it happened near the site of the ancient Fish Gate.

Station IV (Image by Philip Craine)


The fourth station is located at the Armenian Church of Our Lady of Spasm where Mary watched her son go by with the cross. Inside the church is a 5th-century floor mosaic, which includes an outline of a pair of sandals, said to be Mary's footprints.

The Fifth Station is  located on the corner where the Via Dolorosa turns west off al-Wad Road and begins to narrow as it goes uphill. The station is marked by a small chapel dedicated to Simon of Cyrene, the passerby who was forced by Roman soldiers to help Jesus carry his cross. At this station there is a handprint in the wall; according to tradition, the hand print is that of Jesus.

Station VI.  (Image from

At the top of a steep hill is the sixth station.  Station 6 is commemorated by the Church of the Holy Face, served by the “Little Sisters,” a Greek Catholic rite. The chapel is part of the Crusader monastery of St. Cosmos and was refurbished by Barluzzi in 1953. Inside are refurbished Crusader arches. According to a tradition dating from the 14th century, women lined the roads along which condemned criminals were led to execution. It is here that one of these women is said to have stepped forward to clean the blood and filth from the face of Jesus as he passed by. The image of his face is said to have remained on the cloth which she used. The relic, known as the Sudarium or Veronica, is kept at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. It is believed that the woman's name "Veronica" is derived from the Latin *vera icon* meaning *true image.*
Station VII (Image by beta design)

Station VII: Second Fall
The seventh station is marked by a Franciscan chapel at the Via Dolorosa's junction with Souq Khan al-Zeit. There was a gate near this spot between the Fish Gate to the North and the Gate of Ephraim to the South. A copy of Jesus’ death sentence is said to have been posted on this gate and for this reason Christians have referred to it as Judgment Gate. Tradition has it that Jesus fell for the second time while passing through this gate on his way out of the city.

Station VIII (Image from

The eighth is located across the market street and up the steps of Aqabat al-Khanqah, opposite the Station VIII Souvenir Bazaar.  Yes, opposite the bazaar.  Here, embedded in the wall of the Greek Orthodox Convent of St. Charalambos is a stone marked with a Latin cross and the letters NIKA signifying the words *Jesus Christ Conquers*.  The station marks the place where Jesus consoled the lamenting women of Jerusalem.

Station IX (Image from
According to several websites I read, finding the ninth station can be a bit of a challenge.  From the eighth station, the Via Dolorosa routes across Souq Khan al-Zeit, turns south down Khan al-Zeit, and then it's up 28 stone steps to the ninth station at the Coptic Patriarchate next to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Here, a Roman pillar marks the site of Jesus' third fall.  The ninth station is located on a street that the Crusaders referred to as “Malcuisant” - the place of bad cooking. It had a roof over it in their time, as it has today, and at the southern end one can still see the smoke vents which served their army. It is still a food bazaar where meat, fish and other food is marketed.  So, the key to finding the ninth station may lie with my nose....I will have to smell my way there, with the smoke to guide me. :-)

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the site  venerated as Golgotha,  the Hill of Calvary, where Jesus was crucified  and is said also to contain the place where Jesus was buried (the Sepulchre).

The last five stations are all inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a Romanesque church built by the Crusaders in 1099. To get to the entrance from the ninth station, I have to head south down Souq Khan al-Zeit to the end, turn right into Souq al-Dabbagha and go straight on to the doorway at the end of the street.  I hope there are street signs and I'm now wondering whether or not I should consider bringing along my compass.  Hmmmm.....

Latin Chapel.  Location of Stations X and XI.
Image by Herbert Bishko


At the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the stone of Unction where Christ’s body was prepared for burial. The tenth station is in the Latin chapel on the right of the entrance.

The eleventh station is also in the Latin Chapel, located close by the tenth station.  The modern mosaics that cover the walls show Christ being nailed to the cross. It also shows Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son, Isaac.


Station XII.  (Image from Syracuse University)

Station XII: DEATH
The twelfth station marks the place of Christ’s death on the Cross is in the Greek Orthodox chapel  At the end of this chapel stands an oriental altar, and between its two supporting columns is a silver disc surrounding a cavity in the rock: the traditional spot of Christ’s crucifixion. Markings in the floor indicate where the crosses of the two thieves may have stood. An opening in the marble reveals the crevice in the rock caused by the earthquake which followed Christ’s death.

Station XIII.  (Image by Wknight94)

The thirteenth station is marked by Our Lady of Sorrow, located next to the Latin Chapel.

Station XIV.  (Image by Erik Smith)

The fourteenth and last station is the Rotunda or circular part of the Basilica. The tomb of Christ is inside a small structure in the center of the Rotunda. The original tomb consisted of an anteroom furnished with benches for the mourners and an inner chamber where the body was laid on a stone couch. Within the Rotunda are two small areas serving as two tiny chapels. The first is in the Chapel of the Angel. In it are two pieces of the burial stone placed over the grave of Jesus. In the dome of the Rotunda can be seen twelve rays of light, representing the connection between death and the Resurrection, the twelve rays symbolizing the twelve disciples On the other side of the structure is a small Coptic chapel.

I don't know if I will be able to walk all of Via Dolorosa and see everything before it gets dark - I don't want to rush it.  I may end up doing part of it on one afternoon and then finish up the next morning.  Might be a good plan because then I can spend the rest of the second day exploring more of the Old City.  I shall see how it goes! :-)