Years of repetition and habit made me get used to the concept of Jesus as just that – a concept, backed by deep faith that needs no proof. True, at some points in my life I did question His existence, especially in light of all the world’s (and my – how could we ignore my (!!) ) suffering, and an overall curious and questioning mind. But I’ve lived and seen enough to know that there is a greater power way beyond anyone else’s. I feel it. I feel Him. And what’s there to lose by believing anyway? Nothing. What’s there to gain? Potentially everything.
Of course, belief in a Higher Being does not necessarily mean belief in Jesus Christ*. But you’d probably be surprised that most scholars are in agreement that there was, indeed, a historical Jesus – an actual person who walked this planet some 2,000 years ago, was baptized by John, preached to people, and crucified to death by order of Pontius Pilate. The earliest historical non-Christian record was from Jewish historian Titus Flavius Josephus, who mentioned Jesus twice in his manuscript Antiquities of the Jews in 93/94 AD. However, not even this knowledge made Jesus as concrete to me as when we actually went to Israel, and none made the crucifixion as real and painful as when we walked the path to His Cross and suffering – the Via Dolorosa, Old City, Jerusalem.
Via Dolorosa, Old City, Jerusalem
First Station: Jesus is Condemned to Death
Second Station: Jesus Carries His Cross
We joined the Sandeman Tour, which started in the Third Station. The first station, where Jesus is said to have been ordered to death by Pontius Pilate, is inside a school called Islamic Al-Omariyeh – entry is not allowed, but you could perhaps try your luck after school hours – around 3pm. The second station, where Jesus is believed to have received the cross, is across the Franciscan Church of the Condemnation.
Third Station: Jesus Falls the First Time
Although never mentioned in the Gospels, by tradition it is believed that Jesus fell three times under the weight of the cross. The church that now stands where the first fall occurred is owned by Armenian Catholics, but all pilgrims are free to enter.
Fourth Station: Jesus Meets His Mother
By tradition, it is believed that the mosaic pavement with a pair of sandals is where Jesus met His mother, now located in the crypt of a 19th century Armenian Catholic oratory.
See the pair of sandals on the mosaic floor?
Fifth Station: Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus to Carry His Cross
This refers to the biblical episode where Simon was forced by the Romans to carry the cross. It is said that Simon’s sons later became missionaries.
Sixth Station: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus
This one I knew since I was young – perhaps from the many reenactments that show the image of Jesus’s face on a cloth. In truth, little is truly known about the real Veil of Veronica, which is believed to be the cloth Veronica used to wipe the blood and sweat off Jesus’s face on His way to Calvary. She was given the name Veronica probably from the Latin words “Vera” (true) and “Icon” (image). The place where it is now commemorated is not open to the public.
Seventh Station: Jesus Falls the Second Time
The uphill walk probably took a toll on Jesus even more, and here He falls the second time. The place is now a chapel owned by the Franciscans.
Eighth Station: Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem
Based on the Gospel of Luke, Jesus met pious women who wept for Him, and He stopped to give a few words of encouragement, eager to ease their pain even as He was on His way to His death.
[I didn’t realize I wasn’t able to take a photo of this one, but this is beside the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Saint Charalampus and has a sign similar to the others.]
Ninth Station: Jesus Falls a Third Time
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The tenth to fourteenth stations are all in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Christendom’s holiest site – being the site where Jesus died on the cross and resurrected. Three Christian communities currently hold services in the church: the Latins (Franciscans), Greeks, and Armenians, although there are actually six Christian religious orders which claim rights over the use of the Church. As you could imagine, the various denominations are not always in agreement, hence the Status Quo agreed in the 18th century during the time of Ottoman Sultan Osman III, which sought to preserve the ownership and responsibilities of religious sites important to Christians, Muslims, and Jews to their then owners/guardians, still holds to this day.
For the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, this meant that none of the six ecumenical Christian orders may use or change or rearrange any property without the consent of the other five. This applied to even the littlest of details; for instance, the presence of what is now called the ‘Immovable Ladder’ below one of the windows above the facade, where it has been since – you guessed it, the 18th century! (No using or moving of property without consensus, remember? I know, this one’s ridiculous and hilarious and sad, all at the same time.)
Another consequence of the Status Quo: it is actually a Muslim (or two Muslim families) who holds the keys to Christianity’s most revered site! Again – no change since the time of Sultan Osman III. But this is actually just a tiny fraction of the larger disputes in the Holy Land among the three major monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), which has resulted time and again to unspeakable violence since time immemorial.
I recently read that one of the memorials in the Brussels incident said: “In the end, when you see what can be done in the name of God, you wonder what is left for the devil.”
Unfortunately, no truer words have been said.
Tenth Station: Jesus’s Clothes are Taken Away
Mark 15:24: “And they crucified Him, and divided up His garments among themselves, casting lots for them to decide what each man should take.”
Station 10 is in a room in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre called Chapel of the Franks. The stairs on the rightmost part of the photo below leads to this room.
Eleventh Station: Jesus is Nailed to the Cross
Twelfth Station: Jesus Dies on the Cross
There is a place in ancient Jerusalem called Golgotha (literally, “place of [the] skull”), just outside the city walls (it is a Jewish tradition that all executions must be made outside the city – seemingly honored here by the Romans), so called because it was a hill resembling a skullcap. This is where Jesus was believed to have been crucified, which makes sense given the Romans’ penchant for executing people on elevated areas for everyone to see – and so serve as warning.
The photo is very dark, but if you could see the star with a hole below the pictured frame of the Virgin, that is where the Cross of Christ is said to have been planted.
Panning out from the previous photo – this is the actual (or believed to be the actual site of) Golgotha, the hill / rock (now protected by the glass cover) where Jesus is said to have been crucified. Quite mind-blowing, really.
Thirteenth Station: The Body of Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross
When Jesus’s body was removed from the Cross, he was laid on this stone to be anointed (hence now called the Stone of Anointing or Unction). Per John 19:40: “So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.”
I placed and prayed over the rosaries I bought here to be blessed.
Fourteenth Station: Jesus is Laid in the Tomb
In the center of the Church of Holy Sepulchre, in the rotunda, is the Sepulchre itself – and is the fourteenth and last station; for of course what followed is the resurrection, and the beginning of a new world for all of Christianity and the rest of the world.
This is the marble lid of Jesus’s tomb (!). What an incredible journey to take. If you have ever wanted make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, now is as good a time as any.
- Start from the Lions’ Gate
- The entire rout from the Lions’ Gate to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is just around 900 meters. Depending on your pace and the queues at the churches, this could be done from less than an hour to three hours. See indicative map below.
- Operating hours of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre:
Summer Hours (April-September)Sundays 5.00 am – 8.00 pmMonday-Saturday 5.00 am – 9.00 pmWinter Hours (October-March)Sundays 4.00 am – 7.00 pmMonday-Saturday 4.00 am – 7.00 pm
- One of the best restaurants in Jerusalem is right by the Fifth Station and is called Abu Shukri Restaurant
- This is completely doable on your own, although joining one of the tours by Sandeman or Abraham Hostel could be helpful, especially if you haven’t researched enough. Of course, best if you have a priest to guide you as well.
- You could also combine this with a morning tour of the Mount of Olives area – so that you have the full story from when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday up to His resurrection.
- There are bazaars, restaurants, ATMs and money changers (check at least three to compare before exchanging your money) in Via Dolorosa and surrounding area – note many of them close during Shabbat (Friday sundown to Saturday sundown) – but since the Old City is divided into Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian quarters, you could always find something open even on Shabbat.
- Anything else you want to know? Comment below and I’ll try my best to answer.
* You could also argue that belief in Jesus Christ as man (perhaps prophet or messiah) is different from belief in Jesus Christ as a Divine Being – totally different discussion. But for the record, I am a Catholic, so I believe in the latter.
Also note that this is the traditional Way of the Cross, where not all events is based on the Scripture, but based on centuries of belief and tradition since the earliest pilgrims. There is now what is called the New Way of the Cross which is purely based on Scripture.