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The Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem - Reflection

he Procession
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.

Finally established

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 stations.
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 stations.
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.
The 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 Moslem-Jewish majority.
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.

In pictures

A typical scene: a young friar carries
a "young friar" in the streets of Jerusalem

The local Christians of Jerusalem have acquired from the Southern Italian cities the custom to dress their young sons in the Franciscan habit on very special religious occasions such as the Way of the Cross in Jerusalem.

A group of pilgrims in front of the Third Station

The starting point of the Way of the Cross

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View of Via Dolorosa - next to the Second Station

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View of Via Dolorosa
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A group scene

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Another group scene

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Another group of pilgrims

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Another group of pilgrims

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© copyright 2001. Reflections and Prayers by John Abela ofm
Descriptive text by John Abela, ofm and Michael Olteanu
based on research by Albert Storm (SBF - Jerusalem)
Hi-Res pictures prepared by Michael Olteanu
Display pictures prepared by John Abela ofm

Stations:  Main - A - B - C - D/ 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 - 14 - 15 / Proc.
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Created / Updated Sunday, January 6, 2002 at 14:10:56 by John Abela ofm
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