This is the Way of the Cross, traditionally believed to be the route followed by Jesus from the Praetorium (the Roman Judgment Hall) to Calvary, which was the scene of the Crucifixion. Over the centuries, millions of pilgrims have come here to walk the way that Jesus took to his death. Each Friday at 3pm priests lead a procession for pilgrims along Via Dolorosa (starting in the Monastery of the Flagellation at the tower of Antonia, not far from the Lion's Gate). Large wooden crosses are carried by some of those in the procession and prayers are said at each of the 14 Stations of the Cross. The Via Dolorosa begins in the Muslim Quarter, in the northeast corner of the Old City, and winds its way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Christian Quarter.
You can enter the Sanctuaries of the Flagellation and the Condemnation, where Jesus was scourged and judged. In the sanctuaries are some of the original paving stones of the Lithostrotos. Hours are year-round daily from 8am to noon; also 2 to 6pm from April through September and 1 to 5pm from October through March.
The Sanctuary of the Condemnation marks the first Station of the Cross. As you leave the sanctuary to follow the Via Dolorosa, keep in mind that each Station of the Cross is marked by a small sign or a number engraved in the stone lintel over a door. Paving stones on the Via Dolorosa itself have been set in a semicircular pattern to mark those stations directly on the street. Other stations are behind closed doors; knock and a monk or nun will probably be there to open up for you. There's a restroom opposite Station 3.
The following is a quick guide to the Stations of the Cross:
Station 1: Jesus is condemned to death. Station 2: Jesus receives the cross (at the foot of the Antonia). Station 3: Jesus falls for the first time (Polish biblical-archaeological museum). Station 4: Jesus meets his mother. Station 5: Simon the Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross. Station 6: Veronica wipes Jesus' face. Station 7: Jesus falls the second time (at bazaar crossroads). Station 8: Jesus consoles the women of Jerusalem. Station 9: Jesus falls the third time (Coptic Monastery).
The five remaining Stations of the Cross are inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher . Station 10: Jesus is stripped of his garments. Station 11: Jesus is nailed to the cross. Station 12: Jesus dies on the cross. Station 13: Jesus is taken down from the cross and given to Mary. Station 14: Jesus is laid in the chamber of the sepulcher and from there is resurrected.
Church of the Holy Sepulcher at Golgotha
The church is divided among the six oldest Christian sects: Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Egyptian Coptic, Ethiopian, and Syrian Orthodox. Each denomination has its own space -- right down to lines drawn down the middle of floors and pillars -- and its own schedule of rights to be in other areas of the church at specific times. The decor, partitioned and changed every few feet, is a mixture of Byzantine and Frankish Crusader styles.
You can observe the various stations inside the church -- the marble slab at the entrance is the Stone of Unction, where the body of Jesus was prepared for burial; the site of Calvary on the second floor; and the early-19th-century marble tomb edifice enclosing the actual cave of the sepulcher.
After the Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and made Christianity the religion of Rome in A.D. 326, his mother, Queen Helena, made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and located what was believed to be the tomb from which Jesus rose. Further excavation nearby uncovered the True Cross, which became the most sacred relic of the Christian world until it was carried off by the Persians in A.D. 614. It was over this tomb that Constantine built the first Holy Sepulcher Church, a complex of classical structures, which was enlarged by Justinian 200 years later. Fire, earthquake, the 7th-century Persians, and a mad 11th-century Muslim caliph destroyed much of the great, classical church, but the Crusaders rebuilt it in the 12th century -- a mixture of Byzantine remnants and medieval Frankish reconstruction that was far less grand than the original. The church has been restored many times and is currently being renovated. In 1997, the renovated interior of the great dome covering the sepulcher was unveiled. It is bright, fresh, and, to some visitors, a bit incompatible with the antiquity of the place. Its design motifs had to be neutral, avoiding incorporating any of the special traditions of the branches of Christianity that control different areas of the building.
If you're in Jerusalem during Easter week, you can attend many of the fascinating services based on ancient Eastern church traditions that are held at the church. Most notable are the Service of the Holy Fire, the dramatic pageant called the Washing of the Feet, and the exotic midnight Ethiopian procession on the part of the church under Ethiopian jurisdiction -- the roof. No admission fee; modest dress required.
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