Among the many beautiful and significant places of Jerusalem is undoubtedly the Via Dolorosa, or Way of the Cross, the way that Jesus walked, carrying his cross, and headed for Golgotha, the place of his crucifixion.
This route starts from the Fortress Antonia, a building that once stood at the north side of the Temple of Jerusalem, considered by the Jewish religion the most important sacred building, and the seat of the Roman garrison that controlled the city.
The Roman procurator of Judea, lived there when he was in Jerusalem, and usually was in Caesarea, founded by Herod the Great between 25 and 13 BC, and important for its large port.
What is known about Antonia Fortress we owe it to Titus Flavius Josephus, Roman writer and historian of Jewish origin which dates back to the construction of the building before 67 BC and thus prior to the death of Alessandra, the Jewish queen and wife of Aristobulus I.
At the four corners of the fortress they stood as many towers; to the southeast was the highest, from the top you could see the whole temple to which it was connected by several stairs. These served to allow the prompt intervention of the soldiers should your particular disorder, a possibility not entirely remote, especially during major holidays, such as for Easter, celebration precisely remember the liberation from Egyptian oppression.
The fortress once called “Baris” and was under Herod the Great that the building was expanded, upgraded and renamed “Antonia” in honor of the Roman triumvirate Antonio. When Archelaus, successor of Herod, he was deposed and exiled by Augustus, the fort was occupied by the Roman garrison.
Right in the courtyard called Pavement, Jesus was tried and sentenced to death by the procurator Pontius Pilate.
In subsequent historical events, the fortress was destroyed and it actually does not remain that few remains. On the site it stands the Church of the Flagellation and it is from here that begins the Via Dolorosa.
According to some witnesses back, it seems that the road to which Jesus had passed he went to delineate quite gradually, while also were determined stations, ie places where the faithful would stop to contemplate each of the episodes of the Passion.
In Both the Crusaders XI and XII century that the Franciscans later from the fourteenth century then contributed in large part to fix these traditions. So in the Holy City, during the sixteenth century, it already followed the same route that currently runs, precisely known as the Via Dolorosa, with the division into 14 stations.
From this moment on, outside of Jerusalem, he was born the custom of erecting the cross streets so that the pilgrims would consider these scenes in imitation of the pilgrims who came to the Holy Land.
This tradition was first distributed in Spain, through the Blessed Álvaro de Córdoba, a Dominican, and from there went to Sardinia and later extended to the rest of Europe.
Worth a special mention in promoting this devotion St. Leonard of Porto Maurizio since 1731 to 1751, during some missions in Italy, erected more than 570 of the cross streets; and always he was the preacher of the ceremony when Benedict XIV did place the Via Crucis of the Colosseum on December.
However we can not have complete confidence that the road indicated today as Via Dolorosa is exactly that taken by Jesus because the layout of the streets goes in principle to Jerusalem Roman reconstruction built at the time of Hadrian in 135.
It would therefore be necessary archaeological research can reach the level and the map of the city in the first half of the first century, but even so, most likely, will solve all the questions. Despite this lack of absolute certainty, the Via Dolorosa is the Way of the Cross par excellence, the one who walked Christians for centuries.
As for the 14 stations, nine of which come together in the path that leads to the Holy Sepulchre where they collected the last five stations, most of them are taken directly from the Gospel, while others have come to us through the tradition of the Christian people.
Every Friday, at three in the afternoon, in Jerusalem there is a procession that runs through the Via Dolorosa. Driving the Custos of the Holy Land, or his representative, accompanied by numerous pilgrims. The starting point is the courtyard of the Islamic school of ElOmariye, located in the northwest corner of the Temple Mount, as in the first century, as mentioned, there stood the Antonia Tower, and this place is traditionally identified with the Praetorian where it happened the judgment of Jesus before the governor Pontius Pilate. This is a result of the first station.
Soon after, we arrive at the Franciscan Monastery of the Flagellation. This is a complex built around a large cloister, with two churches on either side: on the right, that of the Flagellation in fact, rebuilt in 1927 on the ruins of another of the twelfth century; and on the left, one of the Condemnation, built in 1903. On the outside wall of the church, on the road, it has reported the second station of the cross where Jesus was loaded.
“And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha” (Jn 19:17) The Via Dolorosa is at this point crossed by a round arch with a corridor built on. It is known as the Ecce Homo arch and remember the place where Pilate presented Jesus to the people after the scourging and the crowning with thorns. In fact, it is the central room of a triumphal arch which is also preserved the north side door, inside the Convent of the Ladies of Sion: it acts as an altarpiece indel Ecce Homo basilica finished in nineteenth century.
A little further on, the road goes slightly downhill to cross a street coming from Damascus Gate; It is called ElWad The Valley and follows the old bed of the stream Tyropoeon. Turning left, almost on the corner, it is a small chapel belonging to the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate, with the third station which also coincides with the first fall of Jesus.
After raised, Jesus met Mary, this is the fourth station, where we find a church that always belongs to the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate in whose crypt is the Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
The fifth station, located in the old city and commemorated by a chapel that was already in the thirteenth century Franciscan, is right where a man who returned from the country, Simon of Cyrene, father of Alexander and Rufus, was forced to carry the cross of Jesus (Mk 15, 21).
“They compelled a passerby, a certain Simon of Cyrene, coming from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross.” (Mk 15,21).
Going forward, a woman recognized as devoutly Veronica wiped the face of Jesus with a white linen cloth. In medieval times the residence was located here, in the middle of the road, where today there is a chapel with a direct entrance from the street and over a greek catholic church. This rise coincides with the sixth station.
After a climb, the Via Dolorosa arrive in Khan ezZait, the oil market, the crowded bazaar that is the door of Damascus. This marks the Muslim and Christian quarters and fits with the ancient Cardo Maximus, the main street of the Roman and Byzantine Jerusalem. The seventh station is located at the intersection, where there is a small chapel of the Franciscan property and is the spot where Jesus fell for the second time.
A few meters on, you come to the eighth station, where Jesus saw some women of Jerusalem who wept tears of compassion.
The ninth station is instead the point where Jesus fell again, for the third time. At the end of an alley, a column noted last fall, is placed in a corner, between an access to the Ethiopian monastery terrace and the door of the Coptic Church of St. Anthony.
This place is located a short walk from the Holy Sepulchre and cross the last five stations of the Via Dolorosa are inside the basilica itself.
For Jesus he was later stripped of his garments and nailed to the cross where he died later. At that point he was taken down from the cross itself, before being laid in the Tomb.
To carry the cross every day is indeed life itself with its weight, its trials and the daily duties. And the cross is worn with prayer and work: prayer is above all love of God, the work is basically love of neighbour.
Then get to follow Jesus on the Via Dolorosa, like John and the pious women united to Mary, is the desire to contemplate and to retrace, in the heart of Jerusalem, the culmination of the history of salvation.
Matteo Ciofi is an Italian producer for Salt + Light. Follow him on Twitter!