Jerusalem: The Via Dolorosa

This post includes the opportunity to view a booklet I wrote a few years ago that is still for sale in the Old City of Jerusalem. I post it here for all who may want to visit the Old City of Jerusalem. It will act as  guide for the historic path.


The route of the Via Dolorosa, marked by fourteen stations, was created to be a “journey of reflection” that recalls the suffering of Jesus. The end of the journey is within the Holy Sepulchre, the central place of pilgrimage to believers of the resurrection of Jesus since at least the fourth century. The sites along the route are significant for those reasons alone, but both also add unique historical treasures to the dynamic of the city of Jerusalem. They were chosen sites, based on the desire of Christians to follow some points of reflection along the trail of sufferings of Jesus and were not intended (in some cases) to mark “the actual spot” where events occurred.



For several years our students have asked us to make the note of various lectures available in written form. This booklet is a part of a series created to respond to that request. The notes are from the teaching materials used in conjunction with the courses of study at The Institute for Biblical Studies in Jerusalem, a teaching program sponsored by Christian Travel Study Programs, Ltd. This particular study is intended to give the reader a close-up view of the Via Dolorosa, also known to many as “The Way of Sorrows,” and the journey to the Holy Sepulchre.  For believers of every background, we have found that carefully recalling the suffering of Jesus in the Passion has been a moving experience that has helped the student of the New Testament to grow in their faith, and their love for their Savior.

The Via Dolorosa History

The route of the Via Dolorosa, marked by fourteen stations, was created to be a “journey of reflection” that recalls the suffering of Jesus. The end of the journey is within the Holy Sepulchre, the central place of pilgrimage to believers of the resurrection of Jesus since at least the fourth century. The sites along the route are significant for those reasons alone, but both also add unique historical treasures to the dynamic of the city of Jerusalem. They were chosen sites, based on the desire of Christians to follow some points of reflection along the trail of sufferings of Jesus and were not intended (in some cases) to mark “the actual spot” where events occurred. One Catholic scholar has said “the Via Dolorosa is defined by faith, not by history”.  The general route marks out events from the condemnation of Jesus by Pontius Pilate to the place of Jesus’ execution, and body being placed in the tomb. The Latin terms “Via Dolorosa” refer to the route between the ancient location of the Antonia Fortress of the Herodian period (a possible place of residence of the Roman governor) to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (a probable site for the hill of Golgotha). The actual place where Pontius Pilate stayed during the events detailed in the Gospel of John 19 is not known. Significant scholarly debate has left the identification of the Praetorium, or “place of judgment,” a mystery. The New Testament reflects that Pilate was visiting the city during the last week of Jesus’ ministry, but only offers hints as to His exact location. Pontius Pilate resided mainly in Caesarea but came up to Jerusalem during the Passover feast. Because the time of Passover was a time when Messianic expectations were characteristically at their highest, this was the time when Pontius Pilate would need to be in Jerusalem watching over the city. O’Connor, Fr. Jerome, The Holy Land (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 33. Philo’s writings, specifically the “Delegation to Gaias” (no. 38), suggests that Pilate normally went to the palace of Herod, which is now located inside the Jaffa Gate at the Citadel, to adjudicate or to watch over the city. Josephus mentions that one of Pilate’s successors, the Governor Florus, stayed at that same palace and that he had a platformed place in front of the building where he would sit as people presented themselves before the tribunal. This sounds suspiciously like Gabatha, the raised platform mentioned in the trial of Jesus (John 19:13). Despite these evidences, the current route was chosen. This choice began with the presupposition that Pontius Pilate was likely at the Antonia, a Roman fortress located north of the ancient Temple Mount. The choice of the Antonia Fortress site as the location of Pilate’s ad-hoc court was made for several reasons. This fortress also appears to have been built on a large platform pavement (like the other western hill palace complex). Recent excavations have demonstrated the pavement under the “Chapel of the Condemnation” and the “Ecce Homo Convent” to be from the Roman period. It seems clear the pavement was placed in its current position after the time of Jesus by the reconstruction of Emperor Hadrian, but there are indications that it was cut originally for use earlier. Hence, the Antonia appears to have had a large paved courtyard that was a somewhat larger area than the other palace (inside Jaffa Gate). In addition to its size, the proximity to the ancient Temple area made it a particularly helpful vantage-point for the Roman governor concerned about insurrection during this festival. The palace at Jaffa gate was well fortified, but offered little view of the happenings at the time of the Passover. The Antonia is clearly the fortress referred to in the Book of Acts in the scene of the arrest of the Apostle Paul. The tradition of observing reflection along a path in “stations” of suffering (now referred to as the “Stations of the Cross”) began in the Byzantine period. Sometime in the 6th century, on Holy Thursday (the Thursday of the week that annually recalls the Passion of Jesus), Byzantine pilgrims went from Gethsemane to Calvary in a reflective journey. In the 7th and 8th centuries, a number of stops along the way began to be observed with various reflective readings from the Gospels. The route for those pilgrims who came in the 8th century probably started from Gethsemane, went around the city south to Mount Zion to remember events from the house of Caiphas, and eventually to the Holy Sepulchre via a route from the south of the city. Under Islam, the Christian pilgrim experience was halted for a time, and not well documented when it did occur. During the Crusader period (1099-1187 CE) essentially two different walks were observed. Western and Eastern Christians observed two different routes based on which hill they had holy shrines, the western hill or the eastern. Those (primarily Western Christians) who possessed holy places on the eastern hill believed that the Praetorium was north of the Temple Mount. That route ran somewhere relative to what the Via Dolorosa is today. Other Eastern or Orthodox Christians had possession of shrines on the western hill called by that time “Mount Zion” along with shrines on the upper ridge inside the Armenian and Christian quarters. They felt the route was from the house of Caiphas (on Mt. Zion) north through the Armenian and Christian quarters to the Holy Sepulchre.

In the 14th century, the Franciscans began to organize a procession in the steps of Jesus through the Passion Week for Christian pilgrims. Pilgrim records seem to indicate the starting point, however, was the Holy Sepulchre – a route that remained throughout the 14th and 15th centuries.  Acts 21:37, where the Greek word “parembolaen” was used as barracks, fortress or military encampment. The location clearly denotes the Antonia as Paul was being taken up a stairway adjacent to the Temple compound. Within the next one hundred years, some European pilgrims began to make pictured representations of various stations or reflective places in their home churches in Europe. The “Stations of the Cross” make appearances in the art of the pre-Renaissance period, and the motifs are well established by the period of the Italian renaissance artists. At the same time, Eastern Christians in Jerusalem tended to recall eight (or so) stations. The European Christians added several traditions to make up the 14 stations and eventually the Western European tradition prevailed. The actual route of the Stations of the Cross was fixed by the 18th century, but the number of stations only became “fixed” in the 19th century. The current route of the Via Dolorosa, beginning at the Chapel of the Flagellation and the El Omariyeh School and ending at Golgotha, is about a 1,700-meter long walk. The first nine Stations of the Cross are located along the route itself and the last five are located within the Holy Sepulchre and follow the Western European traditions and route. Because of this, many of the sites along the Via Dolorosa belong to, or are overseen by the Latin Catholic Order of St. Francis (Franciscans). Franciscan monks have been in Jerusalem since the 13th century. Their  Order was founded in 1212 and primarily focused on the poor, the sick and needy. It is the largest of the Catholic Orders and became the custodian of most of the holy sites in the land. Each Friday at 3pm the Franciscans retrace the Via Dolorosa and lead prayers in each of the 14 stations.

The Stations

Station I: Jesus was condemned to death (Mk. 15:16; Jn. 19:13)

The first station is located inside the El Omariyeh Boys School on the north side of the compound of the “Haram esh-Sharif” at the site of the meeting between the ancient Temple courtyard and the approximate location of the Antonia Fortress. Excavations of the fortress area
have yielded only slight remains, and the exact size and shape of the fortress is not certain, but part of the escarpment is exposed on the south (facing the Dome of the Rock). Josephus speaks of an incredible fortification built by Herod the Great in about 35 BCE, on the site of a previous smaller Hasmonean barracks.  A rock cut pool called the “Struthion Pool” was apparently adjacent to the fort and can be viewed below the Convent of the Sisters of Zion at Ecce Homo, between Station II and III. Some understand the comments of Josephus to infer that a Roman assault ramp was built above the pool to enter and sack the fortress after Zealots had taken control of it in the First Revolt. It may be from this location the Romans entered onto the Temple complex, destroying brigades of Jewish defenders. The pool was eventually covered by Hadrian in the establishment of “Aelia Capitolina”. As mentioned in the introduction above, some scholars believe that the Praetorium, mentioned in John’s Gospel may have been the Antonia Fortress. The text describes “a place that is called the pavement” (John 19:13). Various excavations have revealed parts of the Roman structures of the area and a large pavement was partially uncovered in the vicinity. Recent excavations indicate its position (above the Struthion pool) indicates a proper date as the second century CE, but others insist it was in secondary use from an earlier pavement of the Antonia Fortress. Secondary use of such large fitted paving stones by the Romans was not rare.  See War 5:238-47. The previous “Baris” fortress was apparently entirely redesigned and expanded, but scholars suspect Josephus of exaggeration in the description of the Herodian fort.

The first station at the school is located in a structure that was originally built by King Issa Hanafia in the year 1217, on the north edge of the ancient Temple Mount. An earlier Crusader period “Chapel of Repose” was apparently dismantled on the site, and the “madrasa” (Islamic school) was built. Expanded in the fourteenth century, the aged building was completely redesigned by the Turks in 1838. Stone from a monastery that was once attached to St. Anne’s was used to build a barracks for the Turkish army. The school was supplanted by the Turkish army for part of the ninteenth century, but was eventually restored to its educational function in 1923, and is now a boy’s school with a lovely open courtyard. In the excavation of the El Omariyeh school area an inscribed stone plaque from the period of the Second Temple was uncovered. This was a stone marker that prohibited strangers and non-Jews from entering the inner court of the Temple. It is one of two such inscriptions found showing that the “wall of partition” was a physical wall in the Temple area. 4 The inscription was transported to the Istanbul Museum for display.

Station II: Jesus received the cross (John 19:1-3)

The second station is also located within the confines of the former Antonia Fortress. Directly across from the El Omariyeh school is the Franciscan Monastery of the Flagellation. Within the compound are two important shrines: The Chapel of the Flagellation and The Chapel of the Condemnation. Between the two chapels a sunlit courtyard offers a place for pilgrims to rest on a bench away from the busy street. The domed eastern chapel recalls the “crown of thorns” that Jesus received at the Praetorium (Mark 15:17, John 18:28). Pilate had Jesus scourged and handed Him over to be crucified from the site of the Praetorium (John 19:1 and 19:16). Today the chapel is called the Chapel of the Condemnation. It was erected shortly after the Franciscans purchased the property in 1903. During the construction the remains of a mosque were discovered. Below the mosque had been built over two earlier structures – a Byzantine church, and part of the large second century Hadrianic pavement. The large pavement stones, some of which show groves and games cut into them just as on many Roman pavements, make up the floor of the Chapel. The modern buildings, which are part of the compound, contain a library and a large archeology museum. Directly across from the Chapel of the Condemnation, within the same compound, is the Chapel of the Flagellation. The original structure was a medieval church that was later destroyed. Rebuilt in 1839, the site recalls the flogging of Jesus on a pavement (lithostrotos) thought to be near there (Mark 15:15 and John 19:1). The 1839 chapel was later torn down and was rebuilt in 1927-9 by Antonio Barlutzi who was inspired by 12th century architecture. Beautiful stained glass windows, which are the work of L. Picchiarini and D. Cambelotti depict the flogging of Jesus, the washing of the hands, and the triumph of Barabbas. Pilgrim stories from the Crusader period
mention the area was a collapsed stable and tell of a Moslem woman that brought Christian pilgrims in to “hear the cries of those who persecuted Jesus” for a small sum. No remains of these buildings have survived except what Barluzzi reused in the current chapel.  The Apostle Paul was accused of taking a non-Jew into the inner court of the Temple, and was arrested for this infraction (though not guilty). Acts 21 records that Paul had been seen in town with non-Jews, and when he showed up at the Temple, there was an inference that he brought his companions along. Paul also referred to the “wall of partition” as symbolically destroyed in the death of Jesus, cp. Eph. 2:14.
Above the street and further along in the walk, between stations II and III, you will pass underneath the ancient arch of the Sisters of Zion Convent, the “Ecce Homo Arch.” This was once thought to be the place where Pontius Pilate presented Jesus to the crowds: “Ecce Homo,” or “Behold the Man” (John 19:5). The arch has been more recently dated, however. Some scholars argue for a date close to the time of Jesus 5 but most accept a second century (Hadrianic period) date.

Station III: Jesus falls the first time

At the end of the street, the Via Dolorosa curves south joining Tariq El-Wad Street (also called HaGai Street) for a short time. This main thoroughfare follows the bottom of the Tyropoean Valley that cuts through the middle of the Old City from the Damascus Gate in the north, to the Dung Gate in the south. Across from the Austrian Hospice, along this short piece of the Via Dolorosa that is shared in common with el-Wad, a small chapel the marks the third station. The Gospels do not make mention of Jesus falling under the weight of the cross. However, the station was added to emphasize the humanity of Christ – suffering and exhausted. The front of the chapel was built into a structure that was originally a 15th century entrance to the Hamam Es Sultan Turkish baths. The three fanciful pointed arches are blocked now, but were a porch or vestibule to the original bathhouse. In 1856 the Armenian Catholics purchased the property that led to the baths, which by this time were no longer in use, and built a chapel. A 1947-8 renovation of the chapel was financed by a collection taken up by the Polish army during and after the Second World War. Their gift was the adorning of the chapel doorway with a sculptured pediment by A. Minghetti. The entry area, now closed off with an iron railing contains a simple column marker, a part of the column that tradition holds was next to the place Jesus fell. The pediment relief above the entrance, “Jesus Falls Under the Cross”, is based on another work of art by Thaddeus Zielinsky.

Station IV: Jesus is met by His afflicted mother

Past the blocked doorway and column marker is an opening to a courtyard of the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate. The adjacent chapel, accessed also from this doorway, leads to the “Church of Our Lady of the Spasm”. The chapel borders the fourth station, located just about 10 meters further south on el-Wad Street. The Chapel of Our Lady of the Spasm, which recalls the sorrow of the Virgin Mary, is still a place of pilgrimage to women who have lost a child. When the construction on the chapel began in 1881, foundation holes yielded a number of evidences that an earlier Byzantine chapel was beneath. Mosaic tiles were discovered, and eventually a floor was exposed. The mosaic depicts a set of footprints, which were interpreted by some to represent the sandals of Mary. Felix Fabri, a Dominican priest and pilgrim of the fifteenth century saw a ruin there that he termed “The Church of St. Mary of the Swoon”. The adorned entry at Station IV is also a sculpted pediment. The door below actually accesses the side of the chapel, the front is open to the courtyard inside. Though a small part of the chapel was also built over the southern portion of the Hamam Es Sultan Turkish baths, a story was related as early as Crusader times that the area was holy and  could not be built upon. The tradition passed to Fr. Fabri was that anyone attempting to build on the site saw their project destroyed before they could complete it. He also reported that no one was permitted to remove stones from the rubble of the former chapel. Though not mentioned in the Gospels as present at the questionings of Jesus, the Virgin Mary was present at the Crucifixion according to the account in the Gospel of John (see Jn. 19:26-27). There is little doubt that the appearance of Jesus on the way to the cross was shocking and gruesome to behold. The tradition developed that Mary followed Jesus through the alleys on the way to the cross agonizing and crying aloud, a state of loud mourning not uncommon in burials of the Near East even today. At the first site of her afflicted and beaten Son, one tradition states that she was overcome with grief and fainted. The value of including such a tradition is that even the modern pilgrim can understand the human setting of the redemption of man. The blood of Jesus was shed for sin, but this is theoretical and theological. On this street in Jerusalem, a mother’s heart was broken. This simple human story tugs the heart of any mother who has watched their child suffer, an unspeakable anguish of the soul is remembered here.

Station V: Simon takes up the Cross

The fifth station is located about twenty meters further south on Tariq el-Wad Street, at the southwest corner of the intersection. The Franciscans purchased the site in about 1850, and later built a small oratory in 1895. The exterior door is prominently marked with a Roman numeral “V”. The oratory was created for a reflection place to recall the day when Simon the Cyrene was compelled to carry the cross (Mark 15:21 and Luke 23:26). A bystander to the events of Jesus’ punishing walk to the city gate, Simon was thrust into the street and given the cross beam of the cross to carry for Jesus. He may have been visiting the city for the Passover from his home country (probably modern Libya). We have little information about Simon today, probably because his family was known to the first century Christians, and
the writers felt no need to elaborate. The writer of the Gospel if Mark did tell us of his sons, Rufus and Alexander (Mk. 15:21), probably leaders or prominent followers in the early church. The story was specifically cited in this memorial walk to help pilgrims reflect on the terrible injustice in the whole scene. Jesus was summarily condemned, and that without just cause. In addition, an unrelated and uncharged man is thrust into the unjust punishment to participate against his will. The inhumanity of man and his hard-hearted injustice are no more clearly seen than in this description. It is a worthy remembrance on the way to Calvary’s redemption scene.

Station VI: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

The sixth station is located halfway up the hill between the fifth and seventh stations. The Greek Catholic (Melkite) “Chapel of the Holy Face” recalls the tradition of the compassionate act of a woman wiping the face of Jesus. The door is marked with the station number at the traditional house of Veronica. The tradition of Veronica is that of a woman wiping the face of Jesus with her veil so that the veil took on itself the image of the face of Jesus. The image on the veil was reportedly responsible for a number of miracles and has been kept at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome since the year 707* (This date is uncertain, but is widely accepted). The chapel was built in 1882 and belongs to the Order of Little Sisters of Jesus. During construction of the chapel, remains of what were apparently the edges of two monasteries were discovered. The larger section was the Monastery of St. Cosmas, which is known to have existed in Jerusalem between the years 546 and 563. Part of the chapel also falls over the edge of what appears to be remains from the Monastery of St. Damian. The original 1882 chapel was completely restored in 1953 by Antonio Barlutzi. He completely refashioned the altar in the renovation. It is worth noting that “vera” is the Latin term for “face,” and “icona” the term for “image.” Vera-icona likely evolved in the tradition to Veronica – the name of the woman. It originates from “the face image,” referring to the image on the veil.

Station VII: Jesus falls the second time

Rising to a high point on the street at the intersection with Khan ez-Zeit Street (Olive Oil Market Street), pilgrims see a small marker outside of a Franciscan chapel which recalls Jesus falling a second time. This bustling center is built along the axis of the main street of Byzantine Jerusalem (“cardo”). Originally there were two chapels built in 1875 behind the door that marks the seventh station. One chapel was built above the other and connected by stairs. The lower chapel contained a capital of the Cardo of Byzantine Jerusalem. The area became known as the Gate of Judgment, because of the tradition of death notices being hung on the edge of a city wall as prisoners were marched out to the area of crucifixion outside of the city. This was a common practice during the middle ages in a number of European cities and some felt that perhaps it had happened in the case of Jesus as well. Though the column is of a later street, the seventh station may well roughly mark the edge of the wall and the area of the so-called “Gate of Judgment”. The second fall, also not a part of the New Testament record, reminds the pilgrim of the frail body of the tortured Jesus. The physical reality of His suffering is illustrated in the weakness of his body.

Station VIII: Jesus speaks to the daughters of Jerusalem

Standing in front of the Seventh Station, pilgrims observe an alley like street left of the door to the chapel, heading south from Khan ez-Zeit Street. Just sixteen steps up the alley the street leads to a round marker embedded on the left wall at the eighth station: “Jesus speaks to the daughters of Jerusalem”. The small Latin cross on the marker is etched into the bottom of a column inserted in the wall of the Greek Orthodox Convent of St. Caralambos. Along the top of the cross are the letters representing the name of Jesus Christ (ICXC), and the letters NIKA appear beside the cross. These letters (NIKA) form the word for “victory”, and should be coupled to read “Jesus Christ is victorious!” The speaking to the daughters is recorded in Luke 23:27-28.

Station IX: Jesus falls the third time

The ninth station is the last station outside of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The column marker is up 28 steps at the Coptic Church on the corner before you turn into the Holy Sepulchre itself. A door leads into the crypt of the Holy Sepulchre and the backside of the church of St. Helena, the Chapel of the True Cross. The cannons of the Holy Sepulchre used to have their living quarters in that area during the Crusader period and in the courtyard that is inhabited by the Abyssinian monks today.

Station X: Jesus is stripped of his garments

Near to the stairway at the main entrance of the Holy Sepulchre is place where the stripping of Jesus’ garments is remembered. There is a small entry to a chapel at the top of the stairs located outside the main door, although it is now closed to the general public. The event of the stripping of Jesus is part of the New Testament record as the casting of lots for the vesture of Jesus is mentioned (John 19:23-4). The typical garments worn in this period would have certainly included: a headdress, thought by most scholars to resemble the turban wrapping associated with India and Pakistan today; sandals for the feet; a tunic that covered the body to the feet; and an overcoat with a belt. Some ancient sources disclose that a wrap undergarment was also worn, but this would have been discarded by the executioners. The Gospel writer gives the detail that that there were four parts distributed to four soldiers, but the top coat, made without seam in the case of Jesus, was given to the soldier upon whom the fortunes of the lots fell (John 19:23-4).

Station XI: Jesus is nailed to the cross

Inside the front door of the church, which now faces to the south (the original church entry was to the east), there is a set of steep stone stairs that must be ascended to arrive at the eleventh station. The chapel is Roman Catholic and has a detailed mosaic affixed to the eastern wall which reminds pilgrims of the nailing of Jesus onto the cross. The style of the cross depicted in the mosaic was determined by a European artist and probably has little, if any, resemblance to the actual event. Nevertheless, the purpose of such artwork, like church icons, is to help set an atmosphere for prayer and remembrance. The only clear archeological evidence of crucifixion of the Roman period in ancient Judea is that of “the case of the crucified man” at Giv’at HaMivtar. The discovery was in a tomb, unexpectedly uncovered by road and construction work in the 1960s. The tomb yielded a number of ossuaries, boxes containing the bones of the dead, which were examined by archeologists. One of the ossuaries contained a curiosity that is still the subject of much discussion (See Israel Exploration Journal, vol.35, no.1, 1985, pp. 22-7). The excavator, Vasilios Tzaferis, took the skeletal remains of a male who appeared to have been crucified at about the age of 28. Evidence for the man’s death as a crucifixion included a bent nail, still positioned in the foot bones. The nail was 11.5 cm (4.5 inches) in length. Tests were run on the remains and the nail by Nico Haas of Hebrew University Hadassah Medical School and subsequently corrected by Joseph Zias, an anthropologist with the Israel Exploration Society and Eliezer Sekeles, a colleague of Haas at the University Medical School. It was determined that the crucifixion in this particular case did not include the use of the crucibellum (a sledgehammer) that was sometimes used to break the legs of the crucified victim. Further, the victim did not appear to have evidence of hand injury, implying that his arms were roped and not nailed, and may have been nailed to an olive tree. The evidence of olive wood’s use below the nail head, as a plaque to stop the nail from pulling through the foot, and the suggestion by Tzaferis that the crucifixion was on an olive tree would indicate that the man was positioned on a low cross. If the same type of crucifixion were applied to the Gospel narrative, Jesus may well have been nailed to a crossbeam (patibulum) and then boosted onto a small olive tree.

Station XII: Jesus dies on the cross

Before reaching the twelfth station, notice on the eastern wall, to the left of the mosaic of the eleventh station, the statue of the Virgin Mary with a dagger placed to wound her heart. * The painful expression of her face was first sculpted in wood in the 16th century and then coated to give the smooth look to her facial skin and hands. The icon was brought as a gift from Lisbon in 1778, and is part of a small altar of reflection for the pilgrim to recall the painful journey from the perspective of Mary – a theme begun in station IV. * (Refer to Luke 2:34-5 “A sword will pierce your heart.”) The death of Jesus on the cross is graphically depicted behind the Greek altar which was placed above a piece of the bedrock of Calvary (also Golgotha, John 19:17). Below the altar, pilgrims frequently bow down and reach into a small dark hole to touch the surface of the now well-worn bedrock of Calvary. The significance of the touch for many is that the place marks in Christian memory, if not in fact, the place where the blood of Jesus spilled onto the earth.

Station XIII: Jesus is taken down from the cross

Below the terrace of stations XI and XII, in the open area near the entrance is station to recall the body of Jesus being taken down from the cross (Luke 23:53). A large and colorful mosaic has recently been added to the wall of the area to depict the scene of the removal from the cross and the preparation of the body on a slab of stone. Beneath the mosaic is a slab of stone that recalls the placement of the body as shown on the mosaic. Pilgrims from all parts of the world can be seen daily, washing the stone and then gently kissing it, reflecting on the body of Jesus that was broken for them.

Station XIV: Jesus is placed in the tomb

Inside the Chapel of the Angel, a small door leads into the place marking the original tomb. Though the stone of the original cliff has long since been quarried away, the room recalls the geographical location, and has been the central site of the Christian pilgrimage experience for generations. The Gospel writer tells us that the tomb was that of Joseph of Arimithea, and that it was a new tomb in that it had not been used before (Matthew 27:59). We also read that the tomb was in a garden setting and had a rolling stone as its seal (Mark 15:43-6, Luke 23:50, John 19:41). The station at the tomb is recalled at the entrance to the first of two antechambers, at the door of the Chapel of the Angel, reminding the pilgrim of the great words of hope from the angel, “He is not here, He is risen as He said!” (Mark 16:6).

History of the Holy Sepulchre

This central shrine of Christianity through the ages has been described as dark, cramped and cold by many; and yet it offers a view of what most archeological scholars would say is an authentic site for the crucifixion and resurrection. Fr. O’Conner describes it best when he writes, “The frailty of man is nowhere more apparent than here, it epitomizes the human condition. The empty who come to be filled will leave desolate” (The Holy Land: An Archeological guide from 1700 to Present, pp. 43). The words sting, but thankfully were written more than ten years ago, before the new renovations to the church which are lightening the color and adding new life to the formerly dreary look. The names of the structures that form the church compound have evolved over the centuries, with various sources using any or all of the following terms: the Martyrion, the Holy Sepulchre, the Anastasis, and the edicule. The Martyrion refers to the first church (4th century) which was built on the site, and means “the place of witness.” The more commonly used term, the Holy Sepulchre, refers to the medieval church now at the site of the Martyrion, and incorporates many earlier elements of the site. The sepulchre, or tomb, is that of the Resurrection and is commonly referred to as the Anastasis. The building over the place of the former tomb is also referred to as the edicule.

The Biblical terminology for the site includes the terms Golgotha, the Aramaic word for “skull,” and Calvary, from the Latin term calvaria also meaning “skull” (Matthew 27:33, Luke 23:33, John 19:17). The actual history of the site began in about the 9th or 8th century BCE, when the area was used as a quarry because of its high quality meleke cenomanian limestone. Some scholars have speculated that the origins of the quarry may be later, at the time of the building of the new defenses for the city of Jerusalem under King Hezekiah in preparation for the coming Assyrian invasion. The quarry was cut in the east to a deeper level and stretched north and east, but left an outcrop of rock in the southwest side, possibly because of the lateral cracks in the stone. The rock outcropping was left standing in the quarry and is now the platform that recalls the place of the crucifixion. By the end the 1st century BCE, tombs were cut into the cliff sides of the former quarry. One small tomb exists today and is clearly a kokhim style tomb (niches) which was characteristic of tombs in Jerusalem between 50 BCE and 70CE. The tombs and alleged execution site become important by about 30CE, when Jesus was crucified and buried nearby. The New Testament places the Resurrection in a garden setting, at a tomb near to the place of the cross (John 19). Between 41 and 44CE, Herod Agrippa I laid the foundation of a wall commonly referred to as the Third Wall. The new wall, which was not completed until 66CE, expanded the city on the north side and thereby included the site of the quarry and old tombs within the city limits. By 135 CE, after the second Jewish revolt had ended, Hadrian replaced the remains of the fallen city of Jerusalem with a Roman colony and renamed it Aelia Capitolina. A temple to Jupiter (Zeus) was placed at the site of the former Jewish temple and another temple platform was erected over the site of the rock quarry. Its temple was dedicated to Venus (Aphrodite), the goddess of love. The site of the tomb and crucifixion was built over and covered only about 100 years after the Resurrection.

With the rise in status of the Christian faith came an official recognition of religio licita, making it a legitimate legal religion in the Empire. By 326CE, Helena, the mother of the emperor Constantine, journeyed to Jerusalem and sought out the place of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Local memory was strong enough to convince Helena that the original site was under the temple platform to the goddess Venus, despite the fact that the site was now located within the city walls (and had been for nearly 300 years) and had been covered by the Venus shrine for nearly 200 years. A far less expensive site to build the church would have been slightly north, nearer to a suspected Forum site, where the construction could have been erected unhindered. Instead, a massive excavation was undertaken by Emperor Constantine, exposing the cemetery and hill of Golgotha. The latter was left open to the air in an area consequently named “the Holy Garden,” while the former was isolated as a free-standing edicule by cutting around it into the cliff side. In 335 CE, a dedication of the first pilgrim church in the Holy Land, the Martyrion, was conducted at the building over the ancient quarry. The Martyrion stood on the site until 614 CE, when the Persians burned many churches and shrines in the land. They partially destroyed the edifice, which was later rebuilt, but not to its original size or beauty. Though less in splendor, the function of the site as a place of Christian celebration and worship continued until 1009 CE, when Hakim (often referred to as “mad”) the caliph of Cairo, waged a campaign to destroy Christian and Jewish holy sites. The Martyrion was  left in ruins and the bedrock tomb remembering Jesus’ conquering of death was chipped down to its foundations. Constantine IX Monomachus, between 1042 and 1048 CE, after becoming the Byzantine emperor, supported a program to rebuild and renovate the church. This fresh work on the edifice increased its size to roughly that of the church today. Nevertheless it was only about half of the splendor of its predecessor.With the arrival of the Crusaders in 1099 CE and their efforts to “reclaim” the church, the structure was given its current arrangement of chapels, changing the formerly eastern main entrance to a southern main entrance and covering the rock of Golgotha with a building.

Evidences indicating the legitimacy of the site- location: Topographical considerations, those being the line of the Transversal Valley running east from Jaffa Gate to the Temple Mount, and the eastern side of the quarry, as well as archeological considerations, the major one being the remains of a wall under the neighboring Redeemer Church, indicate that the site was outside of the Second Wall, which would have been the northern city limit in Jesus’ day (the execution takes place outside the city, Matthew 27:32 and John 19:17). Golgotha would then be in full view of the city ramparts, highlighting the primary reason for Roman use of crucifixion as a punishment – deterrence. Pilgrim Memory: Found in the present lower Armenian Chapel of St. Krikor, there is a charcoal drawing of a boat with an inscription underneath it: “DOMINE IVIMUS” (“Lord, we shall go,” reference to Ps. 122:1). It is the earliest known Christian pilgrim graffiti in the Holy Land. The use of Latin indicates that the artist probably came from North Africa or Europe. Its value is in its pre-Constantine date, which points to a longer, and therefore more reliable, tradition on which to base authenticity. Further, no other site was considered as the possible location until 1883. Existing Kokhim tomb remains: Though little other than some bedrock remains on the revered tomb site, there are other Herodian period tombs still existing within the church. This is a likely indication of burial at this site in the age of Jesus (Matthew 27:60, Luke 23:53, and John 19:41).

The Value of the Remembrance

For Christian pilgrims and travelers who visit the Holy Land, but are not from a liturgical background, it is often difficult to understand the motivation behind and the benefit of remembrances like the stations of the Via Dolorosa and the chapels of the Holy Sepulchre. Some Protestant groups who come to the land express that have little or no desire to recall “tradition” such as the one that the Via Dolorosa embraces. There is a definite value, however, to be found in the gift given to the Christian pilgrim by the Franciscans in the establishment and maintenance of the reflective walk that takes place each Friday. Even stations that were not a part of the Biblical account have carefully considered reasons as to why they are now included in the walk. The first two stations come directly from the pages of the New Testament. Jesus was condemned to death by Pontius Pilate and given a cross (probably only the crossbeam, called the patibulum) to carry as a condemned prisoner (John 19:16). Recalling the sufferings of Jesus as the Bible offers them is always of value. The third station, “Jesus falls,” like that of the seventh and ninth, helps us to focus on the humanity of Jesus and His frailty as an exhausted man. In a climate that has so theologized the Savior, it is certainly valuable to remind ourselves that God “became flesh, and dwelt among us,” and the Gospel writer encourages. By the fourth station, we find ourselves remembering the terror of viewing the beaten and tortured Christ as Mary would have seen Him. Today we can find women standing nearby the memory place, some with tear filled eyes, that have come to seek a compassionate warmth from God because they too have suffered the loss of a loved one. The station reminds us that the Savior endured pain for us, but those closest to him suffered as well. The presence of Mary and John at the cross are New Testament memories of this as well.

The inclusion of Simon of Cyrene at the fifth station, in addition to the fact the Biblical writer includes the story in the detail of the journey, is helpful because it pulls into the story a marginal person, a bystander (Luke 23:26). Even those not trying to be a part of the story are drawn into the sufferings of Jesus. One man, far from his home and people, would forever be changed by this encounter. The sixth station draws into the story a woman who steps out into the path to wipe the face of Jesus. Why include this in the journey? It is helpful to remember that not everyone in the story is callused and uncaring. In the Veronica tradition, we see the gentleness and care that otherwise
seems lacking in the memory of the account. Some people cared. They may not have been the powerful, but they cared, and risked to show it. In the eighth station, Jesus speaks about the coming terrible days of the city of Jerusalem and presents another aspect of His own character (Luke 23:28). In the midst of His own pain, His concern was for the coming suffering of others. The servant’s heart described in the second and third chapters of Phillipians is well depicted in such a scene. The final stations recall Biblical scenes that are essential to the memory of the story. Having been awake much of the previous night, incarcerated, wrongly accused and mocked, Jesus arrived at the site of the execution exhausted. Beaten beyond belief, with His beard partially torn from His face, He lay down on the ground and had nails driven into His flesh. The physical pain and sufferings of the Savior are an essential memory if the excitement and power of the Resurrection is to fill and stir the followers of Jesus even today.

The church of the Holy Sepulchre, while not infallibly so, is the best archeological candidate for the authentic site of the death and Resurrection of Jesus. Its long, continuous tradition attests to the validity of its memory. The site is distinguished not only as the site of these events, however, but as a site of pilgrimage throughout the ages. The memory of pilgrims for generations, the symbols found in their gifts and offerings, and things as small as the writings of graffiti tell the real story of the site. The One that died on a tree so long ago was the One to whom each looked for help and care, for eternal salvation. Visitors to the site, though benefiting from the memory engendered by the geographical location, have always been encouraged to look among the living for evidences of the Risen Lord.