One of the main reasons people wish to visit Jerusalem is to walk The Way of the Cross (also known as Via Dolorosa or sometimes incorrectly ‘via della rosa’). Via Dolorosa was the final walk that Jesus took before he was cruxified. Along Via Dolorosa are the 14 Stations of the Cross that mark when Jesus was condemned to death, where he carried the Cross, and where he was crucified, died and buried.
The route has remained pretty much unchanged for hundreds of years and is fairly well marked out, meaning you can retrace the steps Jesus took before his crucifixion without having to do a guided tour. Read on for all you need to know about Via Dolorosa, including the step by step path of The Stations of the Cross!
Before I take you through the The Stations of the Cross, I will share some important information about Via Dolorosa that is important to know before you visit.
Where is Via Dolorosa?
Via Dolorosa is located in the Old City of Jerusalem – in the Christian Quarter of the city. It is not just one road, but a route that winds along a collection of streets. The walk is less than kilometre long (about half a mile) and contains the 14 Stations of the Cross. It ends in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where the final 5 Stations of the Cross are.
What does Via Dolorosa mean?
Via Dolorosa means ‘The way of suffering’ or ‘the path of sorrows’ in Latin. Via Dolorosa is sometimes more commonly known as ‘The Way of the Cross’ (Via Cruxis).
Why do people walk the Via Dolorosa?
Christian pilgrims come to Jerusalem to walk along Via Dolorosa, which is believed to be the last walk Jesus took, when he was carrying the cross he would be crucified on. It is here along the Via Dolorosa that you will find the 14 Stations of the Cross. Along the Via Dolorosa are many of Christianity’s most Holy sites, so it has particular significance to many people.
Millions of Christian pilgrims have been retracing Jesus’ footsteps on this path for hundreds of years, and even many people who aren’t religious come and walk along this religious path. It is a unique and unforgettable experience high on many people’s list and it moved me far more than I had expected.
Do you need a guide or can you walk the Via Dolorosa alone?
You do NOT need to pay for a walking tour – the walk is fairly easy to do on your own if you know what you are looking for!
Before I did the walk I hadn’t read much about it, and I did think the route would have been simpler than it was – like one long street for example. But it is actually a collection of several streets, and you go through the market and round back streets and alleys at some point during the walk. Often I even felt like I was walking the wrong way as it wasn’t always clear which way to go, and at some points you even go back on yourself.
You need to look out for the signs and numbers on the wall for each Station of the Cross. There will often be a Roman numeral denoting which Station of the Cross it is, and a sign that says ‘Via Dolorosa’, however it is not always obvious so you need to keep your eyes open! It is quite easy to walk past a Station without even realising if you don’t know it is there. Even some of the Stations are not labelled very well. Here is the rough route of the Way of the Cross, showing the twisted route. It starts at the bottom and ends at the top (Church of the Holy Sepulchre).
This was a photo I took of one of the signs at the second Station of the Cross. I was glad to have it to refer to during the walk – as you can see the path is not very straightforward!
When should you walk the Via Dolorosa?
Jerusalem is a huge pilgrimage site not only for Christians, but also for Jews and Muslims. Therefore this city, especially the Old City, can get extremely busy. So try and do the walk first thing in the morning if you want to have the streets to yourself and enjoy the walk alone. There is a certain calmness in this, and it will give you chance to imagine what it must have been like for Jesus, without all the distractions that will occur if you visit later. During the day there are many tour groups, and as the walk goes through the market, it can get pretty chaotic.
If you come on a Friday, you can join the Franciscan Monks as they walk the Way of the Cross. All pilgrims are welcome to join and it is free. Their walk starts at 3pm (4pm during the summer).
Good Friday (the Friday before Easter Sunday) is always the busiest time here, as this was the actual day Jesus made this walk. Around Easter time Jerusalem gets very, very busy so be prepared if you visit during this time!
What should you wear to walk the Via Dolorosa?
Most of the route is cobblestones and there are some steps too, so wear appropriate shoes.
Also remember to wear appropriate and respectable clothing as you will be entering a Church. If your shoulders and knees are not covered, you may be turned away.
Why do people call it Via Della Rosa?
Some people incorrectly call Via Dolorosa ‘Via Della Rosa’ as they are unfamiliar with the word latin word dolorosa. Via della rosa translates to: path of the rose.
Jesus is condemned to death
The first station marks where the trial of Jesus took place – where he was condemned under Pontius Pilate and whipped. This occurred in the Antonia Fortress (sometimes cited as the Praetorium), however the fortress/tower no longer stands: nowadays it is a Muslim boys school (Umariya Elementary School). It can be found just inside the Lion’s Gate (click here for Google maps location of the Lion’s Gate). When you walk through the gate into the Old City, the school is on your left a few metres down.
To find the first Station of the Cross on Google maps, click here. For some reason, when you type Umariya Elementary School into Google maps, ‘school age’ comes up. This is the correct place though.
Jesus carries his Cross
The second station of the cross is just across the road from the first station in a Franciscan shrine called the Monastery of the Flagellation. This was the point where Jesus receives his cross and is whipped by soldiers. You will see there is a replica cross here, and there is some information signs here to read. Click here to view the Google maps location.
When you exit the Monastery, carry on along the path (turning right out of the Monastery). You will see an arch and just before you go under the arch, you’ll see the Ecce Homo Convent. Ecce Homo means ‘behold the man‘ and it was here Pontius Pilate gave his Ecce Homo speech and put the crown of thorns on his head. The archway was built by Emperor Hadrian as an entrance to the city Forum and used to be much larger. Walk under the arch and continue walking down the Via Dolorosa.
Jesus falls for the first time
Just after you turn left at the end of the street onto El Wad to continue the route, you’ll see the third station of the Cross. It’s located on your left in the crypt of the Polish Catholic Chapel (purchased by Armenian Catholics in Poland), very close to the Church of Our Lady in Agony. It was here that Jesus fell under the weight of the Cross.
Jesus meets his mother Mary
Keep your eyes peeled on your left hand side for the forth station. It is located inside the Armenian Orthodox chapel of Our Lady of the Spasm, and is where Jesus met his mother. On the floor inside the chapel you will see a faint mosaic pavement showing a pair of sandals, representing the spot where Jesus met his mother.
Simon of Cyrene helps carry the Cross
Head back on the path, and then turn right on the first street (remember Via Dolorosa is not one road but more a collection of several roads!). Station 5 is where Simon helped Jesus to carry the Cross. It was believed Jesus rested his hand here and as a result many pilgrims touch the wall here.
Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
The path starts to go a little bit uphill here, and you’ll begin to enter the souq (market area). The sixth Station of the Cross is here on the left, and it is said it was here where Veronica wiped the face of Jesus with her veil, which then became imprinted with the face of Christ.
Christ falls for the second time
Carry on walking up through the souk and you’ll find the 7th Station of the Cross at the junction: where Jesus fell for the second time.
Notice the circular Roman numeral sign – this appears at most (not all!) of the stations to indicate you are at the right place. If you come here during the day it will be very busy as locals are going about their everyday business in the souk. When I was here this boy had his food cart infront of the 7th Station: I love the picture it created! Like many of the Stations, this Station is located next to a chapel.
After this, turn left onto Khan al-Zeit to continue the walk.
Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
Shortly after turning left you’ll then need to turn right uphill on Aqabat al-Khanqah. Here you’ll see the 8th Station on your left (some stores will be on the right hand side of the street). This is where Jesus met the daughters of Jerusalem (very religious ladies) and comforted them. A Greek Orthodox Monastery lies next to this Station.
Then go back on yourself back to the street you just came off (Khan al-Zeit), turn right and continue walking.
Jesus falls for the third time
This Station is a bit difficult to find. After you have turned back onto Khan al-Zeit, you’ll see another right turn that quickly turns left and goes up a ramp. Head up here so you’ll now be one level above ground. You are now near one of the entrances to The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. You’ll see an arch with The Holy Cross on, and above the Cross laid against the wall you will see the Roman numeral IX depicts the 9th Station of the Cross, which marks where Jesus fell for the third time. The dome in the background is the dome of The Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Pass under the arch and down to the left you’ll see this simple doorway below. This marks the entrance to the Ethiopian Church. You’ll also be able to look down onto the street below. Here you are actually right next to the dome of The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. All the major Churches each have their own section of The Church of the Holy Sepulchre that they are responsible for – and the Ethiopian Church occupies the roof. Pass the courtyard and go through the door at the end.
Go through the Ethiopian Chapel, down the stairs and you’ll end up coming out through this corner straight into the square. This is the square coming off the entrance to The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and during the day this plaza is absolutely packed. If you don’t do the Stations of the Cross walk you will enter this square from one of the two opposite corners (so there are 3 main ways to reach this square).
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The last 5 Stations are all located inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is believed this Church is built on the site where Jesus was crucified, where he died and where he was buried.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre it actually a collection of 6 main churches/denominations altogether under one roof. Each denomination of the Church has their own section: the Armenian Apostolic, the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Coptic, Ethiopian and Syriac Orthodox. You’ll even often see several different masses going on all at once. It is a very large Church and quite confusing once you are inside. There are no signs in here depicting what anything is either :).
Golgotha, also known as Calvary (which is the Anglicised version) both translate to mean ‘place of the skull’. Golgotha/Calvary was a skull-shaped hill and was the place where Jesus was crucified. Interestingly, some sources also claim that Golgotha is the place where Adam’s (from Adam and Eve) skull was buried.
It is not known 100% for sure where Golgotha/Calvary is, but since the 4th Century Christians have favoured a site that was identified by Helena, mother of Constantine I. Helena also identified the site of Jesus’ tomb and the True Cross – less than 45 metres from Calvary. Her son Constantine I then built The Church of the Holy Sepulchre around the whole site.
So the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, death and burial are all located INSIDE The Church of The Holy Sepulchre. This sometimes confuses people, myself included, as I was looking for an actual hill called Calvary, not realising the hill is actually inside the Church. As soon as you enter The Church of The Holy Sepulchre, on the right are some stairs: you go up these to the Calvary.
The Church was built after the life of Jesus, so obviously the area looks completely different to how it would have back in his time. But this is common in The Holy Land: when people realised somewhere had religious significance, they built churches on top of the site, which is why many of the places look different to how they would have.
Be prepared – as The Church of the Holy Sepulchre contains the two holiest sites in Christianity (the crucifixion and burial site of Jesus), it gets VERY crowded. There are many Russian pilgrims here, and they seem to think they own the place (I overheard many tour guides say this and yes, I have to agree).
Jesus is stripped of his garments
Enter The Church of the Holy Sepulchre and straight away walk up the stairs on your right to the Calvary. Here it is a little confusing because this small area up here (the Calvary) is where the next 4 Stations of the Cross are. From up here you’ll be able to look down onto the rest of the Church from the balcony here. As soon as you go up the stairs you are at Station 10, where Jesus is stripped of his garments. Beward if you come during the day it is VERY busy and you’ll even be queueing to get up the stairs. It is much more peaceful if you come first thing in the morning here.
Jesus is nailed to the Cross
You will see two altars when you come up the stairs. The one to the right is the Roman Catholic one, and the one to the left – the much larger one, is the Greek Orthodox altar. At Station 11 – the first altar you will come to (the Roman Catholic one), is where Jesus was nailed to the Cross.
Jesus dies on the Cross
The second altar: the Greek Orthodox one that lies to the left of the Roman Catholic one, is where Jesus died on the Cross. You’ll be able to still see a part of the Rock of Calvary under the altar. There is a mark on the floor where the cross was, and many pilgrims bend down to kiss this spot.
Jesus is taken down from the Cross
Station 13, to the left of the Greek Orthodox altar, marks where Jesus was removed from the Cross. A statue of Mary stands in the spot.
Head down the steps (there are one set of stairs for people going up, and one set for people going down). You can turn right and explore the other churches here, or turn left, past the Stone of Unction to the final Station of the Cross, which is located underneath the dome.
The Stone of Unction
The Stone of Unction, also known as The Stone of the Anointing, is believed to be the place where Jesus’ body was placed after being removed from the Crucifix. Here it was prepared for the burial: Jesus’ body was anointed and wrapped in shrouds, as was customary for Jews. When you walk into The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, if you look straight ahead (instead of going up the stairs on the right to the Calvary), you will see the large stone slab in front of you. It measure 6 metres long and 1 metre wide. Many pilgrims bend down to kiss this stone or rub it with oil then wipe it with a cloth.
Jesus is buried
The final Station is the site of Jesus’ empty tomb: where he was buried and then later resurrected. It is enclosed in a shrine underneath the giant dome and is called the Aedicula.
There are several masses that happen outside the tomb on a daily basis, and if you want to go inside, best to get there first thing as the queues can be ridiculously long. The tomb is very small: there is only room for about 3 or 4 people at a time, so the queue moves very slowly. The shrine has 2 rooms: the first one as you enter contains a part of the stone believed to have sealed the tomb, and the second room is where the actual tomb was. Being inside there was incredibly surreal for me, and even though the queues were big, it was absolutely worth it to go inside.
What else is there to see in Jerusalem?
Jerusalem is split into the Jewish Quarter, the Christian Quarter and the Muslim Quarter.
The Jewish Quarter is mostly famous for The Wailing Wall (The Western Wall) and in the Muslim Quarter you can visit The Dome of the Rock.
How safe is Jerusalem?
I felt safe in Jerusalem alright. I was with my parents and Jerusalem is such a Holy City that you should feel safe, especially with all the undercover police around. But let’s just say, I felt pretty threatened on two separate occasions by Palestinian men when I was there (this was not in the Christian neighbourhood, but rather in other areas of the Old City). And during complete daylight too. They were all nice to you until they demanded money off you, and then they switched and started shouting and being really rude.
All I can say is thank goodness I know how to say some awfully vile words in Arabic thanks to my time working as a flight attendant in the UAE. When one of the men started cursing at me in Arabic, I started shouting the swear words back at him, and well, a redheaded western woman screaming back in Arabic was enough to shock the life out of him and make him disappear, but not before he tried to spit in my face in front of my parents, simply because we wouldn’t pay him 100 Shekels (£25!) for him simply pointing out which way we needed to walk, when we hadn’t even asked him for directions!!
Sadly this experience did leave a sour taste in my mouth in what is one of the Holiest Places in the world, and I was sad to see people trying to take advantage of tourists like that in this city. If you would like some tips for Western women travelling solo in The Middle East, check out my article here.
How expensive is Jerusalem?
Very expensive. Israel is as expensive as London, if not more. I was really shocked at the prices here to be honest.
Other places to visit in Israel:
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