Way of the Cross
G. CYPRIAN ALSTON
Transcribed by Marie Jutras
This article is reprinted here with the kind permission of Kevin Knight, who has undertaken a project to transcribe an online version of the 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia.
(Also called Stations of the Cross, Via Crucis, and Via Dolorosa).
These names are used to signify either a series of pictures or tableaux representing certain scenes in the Passion of Christ, each corresponding to a particular incident, or the special form of devotion connected with such representations.
Taken in the former sense, the Stations may be of stone, wood, or metal, sculptured or carved, or they may be merely paintings or engravings.
Some Stations are valuable works of art, as those, for instance, in Antwerp cathedral, which have been much copied elsewhere.
They are usually ranged at intervals around the walls of a church, though sometimes they are to be found in the open air, especially on roads leading to a church or shrine.
In monasteries they are often placed in the cloisters.
The erection and use of the Stations did not become at all general before the end of the seventeenth century, but they are now to be found in almost every church.
Formerly their number varied considerably in different places but fourteen are now prescribed by authority.
They are as follows:
- Christ condemned to death;
- the cross is laid upon him;
- His first fall;
- He meets His Blessed Mother;
- Simon of Cyrene is made to bear the cross;
- Christ's face is wiped by Veronica;
- His second fall;
- He meets the women of Jerusalem;
- His third fall;
- He is stripped of His garments;
- His crucifixion;
- His death on the cross;
- His body is taken down from the cross;
- He is laid in the tomb.
The object of the Stations is to help the faithful to make in spirit, as it were, a pilgrimage to the chief scenes of Christ's sufferings and death, and this has become one of the most popular of
It is carried out by passing from station to station, with certain prayers at each and devout meditation on the various incidents in turn.
It is very usual, when the devotion is performed publicly, to sing a stanza of the "Stabat Mater" while passing from one station to the next.
Inasmuch as the Way of the Cross, made in this way, constitutes a miniature pilgrimage to the
holy places at Jerusalem, the origin of the devotion may be traced to the Holy Land.
The Via Dolorosa at Jerusalem (though not called by that name before the sixteenth century) was reverently marked out from the earliest times and has been the goal of pious pilgrims ever since the days of Constantine.
Tradition asserts that the Blessed Virgin used to visit daily the scenes of Christ's Passion
and Saint Jerome speaks of the crowds of pilgrims from all countries who used to visit the holy places in his day.
There is, however, no direct evidence as to the existence of any set form of the devotion at that early date, and it is noteworthy that Saint Sylvia (c. 380) says nothing about it in her Peregrinatio ad loca sancta, although she describes minutely every other religious
exercise that she saw practised there.
A desire to reproduce the holy places in other lands, in order to satisfy the devotion of those who were hindered from making the actual pilgrimage, seems to have manifested itself at quite an early date.
At the monastery of San Stefano at Bologna a group of connected chapels were constructed as early as the fifth century, by Saint Petronius, Bishop of Bologna, which were intended to represent the more important shrines of Jerusalem, and in consequence, this monastery became familiarly known as Hierusalem.
These may perhaps be regarded as the germ from which the Stations afterwards developed, though it is tolerably certain that nothing that we have before about the fifteenth century can strictly be
called a Way of the Cross in the modern sense.
Several travellers, it is true, who visited the Holy Land during the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries, mention a Via Sacra, ie, a settled route along which pilgrims were conducted, but there is nothing in their accounts to identify this with the Via Crucis, as we understand it, including special stopping-places with indulgences attached, and such indulgenced Stations must, after all, be considered to be the true origin of the devotion as now practised. It cannot be said with any certainty when such indulgences began to be granted, but most probably they may be due to the Franciscans, to whom in 1342 the guardianship of the holy places was entrusted.
Ferraris mentions the following as Stations to which indulgences were attached: the place where Christ met His Blessed Mother, where He spoke to the women of Jerusalem, where He met Simon of Cyrene, where the soldiers cast lots for His garment, where He was nailed to the cross, Pilate's house, and the Holy Sepulchre.
Analogous to this it may be mentioned that in 1520 Leo X granted an indulgence of a hundred days to each of a set of scuptured Stations, representing the Seven Dolours of Our Lady, in the cemetery of the Franciscan Friary at Antwerp, the devotion connected with them being a very
The earliest use of the word Stations, as applied to the accustomed halting-places in the Via Sacra at Jerusalem, occurs in the narrative of an English pilgrim, William Wey, who visited the Holy Land in 1458 and again in 1462, and who describes the manner in which it was then usual to follow the footsteps of Christ in His sorrowful journey. It seems that up to that time it had been the general practice to commence at Mount Calvary, and proceeding thence, in the opposite direction to Christ, to work back to Pilate's house.
By the early part of the sixteenth century, however, the more reasonable way of traversing the route, by beginning at Pilate's house and ending at Mount Calvary, had come to be regarded as more correct, and it became a special exercise of devotion complete in itself.
During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries several reproductions of the holy places were set up in different parts of Europe.
The Blessed Alvarez (d. 1420), on his return from the Holy Land, built a series of little chapels at the Dominican friary of Cordova, in which, after the pattern of separate Stations, were painted the principal scenes of the Passion.
About the same time the Blessed Eustochia, a poor Clare, constructed a similar set of Stations in her convent at Messina.
Others that may be enumerated were those at Görlitz, erected by G. Emmerich, about 1465, and at Nuremburg, by Ketzel, in 1468.
Imitations of these were made at Louvain in 1505 by Peter Sterckx; at Saint Getreu in Bamberg
in 1507; at Fribourg and at Rhodes, about the same date, the two latter being in the commanderies of the Knights of Rhodes.
Those at Nuremburg, which were carved by Adam Krafft, as well as some of the others, consisted of seven Stations, popularly known as "the Seven Falls", because in each of them Christ was represented either as actually prostrate or as sinking under the weight of His cross.
A famous set of Stations was set up in 1515 by Romanet Bofin at Romans in Dauphine, in imitation of those at Fribourg, and a similar set was erected in 1491 at Varallo by the Franciscans there, whose guardian, Blessed Bernardino Caimi, had been custodian of the holy places.
In several of these early examples an attempt was made, not merely to duplicate the most hallowed spots of the original Via Dolorosa at Jerusalem, but also to reproduce the exact intervals between them, measured in paces, so that devout people might cover precisely the same distances as they would have done had they made the pilgrimage to the Holy Land itself.
Boffin and some of the others visited Jerusalem for the express purpose of obtaining the exact measurements, but unfortunately, though each claimed to be correct, there is an extraordinary divergence between some of them.
With regard to the number of Stations it is not at all easy to determine how this came to be fixed at fourteen, for it seems to have varied considerably at different times and places.
And, naturally, with varying numbers the incidents of the Passion commemorated also varied greatly.
Wey's account, written in the middle of the fifteenth century, gives fourteen, but only five of
these correspond with ours, and of the others, seven are only remotely connected with our Via Crucis:
- The house of Dives,
- the city gate through which Christ passed,
- the probatic pool,
- the Ecce Homo arch,
- the Blessed Virgin's school,
- the houses of Herod and Simon the Pharisee