The Stations or Way of the Cross and also called the Via Dolorosa meaning the Way of Sorrow is a devotion that helps us to remember and reflect on the journey of Christ from Pontius Pilate’s chambers to Mount Calvary especially during the period of Lent. This is in preparation for Easter.
According to Tradition, our Blessed Lady visited daily the scenes of our Lord’s Passion. This Devotion has evolved over time.
During the time when Emperor Constantine permitted Christians to legally worship in the Roman Empire after 250 years of persecutions, he erected the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (the tomb) at the site where Jesus’ tomb was believed to have been. The Pathways of Christ’s Passion were marked with its important Stations and soon after its completion, the crowds of pilgrims from various countries of the world visited these places and followed the way of the Cross most especially, during the Holy Week.
This devotion continued to grow in popularity. In fact, during the fifth century, interest grew in the Church to “reproduce” the Holy places in other parts of the world so that pilgrims who can not travel to the Holy Land in Jerusalem could do so in a devotional and spiritual way in their hearts.
Example, St. Petronius, Bishop of Bologna had erected a group of Chapels at the monastery of San Stefano which depicts the more important shrines of the Holy Land, with the rest of the Stations. The same notion inspired the construction of the Franciscan Monastery in Washington.
The Franciscans were later appointed as watchmen of the Holy Land in 1342. The Faithful who prayed at the following stations: At Pilate’s house, where Christ met his Mother, where He met Simon of Cyrene, where the soldiers stripped him of his garment, where He was nailed to the cross, and His tomb received indulgences.
The earliest use of the word “stations” was referred to the halting-places in the Via Sacra(Holy Way) at Jerusalem by an English pilgrim William Wey, who visited the Holy Land in the Mid-15th century, and described pilgrims following the footsteps of Christ to the Cross. In 1521, a book titled “Geystlich Strass” was printed with illustrations of the stations in the Holy Land.
During this time the numbers of stations varied.
By the end of the 17th century Churches began to erect stations. In 1686, When Pope Innocent XI realized that very few people could travel to the Holy Land due to the Moslem oppression, he granted the right to erect stations in all their churches and that the same indulgences would be given to the Franciscans and those afflicted with them for practicing the devotion as if on an actual pilgrimage. Pope Benedict XIII extended this indulgence to all faithful in 1726.
Five years later, Pope Clement XII permitted stations to be created in all Churches and he fixed the number to 14. Pope Benedict XIV instructed all Priests to enrich their churches with the Stations of the cross, which must include 14 crosses accompanied with pictures or images of each particular station. Preachers like Leonard Casanova of Porto Maurizio of Italy also encouraged the popularity of the devotion.
The significance of these stations is to depict the paths of Jesus from Pilate’s chambers to the cross of Mount Calvary where he was crucified. This is to help faithful make a spiritual pilgrimage of Prayer, through meditating upon the main scenes of Christ’s Suffering and Death. The Stations of the Cross has become one of the most popular devotions for the Roman Catholic Church, especially during Lent. It is often performed in the spirit of reparation for the sufferings and insults Jesus received and endured during His Passion.