Walking the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem

Back in the good old days, when I was guiding quite regularly, I used to take a lot of tourists to the Via Dolorosa. According to Christians, the Via Dolorosa is the path Jesus took on his way to his crucification and resurrection. It’s a well-known route in the Old City of Jerusalem, that passes through the Muslim Quarter and ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, following the 14 Stations of the Cross. In this post, I want to give you all the information you need to go on a self-guided tour of the Via Dolorosa.

What does Via Dolorosa mean?

Before we begin – let’s talk about the meaning of “Via Dolorosa”. In Latin, “via” means “way”. “Dolorosa” comes from the Latin word “dolor,” which means “pain.” Together, it is “The Painful Way” or “The Way of Suffering.” In English, it is also called “The Way of the Cross” or “The Stations of the Cross.” So, if you come across any of those names, know that they are probably talking about the Via Dolorosa.

The idea is to step into the footsteps of Jesus and try to feel what he felt. That’s why you might see groups of Christians walking along the route with a wooden cross, praying, and sobbing.

Today, you can find the Via Dolorosa many Catholic churches. There are 14 icons on the wall of the church, each depicting a different “station” in the Way of Suffering. But if you want the real thing – you can find it only in Jerusalem.

Is Via Dolorosa mentioned in the New Testament?

The New Testament mentions the events that led to Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection. But not all the Stations of the Cross are mentioned. 5 of the stations are not based on the New Testament but rather on Catholic traditions. Later in the post, for each station I’ll tell you if it’s based on the New Testament or on traditions.

Via Dolorosa map

Here is a map I sketched of the Via Dolorosa route. It does not include Stations #11 to #14 because they are instide the church and this map is only schematic. You can also check my Google Map below to see the exact locations of the Stations of the Cross.

How can you recognize the stations?

There are two ways to recognize a station on the Via Dolorosa. First, there will be half a circle on the floor, in a different color than the rest of the pavement. Second, there will be a metal plate on the wall, with the number of the station engraved in it in Latin numbers. Recently, they also added a small 3D icon next to each plate, depicting the story of the station.

The stations inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Stations #10-#14) are not marked in any way, because it violates the Status Quo.  

How long does it take to complete the Via Dolorosa?

Usually, it takes about 2 hours to complete the entire Via Dolorosa. It may take more if you want to stop next to each station to pray or want to enter the tomb of Jesus. It can also take more if there are a lot of tourists, and the streets are jammed. If you have time before you start the Via Dolorosa, I recommend visiting nearby Mount of Olives. The story of Jesus’ Holy Week starts there. Read my post >> The Many Sites of Mount of Olives: What to See?

The 14 Stations of the Cross

Station #1: Jesus is condemned to death

This station is located at the El-Omariya School on Via Dolorosa Street in the Muslim Quarter. It is possible to enter the school only after 2 PM or on Friday, when the kids are not there.

The first station is where Jesus was condemned to death by Pontius Pilate, the fifth governor of the Roman province of Judea. This station is based on the New Testament. He was arrested in Gethsemane on Thursday, interrogated by the High Priest, and then condemned to death on Friday morning.

According to tradition, the trial took place here, where the El-Omariya School stands today. In the past, this was the place of the Antonia Fortress. The fortress was built here by King Herod to oversee Temple Mount. Today, most of the building is from the 14th century, the Mamluk era.

In the New Testament, they do not mention “Antonia” but rather “Praetorium,” which means “the headquarters.” It was the place where the governor stayed. So, the big question is: Where did Pontius Pilates stay while he was in Jerusalem? The tradition says that it was in the Antonia Fortress because it was a powerful and strategic place. But most archeologists suggest that he stayed at Herod’s Palace, next to today’s Jaffa Gate. His main headquarters was in Caesarea Maritima, but because of Passover he came to Jerusalem to oversee the stream of pilgrims.

The stairs that lead to the entrance to the El-Omariya School

Station #2: Jesus takes up his Cross

This station is located just across El-Omariya School, in the Monastery of Flagellation. In summer, it is open from 8 AM to 6 PM. In winter, from 8 AM to 5 PM.

The second station is where Jesus was given his cross. The station is based on the New Testament.

The Chapel of Flagellation:

Inside the compound, there are several places to see. I would recommend starting your visit from the Chapel of the Flagellation, at the eastern side of the compound. According to tradition, this is where the Roman soldiers tortured Jesus, whipped him, put a crown of thorns on his head, gave him a wand, and dressed him in a purple cloak. They did this to mock him as “the king of the Jews.”

The chapel itself was designed by Antonio Barluzzi, one of the greatest architects in the Holy Land. He built it on top of the remains of a Crusader-era chapel. When you’ll walk inside and look above the altar, you’ll see a mosaic showing a horrible crown of thorns, dripping blood. But there’s also some optimism – flowers are starting to blossom out of the thorns. They resemble the life that comes out of Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice.  

The three stained glass windows depict events connected to the trail. On the left window, you can see Pontius Pilates, washing his hands and cleaning himself from guilt. In the middle, you can see the flagellation, where Jesus is tied to a column and whipped by the Romans. In the right window, the Jewish prisoner Barabbas is freed. Pontius Pilates offered to free one prisoner in honor of Passover, and the Jewish people chose Barabbas.

It’s also worth looking at the outer façade of the chapel. At the top of the façade, there are medallions depicting events or things that added to Jesus’ suffering. For example, there’s a medallion with a rooster and three stars, symbolizing the three denials of Saint Peter.

The Chapel of Flagellation
The crown of thorns in the Chapel of Flagellation

The Chapel of the Imposition of the Cross:

On the other side of the compound, there’s the Chapel of the Imposition of the Cross. In the past, people believed that this was part of the Antonia Fortress. So, it made sense that Jesus will receive the cross here after the trial. But, when Israeli archeologists did excavations here, they found out that this was not part of the fortress. Still, the tradition remains.

This modern chapel was built by the Franciscans on top of a Byzantine church from the 11th century. Next to the altar, in the central painting, you can see the moment when Jesus takes the cross. Pontius Pilates is standing at the top of the stairs, washing his hands.  

Inside the Chapel of the Imposition of the Cross

The Terra Sancta Museum:

Before moving on to the rest of the Via Dolorosa, you can visit the Terra Sancta Museum, also located in the Monastery of Flagellation. It’s a small museum, with a multimedia show about the Via Dolorosa and a few archeological findings connected to Jesus and Christianity. It is open Monday to Saturday from 9 AM to 12 NOON. The entry fee is about 15 ILS. For more info, visit the official website of the Terra Sancta Museum.

Station #3: Jesus falls for the first time

The station is located at the junction of Al Alam and HaGai Street, in a church owned by the Armenian Catholics.

The third station is where Jesus fell for the first time. According to tradition, he fell three times on his way to the crucifixion. It makes sense that a man after a night without sleep and torture will be tired and fall while carrying such a heavy cross. But it is not mentioned in the New Testament.

Station #4: Jesus meets his mother

The station is located right next to the third station, in a church owned by the Armenian Catholics called “Our Lady of the Spasm.”

The fourth station is where Jesus met his mother, the Virgin Mary, also known as Saint Maria. It was probably a sad meeting. Virgin Mary saw her son fall for the first time under the weight of the cross. It is one of the most well-known events on the Via Dolorosa, but it is not mentioned in the New Testament.

The place is owned by the Armenian Catholics, a small Christian group loyal to the Pope. This is the only place they own in the Holy Land. If the church is open, you can go inside and see a Byzantine mosaic with two footsteps printed on it. The Byzantines might have made this mosaic to commemorate the spot where Virgin Mary stood.

Stations #3 and #4

Station #5: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross

The station is located at the junction of HaGai and the second half of the Via Dolorosa Street.  

The fifth station is where Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus with the cross. It is a scene taken from the New Testament. Jesus is already very tired and is barely able to carry the cross, so the Roman soldiers pick someone from the street who will help him. Simon wasn’t from Jerusalem. He was from Cyrene, somewhere near Libya of today. But he arrived in the city as a pilgrim for Passover. It’s unclear if he helped Jesus for a long time or only for a short while. Anyway, even if it was for a short time, it was helpful.

Many pilgrims stop here and place their hand on the imprint in the wall. According to tradition, Jesus stopped here to rest, places his hand on the wall, and his hand left an imprint. The building itself is not from Jesus’ time, but the tradition says that the stone with the imprint is from the original building.

The fifth station. See the stone with the imprint to the right?

Station #6: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

The station is located next to the Chapel of Veronica’s Home, on Via Dolorosa Street,

In the sixth station, Veronica wiped the face of Jesus. According to tradition, Veronica was one of Jesus’ followers. Her house was here, and she saw Jesus as he passed by with the cross. His face was covered sweat, spits, and mud. She came out of the house and wiped his face with a piece of cloth she had. When Jesus continued on his way, Veronica discovered that a precise portrait of his face was imprinted in the cloth. Later, it turned out that the piece of cloth could heal people because it had direct contact with Jesus. According to the Catholics, this miraculous cloth is held in the Vatican in Rome.

The chapel next to the station is owned by the Greek Catholics, another Christian group, who left the Orthodox church and moved to the patronage of the Pope. Many Christian Arabs belong to this Christian group in Israel.

Station #7: Jesus falls for the second time

The station is located at the junction of Via Dolorosa and Beit HaBad Street.

If you continue up the Via Dolorosa Street, you’ll soon arrive at the seventh station of the Via Dolorosa. It is where Jesus fell for the second time. And it makes sense, that he will get tired from the climb up here and fall.

In the past, Beit HaBad Street was the Western Cardo of Jerusalem, one of the city’s main streets. Usually, the chapel here is closed. But if you’re lucky, it might be open, and then you can enter and see an original column from the Cardo.

Since the 13th century, pilgrims referred to this place as “The Gate of Judgement.” According to tradition, this was where Jesus exited the city. The place of the crucification was outside the city walls. At that time, the city was much smaller than today, so the walls might have been here.

This is where Jesus fell for the second time

Station #8: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

The station is located on Ma’alot E-Khanka Street.

The eighth station is where Jesus talked to the women of Jerusalem. If we were in the time of Jesus, then this station was already outside the city walls. Today, we are still inside the Old City, so we need to use our imagination. The poor women of Jerusalem stood on the route that led to the point of crucification, wept and felt sorry for Jesus. According to Luke 23:27-31, Jesus turned to them and said: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” He tells them that they must repent and observe the religious laws before it is too late, because the End of Days is near.

Station #9: Jesus falls for the third time

The station is located on a side street above the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

To get to the next station, you will need to retrace your steps to Beit HaBad Street, turn right, continue for a bit, and then take the steps right towards the ninth station. It seems weird that you must retrace your steps, but don’t worry – Jesus didn’t do this detour. Originally, it was possible to walk straight from the eighth station to the ninth station. But today, a monastery stands between the two stations and makes it impossible to pass.

The ninth station is where Jesus fell for the third time. The metal plate indicating the station is not where Jesus fell according to tradition. Instead, you should look at the brown-yellowish column that stands at the left end of the street.

This area is a large Coptic compound. If you have time, I recommend going down to the Helene Cistern. There’s an entrance at the end of the street, to the right. You pay a small sum of money at the entrance and then climb down a long set of stairs to a huge water cistern. According to tradition, Helena, mother of Constantine I, ordered to dig here. Initially, the tradition says they used this place as a quarry for building blocks so they can build the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The cistern is very impressive and is a good place to sing, because there are great acoustics.

The ninth station on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The entrance to the Helena Cistern. Not part of the Via Dolorosa, but recommended!

Station #10: Jesus is stripped of his garments

The station is located in the Franks Chapel and can be seen from the outer courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

You can retrace your steps to the Beit HaBad Street and then walk to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. But if you want a shortcut, I recommend passing through the monastery of Deir Al-Sultan and climbing down the Ethiopian chapels to the outer courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Just make sure to keep quiet and respect the Ethiopian church.

A bit about Deir Al-Sultan:

Deir Al-Sultan is a monastery located on the roof of the Helena Chapel in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Today, Ethiopian monks live here. The Ethiopians claim that two different kings granted them ownership of this roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre: King Solomon and Saladin. But the Copts also claim that they own this part of the church. So, there’s a dispute.

Deir Al-Sultan. The door to the right leads down to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The 10th station:

After reaching the outer courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, you can look at the 10th Station of the Cross. It is the Chapel of the Franks, located on the right side of the façade. If it’s not too crowded inside the church, you can also peek inside the chapel from the window on the second floor.

This station is where Jesus got stripped of his garments, because he was nailed to the cross without clothes. It is mentioned in the New Testament.

A close-up on the Chapel of the Franks

Station #11: Jesus is nailed to the Cross

The station is located inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on the second floor, near Golgotha.

After entering the church, turn right and climb up the staircase to the second floor. The first chapel you will enter is the 11th Station of the Cross, where Jesus was nailed to the Cross. Long ago, when the church was initially built, there was no floor here. It was an open-air garden, with the Golgotha rock rising to a height of 5 meters. The Golgotha is the rock on which Jesus was crucified.   

At the back of the chapel, above the altar, you can see a modern mosaic depicting the nailing of Jesus to the Cross. Another mosaic to look at is located on the southern wall of the chapel. It depicts the story of the Binding of Isaac. You can see the angel stopping Abraham from sacrificing Isaac. Instead, the angel points out a ram in the bush, and Abraham sacrifices it as a replacement. In the mosaic depicting the nailing of Jesus, there’s no replacement. Because in Christian eyes, Jesus is sacrificing himself instead of us. So, there’s no replacement for him.  

Jesus is nailed to the cross

Station #12: Jesus dies on the Cross

The station is located right next to Station #11.

The main chapel on the second floor is dedicated to the crucification and death of Jesus on the Cross. It is where the cross was put on top of the Golgotha. Today, the top of the Golgotha is secured behind a thick layer of glass, so pilgrims won’t take chunks of it back home.  

Usually, there’s a line of people here waiting to touch the exact place where, according to tradition, stood the cross of Jesus. Three figure icons stand above the Golgotha: Jesus on the Cross, Virgin Mary (to his right), and John the Apostle (to his left). Before dieing, Jesus talks to the two from the Cross and says: “You will be her son, and you will be his mother.”

The Golgotha – Jesus dies on the Cross

Station #13: Jesus is taken down from the Cross

The station is located between Station #11 and Station #12.

Right between the two chapels on the second floor, you will notice a statue of Virgin Mary. This statue commemorates the station, where Jesus was taken down from the Cross. His mother took his body into her arms, mourned, and cried. The statue even has a sword in her heart, symbolizing how deep was her pain.

The New Testament tells us about Jesus taken down from the Cross but doesn’t mention his mother. Still, it makes sense that she was there, so that’s how the tradition was born.  

Virgin Mary with the sword in her heart

Station #14: Jesus is laid in the tomb

The station is located at the western side of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the Rotunda.

The final station of the Via Dolorosa is the Aedicule, the tomb. Some people also stop on the way to the tomb at the Stone of Anointing. It’s not part of the official Via Dolorosa, but it’s where Jesus was prepared for burial.

So, the tomb itself is located inside the Aedicule, the large structure in the middle of the Rotunda. The Rotunda is the circular hall at the western end of the church. Usually, you’ll find a long line of pilgrims and tourists waiting to enter the Aedicule. It can take hours to enter. During the corona pandemic, I took advantage of the fact that there were no tourists and entered the Aedicule.

The Aedicule is divided to two rooms. In the first one, there’s a piece of stone that looks like a table. According to tradition, it is part of the stone that covered the entrance to the tomb. When a group of women came to visit the tomb on Sunday morning, they found that the tomb was open. An angel greeted them and told them that Jesus had resurrected. The second room is where you can see the surface on which Jesus’ body was laid.

Originally, there was no Aedicule around the tomb. The tomb stood on its own and was a kind of burial cave.  

A rare sight: the Aedicule with very few people in line

Want a private tour of the Old City of Jerusalem?

I’m up for the task! I’m a certified tour guide since 2019 and my specialty is the Old City of Jerusalem. Would love to show you around the quarters, take you on the Via Dolorosa, and more. Fill in the form below or contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com for more info and a price offer:

Conclusion

The Via Dolorosa is one of the most popular routes in the Old City of Jerusalem. No matter if you’re Christian or not, I think it’s an interesting experience to walk along the route. Hope this guide will help you find your way.


If you liked this post or found it useful, would really appreciate a like, a share, and a comment (:

If you need any help with planning your trip to Israel, feel free to contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com.

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Yours,

Lior.

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