Stations of the Cross

views updated May 29 2018


Also known as the Way of the Cross. As practiced today, the devotion centers on 14 chosen representations of the sufferings of Christ on his way to Calvary. The devotion originated as a pious imitation of the pilgrims who traveled to the Holy Land to visit the places hallowed by Christ's sufferings.

Origins and Early History. Pilgrimages to the holy places began in the early centuries of Christianity. St. Jerome and other early Christian writers attested to this fact. The custom may have grown from the tradition that the Blessed Virgin visited these places after Christ's Ascension and related this to St. Brigid in a vision [Adrichomius, Theatrum Terrae Sanctae et biblicarum historiarum cum tabulis geographicis (Cologne 1590)].

Devotion to the Passion of Christ, which became widespread in the 12th and 13th centuries, was promoted by many veterans of the Crusades who erected tableaux at home representing various places they had visited in the Holy Land. This devotion became known as the Little Jerusalem (Kneller, 56).

The first coherently related stations built outside Palestine were erected at the church of San Stefano in Bologna in the 5th century. The idea of a series of shrines commemorating places and events in the Passion became fairly general in the 15th century. Bl. Alvarez of Cordova, OP, erected such a series at his monastery near Cordova. The Augustinians, Peter and John da Fabriano, did the same, and stations were installed in the cemetery of the Franciscan friary at Antwerp at about the same time, or perhaps even earlier in the century. At Antwerp the stations represented the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady.

When the Franciscans took over custody of the holy places in 1342 they saw it as part of their mission to promote devotion to these places and to the Passion of Christ, and this, as the practice became more common, found expression in devotion to the Stations of the Cross. It became general in the monasteries, friary chapels, and churches the Franciscans served throughout the world, and from these places it spread to parish churches. In the 18th century St. leonard of port maurice promoted the devotion so enthusiastically and successfully that he became known as the "preacher of the Way of the Cross." He is said to have erected more than 572 stations between 1731 and 1751. The number of stations in each series, the place and circumstances of their erection, and the mode of practicing the devotion became stabilized by the monita issued under the authority of Clement XII in 1731.

Number and Titles of Stations. There was originally a considerable variety with regard to the number and titles of the stations. William Wey, an English pilgrim to the Holy Land in 1458 and 1462, testified that the number varied in many places. Wey was the first to use the designation "station" (stop, standing, halt) in connection with the devotion. In 5th-century Bologna there were five "stops"; in Antwerp there were seven. Sometimes there were as many as 20, 30, or even more. Adrichomius set the number at 12, and these 12 correspond to the first 12 of the 14 in use when the form of the devotion eventually became settled. The number 14 first appeared in manuals of devotion published during the 16th century in the Low Countries. The determination of this number seems due to the choice of devotional writers rather than to the actual practice of pilgrims in Jerusalem, for during the 16th century the Turkish authorities permitted no halting or external acts of veneration at any of the holy places. The act of the Holy See settling the number at 14 appears to have been simply an approval of popular custom; and for some time, at least, it seems not to have been regarded as mandatory, since in 1799 a special set of 11 stations was ordered for use in the Diocese of Vienne.

The subjects represented by the stations show a similar variation. In earlier series having more numerous stops, events and places were commemorated that were only distantly connected with the Via Dolorosa, if at all: for example, the house of Dives, the probatic pool, the houses of Herod and Simon the Pharisee. The number of falls has varied from one to seven. Some of the incidents common on earlier lists, e.g., the Ecce Homo scene on the balcony, have been dropped, but the meeting with Veronica, on the other hand, is a later inclusion.

The accepted 14 stations today are: (1) Christ is condemned to death by Pilate; (2) Jesus is made to carry the cross; (3) Jesus falls the first time; (4) Jesus meets His blessed Mother; (5) the cross is laid on Simon of Cyrene;(6) Veronica wipes the face of Jesus; (7) Jesus falls the second time; (8) Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem;(9) Jesus falls the third time; (10) Jesus is stripped of His garments and receives gall to drink: (11) Jesus is nailed to the cross; (12) Jesus dies on the cross; (13) Jesus is taken down from the cross; (14) Jesus is laid in the sepulcher. In some places, a 15th station has been added for meditation upon the Resurrection, a practice that has yet to find universal acceptance.

Pictures and Images. From the earliest times there have been artistic representations of the scenes and events recalled at the different stations. Artists have vied in creating appropriate tableaux. These are helpful in assisting the faithful to center their thoughts upon the incident to be recalled, and so are commonly found in churches and oratories where the stations have been erected, but they are not essential to the devotion itself. Strictly speaking, the wooden crosses themselves hung in the nave of the church constitute the stations, not the artistic representations.

Erection of the Stations. According to the first concessions granted by the Holy See, the stations could be erected only in churches subject to the Friars Minor Observants. In fact, in the earliest concessions it was stated that only those who had some connection with the order, e.g. tertiaries, could gain the indulgences. Later, Benedict XIII extended all the indulgences "to any one of the faithful in no manner subject to the Minister General who makes the pious exercise of the stations privately " (Inter plurima, 1726). Clement XII in a brief issued in 1731 extended the privilege to other churches, oratories, and hospices "not subject to the Order." In the monita issued the same year under authority of the same pontiff it was declared that stations could be erected in the open (subdio ), provided they originated or ended at a church. Today, stations can be erected in churches, oratories, chapels, cemeteries and religious places of pilgrimage. For many centuries they were set up in a manner the reverse of that customary now. Instead of following Christ from the praetorium or Pilate's palace, the people would begin at Calvary and trace their steps back to the palace or Gethsemane. In all probability the present custom goes back to St. Leonard of Port Maurice.

Bibliography: m. sleutjes, Instructio de stationibus S. Viae Crucis, ed. b. kurtscheid (5th ed. Quaracchi-Florence 1927). g. golubovich, Bibliotheca bio-bibliografica della Terra Santac, 5 v. (Quaracchi-Florence 190627) 4:78. h. thurston, The Stations of the Cross (New York 1906). k. a. kneller, Geschichte der Kreuzwegandacht (Freiburg 1908). m. j. mathis and n. w. meyer, eds., The Pastoral Companion (12th ed. Chicago 1961).

[b. brown/eds.]

Stations of the Cross

views updated May 29 2018

Stations of the Cross

Stations of the Cross, also known as the Way of the Cross or Via Crucis, is a Roman Catholic devotion (also found in some Episcopal churches) commemorating certain incidents in the Passion of Christ in the form of a symbolic pilgrimage. The fourteen "stations," or stopping places, are represented by crosses, carvings, or pictures placed around the inner walls of a church, or outdoors along a road or path in a garden or woods. Since the basic form of the devotion (whether practiced individually or congregationally) is a symbolic pilgrimage, moving from station to station is essential to its practice; when the concourse of people makes this impractical, the person reading the prayers or preaching about the incidents of the Passion usually moves from one site to the other while the congregation follows with their eyes, and turn their bodies in the direction of each station. The devotion is sometimes practiced collectively on the streets, making a station at each corner, or at stated sites in a neighborhood.

The fourteen symbolic stopping places have been prescribed by authority since the seventeenth century, but there is no necessary form of prayers prescribed; a great number of prayers or meditations for this exercise circulate with ecclesiastical approval, and it is perfectly acceptable to pray or meditate at each station in one's own words while following them privately, or to preach on them extemporaneously when leading a congregation. However, it is customary to precede the prayers or meditations at each station with the prayer "We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you," to which the congregation responds "For by your holy cross you have redeemed the world." Appropriate hymns are frequently sung between the stations, especially if the devotion is practiced outdoors and the stations are at some distance from each other. For obvious reasons the exercise is particularly popular as a Lenten devotion, especially on Fridays, and most especially on Good Friday.

The origin of this devotion seems to be in the tradition of pilgrims to Jerusalem of following the Via Dolorosa from the traditional site of Pilate's Praetorium to the sites of Golgotha and the Holy Sepulcher, meditating on the various traditional sites of evangelical or legendary incidents in the story of the Passion—for example, the place where Simon of Cyrene was forced to help Jesus carry the cross, the place where Veronica wiped Jesus' face, or the place where he spoke to the women of Jerusalem, as well as the places where he fell under the weight of the cross. The pilgrimage culminated in the basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, where the traditional sites of the Crucifixion, the anointing of Christ's body, and the empty tomb are shown. During certain periods the local Muslim authorities would not permit pilgrims to stop at these places or to kiss the ground or perform other acts of visible devotion, but eventually such acts became possible, and the pilgrimage along the Via Dolorosa, with stops for prayer and meditation, is now a feature of life in Jerusalem, especially on Fridays.

By the fifteenth century, returning pilgrims in various lands spontaneously began to set up reproductions—pictorial or symbolic—of the various stopping places on the Via Dolorosa, and these gradually became popular enough for Rome to approve the devotion and codify the fourteen stations, as well as to enrich the exercise with abundant privileges and indulgences. A modern development that has become widespread in the United States is to add a fifteenth station, to commemorate the Resurrection, to add a more Paschal dimension to the exercise, which used to end with the burial of Christ. However, since the "stations" do not actually represent incidents but places, the final station is the Holy Sepulcher, which is the place of both the burial and the Resurrection. It would therefore be more correct to not add a fifteenth station but instead to emphasize both the burial and the Resurrection in the fourteenth.

See alsoChurch; Episcopal Churches; Journeys and Journeying; Lent; Liturgy and Worship; Pilgrimage; Prayer; Ritual; Roman Catholicism.


Pillai, C. A. I. Pillai. "The Way of the Cross: Resurrection." Worship 37, no. 4 (March 1963): 250–253.

Thurston, Herbert. The Stations of the Cross. 1906.

Jaime R. Vidal

Stations of the Cross

views updated May 14 2018

Stations of the Cross. A series of fourteen incidents in the passion of Jesus. They are: (i) he is condemned to death; (ii) he receives the cross; (iii) he falls; (iv) he meets his mother; (v) Simon of Cyrene is made to carry his cross; (vi) his face is wiped by Veronica; (vii) he falls a second time; (viii) he meets the women of Jerusalem; (ix) he falls a third time; (x) he is stripped of his garments; (xi) he is nailed to the cross; (xii) he dies on the cross; (xiii) his body is taken down; (xiv) it is laid in the tomb.

In Roman Catholic and some Anglican churches, pictures or carvings of these incidents are arranged around the walls, and are the subject of public and private devotions in Lent and Passiontide.

Stations of the Cross

views updated May 29 2018

Stations of the Cross fourteen pictures or carvings representing successive incidents during Jesus' progress from Pilate's house to his crucifixion at Calvary, before which devotions are performed in some Churches. They are, in order: Jesus before Pilate, Jesus carrying the Cross, Jesus falling for the first time, Jesus meeting the Virgin Mary, Jesus with Simon of Cyrene helping to carry the Cross, St Veronica wiping the face of Jesus, Jesus falling for the second time, Jesus and the weeping Women of Jerusalem, Jesus falling for the third time, Jesus stripped of his clothing, Jesus nailed to the Cross, Jesus's death on the Cross, the taking down of Jesus's body, and the entombment of Jesus.