The Stations of the Cross

by James Akin

The Stations of the Cross, also known as the Way of the Cross, is a popular devotion used to meditate on different scenes from the Passion and death of Christ. Its function is to dramatize the passion and so to make it real to us on an emotive as well as an intellectual level.

The fourteen stations, or “halting places” where one stops to meditate on a different scene from the Passion of Christ, are represented by pictures, statues, or bas reliefs, each of which is to include a small cross.

The earliest precedents for the Stations of the Cross to back to the 400s, but the first true forms of the Stations developed in the 1400s. These were modeled after the via dolorosa in Jerusalem, which had been marked out since the early centuries and used as a devotional site for pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem.

The devotion of the Way of the Cross spread to monasteries around the Christian world as a way of imitating the pilgrim route in Jerusalem, and eventually it became standard in parishes.

The number of stations has varied greatly, ranging up to 37 stations, but in the 1700s, the fourteen current stations became fixed.

Not all details in the Stations of the Cross are recorded in Scripture, as with any dramatic presentation of a Bible scene. If you watch a movie about the birth or death or Christ or about the events of the Exodus or any other Bible story, elements will appear in it which are not documented in the Bible but which are added because they make the account more vivid.

For example, the Bible does not mention Jesus stumbling as he carried the cross, but he most certainly did since, after starting to carry it himself (John 19:17), the Romans found it necessary to press into service Simon of Cyrene to carry it (e.g., Matthew 27:32). This inference is given dramatic form in the Stations of the Cross, and, in a dramatic triple (triples are regularly used literary form in both drama and comedy), Jesus is pictured as falling three times as he journeys toward his death. This brings out in dramatic form the extreme physical suffering Jesus endured even before he was nailed to the cross.

Aside from this, the only other element not directly stated or implied in Scripture is the wiping of Jesus’ face by Veronica, which is a tradition that apparently developed in the Middle Ages.

Below is a list of the current Stations of the Cross and Scripture passages where they may be found or from which they may be deduced:

 

1. Jesus is condemned Luke 23:24
2. Jesus carries his cross John 19:17
3. Jesus falls the first time By inference from stations 2 and 5
4. Jesus meets his mother By inference from John 19:25-27
5. Simon of Cyrene helps carry the cross Matthew 27:32
6. Veronica wipes Jesus’ face Not recorded in Scripture
7. Jesus falls a second time Not recorded in Scripture
8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem Luke 23:27-31
9. Jesus falls the third time Not recorded in Scripture
10. Jesus is stripped of his garments John 19:23
11. Jesus is nailed to the cross Mark 15:24
12. Jesus dies on the cross Mark 15:37
13. His body is taken down from the cross Luke 23:53
14. His body is laid in the tomb Matthew 27:60

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