Via Dolorosa/St. Anne’s Church/Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Via Dolorosa


Every Friday afternoon a large procession of Catholics meets near the Lions’ Gate and wind their way through the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City. They are led by Franciscan friars, and sometimes accompanied by an impressive Muslim escort dressed in Ottoman Zouave uniforms—a red fez, baggy blue pants, and a gold-embroidered vest. As they walk, each one bangs their silver-tipped staff on the pavement to part the passing crowd. The 1,640-foot procession stops at the 14 Stations of the Cross, the Catholic tradition of the Via Dolorosa that remembers the path Jesus took to His death and ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  

The Via Dolorosa (the way of suffering) takes pilgrims through tight marketplace streets full of shoppers, citizens, and tourists. The path is 14 stops marked by circular bronze disks with Roman numerals embedded in the walls.  

Here are the 14 traditional Catholic Stations of the Cross: 

1 Station: Jesus condemned by Pontius Pilate.
2 Station: Jesus took up his cross.
3 Station: Jesus fell for the first time.
4 Station: Mary watched her son go by with the cross.
5 Station: Simon of Cyrene is forced to help Jesus carry the cross.
6 Station: Veronica wipes Jesus' face.
7 Station: Jesus falls a second time.
8 Station: Jesus consoles the crying women.
9 Station: Jesus falls a third time.
10 Station: Jesus is stripped.
11 Station: Jesus is nailed to the cross.
12 Station: Jesus dies.
13 Station: Jesus is taken down from the cross.
14 Station: Jesus is laid in the tomb. 


While the route has changed a number of times throughout history, the 14 stations that have become tradition were accepted by Roman Catholics by the 19th century.  




Jesus Is Mocked
Mark 15:16-21 (ESV)

And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor's headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him. The Crucifixion And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. 

Matthew 27:33-37 (ESV)

And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”


St. Anne and the Pools of Bethesda   

While the canonical Gospels are silent about the Virgin Mary’s origins, we know about her parents Joachim and Anne, her birth and childhood. Early Christian tradition places the home of Joachim and Anne next to a double pool that was a popular healing center - the pool of Bethesda, known to us from the Gospel of John: It is there that Jesus healed a paralytic. The double significance of the site as birthplace of Mary and location of a miracle soon turned it into an important Christian sanctuary. The Byzantines built a large basilica, St. Mary of the Probatic, over the pools.” Damaged by the Persian invasions in 614, it was rebuilt and then destroyed by the Arabs around 1010. The Crusaders built a small monastery over the ruins, and in 1030 they also built the present basilica, a large Romanesque church dedicated to St. Anne, above the caves where the memory of the Virgin’s birthplace was kept. 


At the end of the Crusader period, St. Anne’s was turned into an Islamic law school, and it fell into neglect under the Ottoman Empire. In 1856, the Ottomans offered the basilica to France, and it was entrusted to the Missionaries of Africa or White Fathers, who have welcomed travelers until today. 


The Church of St. Anne is located at the beginning of the Via Dolorosa in the Muslim Quarter, just inside Lion’s Gate at the eastern entrance of the Old City. The complex is an oasis of peace amid the noisy hustle and bustle of the Arab markets. The Basilica is known for its extraordinary acoustics, and visitors are invited to sing their hymns of worship to God before they walk down to the crypt dedicated to Mary’s birth. The massive complex of pools and ruins of the Byzantine and Crusader churches is still well preserved. Visitors can walk down into the deep cistern where water remains, as a memory and perhaps invitation to all those who still seek healing in this place. 



John 5:2-9 (ESV)
Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath.



Church of the Holy Sepulchre *  


The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built by Emperor Constantine after he professed a Christian faith, was based on his mother’s instructions. Helena, Constantine’s mother, came to the Holy Land in 326 A.D. After talking to the locals about the traditional Christian spots of relevance, she built three churches – the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Church of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Most scholars agree the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is built in the “general proximity” of Golgotha, but no one is absolutely certain where “outside the gate” referenced 2,000 years ago (Hebrews 13:12). The gate was probably the Garden Gate (Gennath).  


Crucifixions were intended to maximize the fear of Rome in their conquered populaces and were therefore very public events. This means a main road where Passover pilgrims traveled would be ideal, a main road where they could hurl insults at the blasphemer (Matthew 27:39, Mark 15:29). The Garden Gate was choice because it had two main roads, thereby doubling the public relations impact.  


The church we see today has survived earthquakes and fires, but it is not the original and larger Constaninian church built here in 335 A.D. After the Persians burned it in 614 A.D., it was rebuilt, and then 400 years later decimated by the Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, who had the tomb destroyed   down to the bedrock. The Crusaders rebuilt it in 1149, and it is this present building we visit today, which is maintained by the Greek Orthodox Church (and shared by six other Christian denominations).  


There are over 30 chapels inside the sprawling basilica, that are architecturally connected to remains of Hadrian’s Temple façade as well as Constantine’s columns. Immediately to the right upon entering the building, a short flight of steps leads to the probable site of the crucifixion. At the top of the stairs beneath an altar, the glass floor reveals the original rocky ground where the cross of Jesus was held. Archaeological digs confirm this spot as being both outside the city and close to one of the gates at the time of Christ. The second major site inside the basilica is called the Edicule (“little house”). This is the traditional site of Jesus’ tomb, which the Muslims destroyed in 1009. The best evidence for this being the actual tomb of Jesus is the existence of other ancient tombs inside the church, which are found in the “Syrian Chapel,” just behind the main rotunda. One of these tombs carved into the original bedrock is said to be the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. At least four have been found, and all four burial sites date to the time of Jesus. This helps confirm the site’s authenticity because it proves that the site was a cemetery where He was laid, and y close enough to Golgotha for His burial to occur before sundown (Luke 23:50-53). 


John 19:41-42 (ESV)
Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

Mark 15:22 (ESV)
And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull).

Mark 15:46 (ESV)
And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.