Franciscans and the Stations of the Cross

When Holy Land pilgrims returned home, they often brought back a bit of Palestine. In addition to relics, the pilgrims also brought back the desire to re-create scenes from the Holy Land in order to share their experiences with those unable to visit the holy places firsthand. When the  Holy Land was closed to western visitors, European replicas of the sacred sites became increasingly popular. Outside of Jerusalem, the tradition of walking the via sacra in commemoration of Christ’s passion, death, and burial with “stations” is mentioned as early as the twelfth century and all of the references point to an outdoor celebration. There was no standard celebration of the via sacra.  Depending on the location there were as few as seven and as many as 42 stations. Interestingly, in the beginning, the customary route apparently was the reverse of ours, starting with Calvary and ending at Pilate’s house – and included many other stops that are no longer considered part of the Via Dolorosa (“Sorrowful Way”).

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