Easter is a very special time for Christians to visit the Holy Land. From the Mount of Olives where Jesus is said to have prayed the night before his crucifixion and ascended to Heaven to King David’s tomb on Mount Zion, Jerusalem is where some of Christianity’s holiest sites can be found. Another one of these sites is the Via Dolorosa, or the way of sorrows, the road Jesus traveled as he carried his cross to his crucifixion.
The route consists of 14 stations where significant events surrounding the crucifixion took place, starting with the first station where Jesus was condemned by Pontius Pilate at the site of Madrasa al-Omariya, which today is still used as a school and ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of stations 10-14 where Jesus was stripped, nailed to the cross, died and was removed from the cross and laid in the tomb.
With guidebook in hand, I planned to amble along the Via Dolorosa alone. However, I saw a group of pilgrims reenacting the crucifixion, complete with a big cross, so I followed behind them part of the way. The group sang hymns as they walked, and prayed and chanted as they lingered at each station. They spoke Spanish, so I didn’t understand what was being said, but I could feel the emotion and mediated and said my own prayers. I didn’t follow the group for the entire walk but was grateful for the extra inspiration being in their presence that short time provided.
If you are going to make the procession down the Via Dolorosa, be prepared to contend with the crowds. In addition to the many groups of pilgrims who are walking the route, there’s everyone else in the Old City of Jerusalem who are not necessarily interested in the Via Doloroso, but are just walking through the Arab souk that takes up most of the narrow alleyways that comprise the Christian and Muslim Quarters. Then there are the aggressive vendors whose hard sell for a Guns ‘n’ Moses t-shirt or pomegranate juice make it a little difficult to stay in a contemplative frame of mind.
If you can ignore the cacophony, whether you find it religiously significant, as I and many others do, or you view it strictly from a historical stance, this experience will make a lasting impression.
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