For Roman Catholics throughout the world, the Stations of the Cross are synonymous with Lent, Holy Week and, especially, Good Friday. This devotion is also known as the “Way of the Cross”, the “Via Crucis”, and the “Via Dolorosa.” It commemorates 14 key events on day of Christ’s crucifixion. The majority concern His final walk through the streets of Jerusalem, carrying the Cross.
The object of the Stations is to help the faithful to make in spirit, as it were, a pilgrimage to the chief scenes of Christ’s sufferings and death, and this has become one of the most popular of Catholic devotions. It is carried out by passing from Station to Station, with certain prayers at each and devout meditation on the various incidents in turn. It is very usual, when the devotion is performed publicly, to sing a stanza of the “Stabat Mater” while passing from one Station to the next.
Inasmuch as the Way of the Cross, made in this way, constitutes a miniature pilgrimage to the holy places at Jerusalem, the origin of the devotion may be traced to the Holy Land. The Via Dolorosa at Jerusalem (though not called by that name before the sixteenth century) was reverently marked out from the earliest times and has been the goal of pious pilgrims ever since the days of Constantine. Tradition asserts that the Blessed Virgin used to visit daily the scenes of Christ’s Passion and St. Jerome speaks of the crowds of pilgrims from all countries who used to visit the holy places in his day.
A desire to reproduce the holy places in other lands, in order to satisfy the devotion of those who were hindered from making the actual pilgrimage, seems to have manifested itself at quite an early date. At the monastery of San Stefano at Bologna a group of connected chapels were constructed as early as the fifth century, by St. Petronius, Bishop of Bologna, which were intended to represent the more important shrines of Jerusalem, and in consequence, this monastery became familiarly known as “Hierusalem”.
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