The way of suffering. It was along this route that Jesus last walked before his crucifixion. Through winding streets of sandy limestone cobbles, typical of Old Jerusalem, it was fascinating to involve ourselves fully by following in Jesus Christ’s final footsteps. The Via Dolorosa has fourteen stations, each of which bear significance to the day of the Crucifixion, around the year AD 30.
From nearby the starting point of the Via Dolorosa, we stood in awe as we gazed towards the Mount of Olives. The first station is tricky to locate, in the middle of an Islamic school, whilst the second is somewhere at the ‘Ecce Homo’ convent. But at the Chapel of the Flagellation we arrived at a significant time: the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. For just a few moments we joined the small group meditating in the Real Presence and we realised that this was THE perfect start to our walking of the Way of the Cross, for Christ wasn’t just here two thousand years ago, he was here right now! The third station is marked by a small Polish chapel where we had earlier witnessed a violent fight, right infront of five armed police, whilst we were then able to continue underground to the fourth station, where we once again found a small chapel with the Blessed Sacrament, this time displayed in a stunningly vivid and modern way.
At the fifth station, we saw where Simon of Cyrene carried the cross for Jesus, whilst at the sixth station, Veronica received his image. The seventh station is marked by a tiny chapel built into the wall of a souq: during the 1st century this was at the edge of the city and from here a gate led out into the countryside. Therefore the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was certainly situated ‘without a city wall’, and our visit to the true site of Calvary seemed all the more probable. At the eighth station Jesus met with the Daughters of Zion, whilst at the ninth station, a Coptic church conceals a massive underground water cistern where we discovered a fantastic echo.
For the remaining five stations, we entered the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Much of this building is in the control of the Greek Orthodox community, and it is certainly a wonderful experience to explore, complete with the smells of incense, the flicker of candlelight, the magnificent oil lamps and the lavish decorations in silver and gold. We ascended to the site of the Crucifixion and lingered at the chapel on the spot where Christ died, marvelling at the many candles and looking directly down onto the bedrock of Calvary to the place where the crosses were anchored into the ground.Downstairs again, we witnessed the close of an Orthodox liturgy in the main part of the building, complete with numberless monks, nuns and priests. Joining the queue to enter the site of the tomb, we heard the singing of various traditions of Christianity, from the Franciscans, to some simple chanting of Eastern Orthodox priests, whilst echoing round the building was the sonorous Byzantine melismas of the Greeks.
And then we had reached the head of the queue and suddenly there we were, crouching slightly to enter the tiny chamber illuminated by multicoloured oil lamps on the ceiling on the way in, and solely by devotional candles as we knelt. Were we really here? It seemed so unreal. But there before us was a stone slab, perhaps on the exact place of the Resurrection. But this building has undergone sacking, earthquake and fire. And of course, we are still assuming that St. Helen herself had identified the correct location back in the fourth century. But if not the exact location, we were certainly closer to the tomb of Christ than we had ever been on any other day of our lives, and so this place for us was the holiest spot on the planet.