The 100 Most Holy Places On Earth


Via Dolorosa


Also Known As:

Via Dolorosa

The Way of Suffering

The Sorrowful Way

Associated Faiths:


Mostly visited by High-Church Christians (e.g., Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican); but frequented by other Christians as well


Open to visitors.

Annual visitors: 2,100,000


Via Dolorosa is a Latin term, which means the “way of suffering.” It is the route (through the “old city” of Jerusalem) which Jesus would have traveled at the very end of His life. The traditional approximately third of a mile route starts as the Fortress of Antonia (where Christ was condemned to death) and ends at the Church of the Holy Spluchre (where many believe His body was interred after his crucifixion). While there have been various versions of Christ’s final route, the current one dates from the 18th century.

There are 14 “stations” or “stops” along the Via Dolorosa—traversing several streets. The first nine stations are outdoors, but the last five are within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Eight of the stations are biblically based, connected to specific passages of scripture. The others, however, find no basis in verifiable history, but are part of Catholic tradition.

The current Via Dolorosa consists of the following 14 stations or stops: (1) The Fortress of Antonia, where Jesus was condemned to death. (2) The spot at which some believe Jesus first took up His cross—or the crossbeam of His cross. There are three churches clustered at this site: the Church of the Flagellation, the Church of the Imposition of the Cross, and the Church of Ecce Homo. (3) The spot where Jesus first fell while carrying His cross—though the Bible doesn’t mention this. (4) The Church of Our Lady of Sorrows where Jesus supposedly saw His mother in the crowd—though the Bible does not speak of this event. Some believe that Luke 2:34-35, 51 is a reference to Mary seeing Jesus enroute to His crucifixion, though there is no evidence to support this interpretation of the passage. (5) The Chapel of Simon of Cyrene, where Roman soldiers forced Simon (an onlooker in the crowd) to take up Jesus’ cross, because He had become too weak to continue on Himself.

It is on the wall outside of this church that there is what has been claimed to be the “handprint of Jesus,” though again, the Bible never references Him leaning up against a building there, or “magically” leaving His handprint in stone. (6) The spot where a woman named Veronica supposedly wiped Jesus’ face—though the Bible never refers to this event. (7) The location where Jesus fell a second time—though again, the Bible never mentions this. (8) The spot where a group of women wept for Jesus, and He told them to not weep for Him, but for themselves and their children. (9) The spot where Jesus supposedly fell for the third time—though the Bible never mentions that this happened. (10) The place at which Jesus was stripped of his clothing. (11) The pace where Jesus was nailed to His cross. (12) The spot where Jesus died on the cross. (13) The location where Jesus’s body was removed from the cross. (14) The location of sepulcher, wherein Jesus’s body was placed.

Like so many pilgrimage sites in Christianity, there is debate as to the exact location that various events took place. Many of the edifices now standing on the various biblically mentioned sites are post-biblical buildings, constructed to mark a spot that tradition claims is where a given sacred event happened. And many of those traditions, while possibly accurate, stem from a legend that cropped up centuries after the biblical era. Thus, we simply cannot say for certain if these are the right locations of the sacred biblical events. This is certainly the case with the Via Dolorosa.

The route Jesus is thought to have taken has been changed numerous times throughout the centuries, and the current one is relatively modern—dating back to the 18th century. Even some of its sites are in question today, which means further revisions on the route Jesus took may be made in the future, thanks to the discovery of new historical and archeological facts. Thus, the current Via Dolorosa is an approximation at best—and one with layers of “tradition,” which tells of events which may or may not have actually happened.

Religious Significance


The Christian anthem, “I walked today where Jesus walked,” speaks of the reverence Christians traditionally have for the sacred sites of the Holy Land. While some of its lyrics—such as “those little lanes, they have not changed”—are certainly inaccurate, nevertheless, the lyrics highlight why the path we call the Via Dolorosa constitutes “sacred space” for believing Christians everywhere. The fourteen stations of this famed “Way of Suffering” calls the mind to contemplate the significance of Christ’s passion in the heart and life of the practicing Christian.

Every day of the year, pilgrims visiting the Holy Land make their way through the winding streets of the Old City of Jerusalem, following the path that Jesus would have taken to finish His mission and life upon this earth. However, during Holy Week, this less than half-mile trek becomes the highlight of certain processionals—official and personal. Because Holy Week focuses on the last days of Christ’s life, and because the events of Friday are specific to His passion, Christians from many traditions wish to have the experience of traveling the Via Dolorosa on Good Friday, retracing the steps of Christ which are believed to lead not only to His cross, but to the salvation of the believing Christian. Thus, this is hallowed ground for more than two billion human beings scattered across the globe.

As guides lead pilgrims through the maze that constitutes the Via Dolorosa, each of the stops brings to mind some of the most sacred events in the history of Christianity and in the life of Jesus. The pilgrim is reminded of the significant sacrifices Jesus made on behalf of all of God’s children—in an effort to redeem them from their fallen and sinful condition. However, certain sites also invite the pilgrim to contemplate how they too can respond in holy ways as others did. For example, at the site where Jesus first took up His cross, pilgrims frequently contemplate what “crosses” in their own lives does Jesus intend them to take up—just as Jesus commanded, “take up your cross and follow me.”

At the location where Simon is believed to have hoisted Jesus’ crossbeam for Him, Christians sometimes ask themselves, “What burdens of Jesus’ work would He have me shoulder on His behalf?” At the site honoring the legend of Saint Veronica wiping the sweat covered face of Jesus, wayfarers wonder about who they might provide Christlike service to. At the location where Jesus is said to have told the weeping women, “Don’t cry for me, but cry for yourselves and your children,” pilgrims are reminded of this sin-filled world and the dangers it poses to believers. This stop invites all to ask themselves, “How can I protect myself and my family from the spiritual dangers of a world that loves themselves more than they love God?”

The Via Dolorosa is a perfect place for pilgrims to ponder Jesus’ life, love, and legacy—in history and in the life of the believer. It is the place where million flock each year to “walk where Jesus walked,” to feel and understand more deeply what his life and teachings mean for Christianity. It is the sacred site of events which would not only change the world but have the potential to change the life and salvation of the believer. Those who traverse the fourteen stations of the Via Dolorosa can never again sing the lyrics “I walked today where Jesus walked, and felt Him close to me” without a different sense of what exactly that means. Thus, this is one of the most sacred sites in all of Christianity.