The Archdiocese of Birmingham - The Parish of the Immaculate Conception

Stations of the Cross

A popular Lenten devotion, these recall the final hours of the Lord Jesus Christ’s life from when he is condemned to death by Pontius Pilate until he is laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. The origin of the Stations of the Cross as a devotion is lost in the mists of time although there are indications of a similar devotion in the fifth century at the church of San Stefano in Bologna. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, when pilgrimage to the Holy Land became more common, that we find references to some of the sites on the Via Dolorosa, the route that Christ took on his way to Calvary. At about this time, the German mystic Henry Suso (c. 1295-1366) recorded that he followed the Lord Jesus Christ step by step in his imagination as he meditated upon the Passion. In an account of 1480 by Felix Fabri there is an account of how, until her death and Assumption, the Virgin Mary followed the same stages as did the later fifteenth century pilgrims. By the time of Felix Fabri’s narrative several of the incidents that go up to make the modern Stations of the Cross were already in place: the veil of Veronica, Simon of Cyrene helping Jesus, the fall of the Lord Jesus Christ under the weight of the cross and the meeting with the women of Jerusalem. William Wey, an English pilgrim, who visited Jerusalem in 1458 and 1462, uses the word “stations” for the sites that he visited in the city and beyond. In about 1468, Martin Ketzel went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and on his return had a series of seven carvings made and set up in Nuremberg recalling the way of the cross: Jesus meets his mother who faints, Simon of Cyrene, the women of Jerusalem, Veronica, the Lord Jesus Christ falling, the Lord Jesus Christ on the ground under the cross and the Lord Jesus Christ taken down from the cross and laid in the arms of Mary. Credit for the modern Stations of the Cross goes to Jan van Paesschen, the Prior of the Carmelites in Malines. In his book “The Spiritual Pilgrimage”, published posthumously in 1563, the reader is transported mentally to Jerusalem, he had never been there himself, where he or she is invited to walk the way of the cross, listing the stations in the order that we have them today. The list was repeated in the better known work “Jerusalem at the Time of Christ”, published in 1584 by Adrichomius. From these and other works the popularity of this devotion grew and in 1731 Pope Clement XII decreed that those who devoutly made the Stations of the Cross would gain the same indulgences as if they themselves had visited the holy places. The Franciscan, St. Leonard of Port Maurice (1676-1751) had Stations of the Cross erected in nearly six hundred places across Italy and Pope Benedict XIV had them erected in the Roman Coliseum. Oddly, possibly because of the suppression of Roman Catholicism following Henry VIII’s split with Rome, they do not seem to have reached England much before the middle of the eighteenth century
The Lord’s road to Calvary is commemorated each Friday during Lent at 7.00 p.m.