For many Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem, the most important and meaningful thing they will do while in the city is walk the Via Dolorosa, the route that Jesus took between his condemnation by Pilate and his crucifixion and burial. Map. Another map.
The Via Dolorosa pilgrimage is followed by Christians of many denominations, but especially Catholics and Orthodox. The Via Dolorosa pilgrimage been followed since early Christianity, beginning as soon as it became safe to do so after Constantine legalized the religion (mid-4th century).
Originally, Byzantine pilgrims followed a similar path to the one taken today, but did not stop along the way. Over the centuries, the route has changed several times. By the 8th century, the route had changed: beginning at the Garden of Gethsemane, pilgrims headed south to Mount Zion then doubled back around the Temple Mount to the Holy Sepulchre.
The Middle Ages saw two rival routes, based on a split in the Latin Church: those with churches to the west went westward and those with churches in the east went eastward. From the 14th to 16th centuries, pilgrims followed the Franciscan route, which began at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and included eight stations.
Around this time, the tradition of 14 Stations of the Cross was developing in Europe. To avoid disappointing European pilgrims, the difference was made up with the addition of six more stations. Today, the main route of the Via Dolorosa is that of the early Byzantine pilgrims, with 14 stations along the way.
However, alternative routes are followed by those who have different opinions on the locations of various events. Anglicans believe Jesus would have been led north towards the Garden Tomb, while Dominican Catholics start from Herod’s Palace near Yafo Gate.
For most pilgrims, however, the exact location of each event along the Via Dolorosa is of little importance; the pilgrimage has great meaning due to its proximity to the original events and the reflection upon them along the way.