Good Friday

Stations of the Cross

At  least as early as the fourth century, pilgrims to the Holy Land were conducted to the sites of various biblical events, especially events in the life of Jesus, and it was customary for readings and prayers appropriate to the place and the event to be offered. The official recognition of Christianity by the Emperor Constantine made public worship at these sites possible and his mother, Saint Helena, sponsored the construction of some of the most important churches on these sites, in particular the Basilica of the Resurrection at the site of Calvary and the Tomb of Jesus, which quite naturally became the principal focal point of pilgrimages to the Holy Land. We do not know when the devotion of Stations of the Cross began, but there can be no doubt that its roots are to be found in the flowering of commemorations associated with specific places in the life of  Jesus.

Furthermore, we know that pilgrims who were fortunate enough to visit the Holy Land, were anxious to keep alive the spirit of their pilgrimage after they returned home. For example, there are medieval round churches in England that intentionally recall the great rotunda of the Church of the Resurrection (or Holy Sepulchre as it later came to be known). In the seventeenth century, Patriarch Nikon of Russia built the Monastery of New Jerusalem with a church complex laid out on a foundation identical to Holy Resurrection in Jerusalem. Replicas of the Way of the Cross in Europe are first recorded in the fifteenth century. At that time the program was rather fluid, with the number of stations and the events commemorated varying considerably. An English pilgrim in the fifteenth century, William Wey, reported that the Way of the Cross began at Calvary and moved in reverse order to Pilate's House. He tells of fourteen stations, but only five of them correspond to the stations as we observe them today. As the custodians of the Holy Land, the Franciscans were given special privileges regarding stations. Since the end of the seventeenth century it has been customary that, whenever possible, Franciscans erect the stations in churches. However, it was not until the eighteenth century that the number of stations (14) and the particular stations to be observed were set by Pope Clement XII.

While the devotion is often conducted corporately, especially in Lent, it is essentially a private devotion which the faithful may use at any time. There is no set content for Stations of the Cross, other than the particular fourteen events--nine directly biblical and five conjectural. Some Anglican churches have always limited the devotion to the biblical stations and the late Pope John Paul II created a new set of 14 entirely biblical stations which begin in the Garden of Gethsemane and end with the Resurrection. In any case, the traditional pattern is simply to walk the Way of the Cross, or a symbolic representation of it, and to pause for meditation and prayer at the points marking each event on the way. Stations may be installed on the walls of a church or constructed out of doors. The depictions which we have used in this version of the Stations are retablos, traditional Hispanic religious art. The originals were painted by the renowned New Mexican santera Marie Romero Cash and hang in the Episcopal Cathedral Church of St. John, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A similar set hangs in the Roman Catholic Basilica of Saint Francis in Santa Fe. Their simplicity lends itself well to this devotion, leaving it to the worshiper to contemplate the Lord’s Passion in his or her own way, rather than being too heavily directed by highly expressive art.

There are a variety of written texts available to assist the worshiper. The Adoramus te ("We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you: because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world") is a standard part of the text. The devotion has had a strong identification with the Mother of Jesus and it is a well-established practice to sing verses of the thirteenth century hymn Stabat Mater while walking from station to station. The meditations offered here are all drawn from the Old Testament, reflecting our confession in the Nicene Creed that the Passion of our Lord was “in accordance with the Scriptures,” meaning of course, the Scriptures of his people Israel. In addition to a good deal of traditional devotional and liturgical material, we have also provided short prayers based on prayers found in Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book, edited by the late Fr. Loren Gavitt. Click on the crucifix below to go to the beginning of the devotion.



Additional resources:

Burying the Cross

The Seven Last Words of Christ

Nuestro Señor de Esquipulas


  External links to other versions of Stations of the Cross:

Stations by John Henry Newman

African Stations of the Cross

Meditations from Good Friday in Rome

Stations based on the writings of Julian of Norwich

Full Homely Divinity Home Page