It's not yet 3 pm.
The Franciscan priests are already lined up in the shadow of the wall of the Chapel of the Flagellation, waiting for the appointed time, for more faithful or simple people interested in the guided itinerary.
Traditional brown habits make us uniform before God and believers but do not disguise the ethnic diversity of the congregation, represented in Jerusalem by clergy from various parts of the world.
Via Crucis: the First Paredes Meias Station with an Islamic College
Five separate from the entourage, go up the ramp of the Islamic College Al-Omariyeh and line up in front of the entrance. The exact location of the first station is within the institution.
The windows on the upper floor provide a privileged view of the Temple Mount, but the entourage does not even pass through the door. The ceremony has yet to start and the religious and territorial dispute for the Holy City is already being felt.
One of the Franciscans with Asian features opens the microphone reading of passages from the Bible describing the last days of Christ. Almost at the same time, a shrill muezzin call to prayer rings from the minaret above, which drowns out the priest's amplified words.
Rivalry is little new. Over the centuries, armies of crusaders and Muslim fighters such as priests and imams have come and gone. The alleys of Jerusalem have passed the God's domains to Allah's several times.
Currently, in territorial terms, the city is even dominated by the third of the Abrahamic religions, but the competing faiths and their followers have already resigned themselves to a fragile forced coexistence.
The stray stranger continues for a few minutes. Then the Franciscans go back down the ramp, join the other brothers and begin the procession.
Via Crucis: the Second Station Next to the Franciscan Church of Condemnation
We leave the immediate vicinity of the Flagellation Chapel and stop at the second station, located opposite the college in the Franciscan Church of Condensation, where it is believed that Jesus received the cross shortly before being punished.
We pass under the arch of Ecce Homo, which was once thought to be one of the entrances to Herod's fortress.
Against the opinion of numerous historians, the place where Pontius Pilate he will have presented Jesus Christ already scourged and with the crown of thorns placed, to the hostile Jewish crowd, where he determined that, since he saw no obvious reasons for the condemnation, that the crowd should decide its fate,
Via Crucis: the Third Station in the vicinity of the Polish Catholic Chapel
The procession reaches the end of the shadowy alley. Enter Al-Wad Street and the bustling souq of the Muslim Quarter. It heads towards the third station, the place where Christ would have fallen for the first time on the way to Calvary, today located next to a small Polish chapel adjacent to the entrance to the Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Hospice.
The Franciscans stopped there for some time, completing the corresponding biblical narrative, under the controlling gaze of young soldiers from the Israeli defense forces. The passing of the procession does not seem to please the Muslim owners of the surrounding stores.
However, the participants had visibly increased. They blocked the circulation of passersby on the street and the entrance of customers. As if that wasn't enough, some visitors are accused of photographing a group of Islamic women without asking permission.
They arouse the wrath of two or three visibly resentful men who want to force them to erase the images. As is customary in these disputes, the IDF soldiers soon make their presence felt.
They impose their authority and discourage plaintiffs from continuing the scandal. Almost simultaneously, three other soldiers appear escorting a handcuffed Palestinian through the crowd.
Via Crucis: the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Stations
By then, the procession had moved on to the fourth station, where it is believed that Jesus faced his mother. Forced to regain ground, we never quite realized what the imprisonment was about.
The Via Dolorosa continues to the fifth station where the Romans are said to have ordered Simon the Cyrenaic to help Jesus carry the cross and to the sixth where Veronica wiped His face with a cloth. Nearby, in the Christian Quarter, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate even displays what it claims to be this cloth, with the imprint of the face of Jesus.
Al-Wad Street continues south towards the Western Wall.
We leave it in the lane of the Franciscans who climb a staircase bordered by the shops of the huge souq Khan as-Zeit. Priests challenge the faithful to pray with them but recite the tenth of the rosary in Latin and the dead language discourages followers.
The gap frustrates a Franciscan who, in Italian, cannot contain his disappointment: “Do you no longer know Latin? You should know. Latin is our language. It was through her that we spread the holy faith!”.
Via Crucis: the Seventh Station near the Franciscan Chapel
His claim bears no fruit, not least because the seventh season is announced and the brothers in charge of it claim to take the lead in describing the drama of Jesus' second fall, under the inhuman weight of the cross.
We crossed the busy souq and absorbed in a multisensory way the cultural traits of that old Muslim commercial center. We walked up Aqabat al-Khanqah Street and found the eighth station where Jesus told some women to weep for them and their children, not for Him.
Then, the continuation of Via Crucis requires a return to the souq.
Via Crucis: the Ninth Station Marked by the Coptic Church of Jerusalem
From there, it continues towards the Damascus Gate and skirts the Coptic Church. The traces of a column on its door mark the ninth station and the place where Christ fell for the third time.
The next five stations are found inside the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, the holiest of Christian buildings in the Old City of Jerusalem for allegedly embracing the biblical site of Calvary.
At least, so believed Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, 300 years after the death of Christ – herself a convinced pilgrim – who, after identifying the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea and the three crosses, decreed the construction of the protective temple.
Via Crucis: Tenth to Fourteenth Station, in the Basilica of the Sepulcher
Pilgrims from the 16 corners of the world have arrived there for 4 centuries, moved and left their tears at the places where Jesus' garments were taken off (10th station), where he was nailed to the cross (11th), where he perished ( 12th), in which his body was removed from the cross and given to Mary (13th) and, finally, where he was placed in the Holy Sepulcher (14th). The same happens with several believers that we accompany on the journey of the Via Dolorosa that is about to reach its end.
Around the XNUMXth century, the faithful already carried out ritual stops that retrieved the events of Christ's journey to the Cross.
The various splits in the Christian faith are evident in the Old City, which has long been home to Catholic, Orthodox, Copt Lutheran churches and believers, among others. During the Middle Ages, Latin Christianity split into rival camps and the Via Dolorosa branched out.
Each of the factions claimed that the true itineraries visited one or the other's chapels.
The Secular and Controversial Elaboration of the Via Crucis
In the XNUMXth century, the Franciscans designed a walk of devotion that included some of the current stations but began with the Holy Sepulcher.
For 200 years, this was the usual route until the desire of European pilgrims to follow events in scriptural order and to end at Calvary eventually won the change. But not everyone agreed, nor was it expected in Jerusalem, the city of all disputes.
Several historians claim that the Via Dolorosa should start outside the Citadel, near where Pilate's residence once stood. Biblical references to Jesus' judgment mention that it took place on a platform and in an open space.
According to scholars, only the governor's palace could have such a structure. Accordingly, historians claim that the ideal itinerary for the Via Dolorosa should from there follow the Rue de David east.
Then north through the current souq el-Lahamin and west towards Calvary.