Stations Of The Cross 101- Everything You Need To Know

The Stations of the Cross are a popular Catholic devotion that you will find in Catholic churches around the world. They are comprised of 14 things that happened to Jesus from his arrest to his body being placed in the tomb. In the past, this practice has also been known as “Via Crucis,” or “Way of the Cross”.  Today, let’s take a look at the Stations of the Cross, how this devotion started, and how to pray them. 


What Are The Stations Of The Cross?

A common feature inside Roman Catholic churches is the Stations of the Cross, usually found hanging on the walls of a church near the pews. Sometimes outdoor Stations of the Cross can be found along paths on the properties of various shrines, monasteries, or parishes. These 14 Stations, commemorating the events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus, are marked by wooden crosses, and are usually depicted with sacred art in the form of carvings or paintings.

During Fridays of the year, and particularly during Lent, it is common for the faithful to meditate on the Stations of the Cross, often as a parish-wide service led by a priest or deacon, but also by the faithful on their own, as well.

How Did The Stations Of The Cross Originate? 

Long ago, in the early centuries of Christianity, faithful Christians would make pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Many Christians wanted to retrace the steps that Jesus took from the Garden of Gethsemane to His crucifixion, and then to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which marks the place where Jesus was laid in the tomb before His Resurrection. This is known as the Via Dolorosa, the “Sorrowful Way.”

While nowadays the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem is well-established, back in earlier centuries, its particular route wasn’t always as clearly agreed upon. For a time, pilgrims would start at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and work backwards to the House of Pilate. Most of the points along the Via Dolorosa are based on passages found in the Gospels, but there are some that are based on early Christian traditions. Today, pilgrims visiting Jerusalem can still walk the Via Dolorosa, which is a beautiful and deeply moving experience.

The existence of the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem is what gave rise to the Stations of the Cross throughout Europe, and eventually, the world.

St. Francis And The Stations Of The Cross

You may be surprised to learn that the Stations of the Cross are very closely associated with St. Francis of Assisi (c. 1181-1226). In 1209, St. Francis founded the Franciscan Order, which consists of communities of men and women who follow the way of life that St. Francis established.

St. Francis himself, inspired by a desire to evangelize, went to the Holy Land during the Fifth Crusade. It was a dangerous time to be in the Holy Land, but St. Francis desired to share the Gospel with everyone. He even managed to appear before the sultan, who was the nephew of Saladin, the original leader of the forces opposing the Crusaders. St. Francis presented the Good News of Jesus Christ to the sultan in a bold gesture of zeal; a gesture that St. Francis knew could end in martyrdom. Instead, the sultan graciously received St. Francis, and eventually, he returned home to Italy unharmed.

St. Francis later established a priory in Jerusalem, known as the “Custody of the Holy Land,” devoted to guarding and promoting holy Christian pilgrimage sites. In 1342, because of St. Francis’s connection to the Holy Land, combined with the well-known Franciscan devotion to the Passion of Christ, Pope Clement VI entrusted the care of holy sites in Jerusalem to the Franciscan Order. This meant that the Franciscans would be in charge of leading pilgrims along the Via Dolorosa, and afterwards, the stopping points along the way began to be referred to as “stations.”

Stations Of The Cross Walks Or Trails

Thanks to the rapid, widespread growth of the Franciscans in Europe, outdoor shrines that duplicated the “stations” of the Via Dolorosa began to be erected in places where the Franciscans resided, and this is how the “Stations of the Cross” as we know them came to be. Many of these Stations were elaborate, and where these sites still exist today, you can see the exquisite, skilled work that went into creating them.

Many modern churches still build Stations of the Cross along nature trails or walking paths. 

Stations Of The Cross Inside Church

Eventually, the Stations of the Cross were also moved to the inside of Franciscan churches. In 1731, Pope Clement XII granted permission for all churches to have the Stations of the Cross, as long as they were erected by a Franciscan. At the same time, he fixed the number of Stations at 14. Then in 1857, Bishops in England were permitted to erect the Stations without a Franciscan present, and in 1862 this right was granted to the Bishops throughout the entire Church.

The Stations of the Cross are now very commonly found in churches of many denominations, and especially in Roman Catholic churches. 

Are All Of The Stations Of The Cross Based On Scripture?

Many of the Stations of the Cross are directly based from Scripture, but some of them aren’t. In fact, there are 10 that have correlating Scripture, and 4 that don’t. I was surprised to learn that out of the 4 that aren’t found in the Bible, 3 of them are the falls! The remaining Station of the Cross that is not taken directly from Scripture is when St. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. 

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The 4 Stations of the Cross that aren’t mentioned in the Bible are known to Catholics through tradition. 

List Of The Stations Of The Cross With Scripture

These are the 14 Stations of the Cross as we have them today, along with the Scripture verses
where those events are recalled, when applicable:

  1.  Jesus is condemned to death (Matthew 27:22-26, Mark 15:1-15, Luke 23:13-15, John 19:1-16)
  2.  Jesus takes up His Cross (Matthew 27:26, Mark 15:15, Luke 23:25, John 19:15-16)
  3.  Jesus falls for the first time
  4.  Jesus meets His Mother, Mary (Luke 2:34-35, 51; John 19:26-27)
  5.  Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross (Matthew 27:32, Mark 15:21, Luke 23:26)
  6.  Veronica wipes the Face of Jesus
  7.  Jesus falls for the second time
  8.  Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem (Luke 23:27-31)
  9.  Jesus falls for the third time
  10.  Jesus is stripped of His garments (Matthew 27:35, Mark 15:24, Luke 23:34, John 19:23-24)
  11.  Jesus is nailed to the Cross (Mark 15:25, Luke 23:33)
  12.  Jesus dies on the Cross (Matthew 27:50, Mark 15:37, Luke 23:46, John 19:30)
  13.  Jesus is taken down from the Cross (Matthew 27:57-58, Mark 15:42-46, Luke 23:50-53, John
  14.  Jesus is laid in the tomb (Matthew 27:59-60, Mark 15:46, Luke 23:53, John 19:40-42)

While not officially part of the Stations of the Cross, sometimes the Resurrection of Jesus is used as a 15 th Station.

Praying The Stations Of The Cross

For many years, the Pope himself has led the Stations of the Cross (also known as the “Via Crucis,” or “Way of the Cross”) on Good Friday at the Colosseum in Rome. This tradition began with the papacy of Pope Benedict XIV in the mid-1700s, and was revived by Pope Paul VI in 1964. During the papacy of Pope John Paul II, it began to be televised worldwide.

When meditating on the Stations of the Cross, the celebrant—or the faithful individually—move from station to station as they recall the specific events along the Way of the Cross. This usually involves reading passages from Scripture and meditations on the events, and praying various prayers, often accompanied by genuflections. A very common prayer that is prayed with the Stations of the Cross came from St. Francis himself:

“We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You; because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the world.”

Other prayers and meditations can be used, as well. St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787) had a devotion to the Stations of the Cross, and he wrote meditations and prayers that are still very frequently used by individuals and parishes today.

Stations Of The Cross Imagery 

Interestingly enough, when the Stations of the Cross are erected in churches or on Church grounds, they are only required to consist of 14 wooden crosses; pictures or sculptures are not necessary to accompany the wooden crosses, though they are usually included in order to foster prayer and devotion.

Plenary Indulgence And Stations Of The Cross

The Manual of Indulgences, the book which describes what indulgences are granted to the Catholic faithful when they take part in certain devotional practices, states that those who make the Stations of the Cross at church, moving station to station (or following along as the celebrant moves from station to station), can be granted a plenary indulgence. You can read more about how to get a plenary indulgence with the Stations of The Cross here.

If a person is impeded from praying the Stations of the Cross at church, they can obtain the same indulgence by spending at least 15 minutes reading and meditating on the Passion and Death of Jesus, and praying the Stations of the Cross at home can be a great way to do that.

The Stations of the Cross are a beautiful, traditional practice for Roman Catholics to take part in, particularly during the Lenten season. We recall and meditate on the events of the Passion of Christ, and are reminded of all that Jesus endured for our redemption, and just how deeply He loves us.

More Resources:

You can find tons of Stations of the Cross resources for kids here, including crafts, activities, and even finding a live Stations of the Cross event in your own town.

You can find all of the Catholic Icing resources about Lent here

Author Of This Article:

Carrie Chuff is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children. As a young woman, she spent five years of formation in a Roman Catholic convent of active/contemplative religious Sisters whose apostolate included retreats and catechesis. After realizing God had other plans, she left and later met and married her husband, Derek. Eventually, they both rediscovered their Eastern Catholic heritage and embraced it fully as members of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, a Byzantine Rite Eastern Catholic Church which is in full Communion with Rome. She resides with her family in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania.

You can find Carrie’s charming videos about her time in the convent and more on her TikTok page and you can follow her Instagram here.