The Stations of the Cross are found in almost all Catholic churches. They are a series of fourteen scenes that gradually tell the story of how Christ carried the cross to his death. Sometimes, the devotion is known as the ‘Way of the Cross’.
Each scene, displayed alongside a wooden cross, is known as a ‘station’. This is because Catholics walk from one to another, pausing at each to reflect on that part of the story. The stations take their inspiration from the gospels, although some scenes are based on Church tradition. The practice is particularly popular during Lent and on Fridays, which are times of penance for Catholics.
The devotion started life in Jerusalem. From the very beginning of the Church, Christians had prayerfully retraced the route thought to be taken by Christ from the headquarters of Pontius Pilate to the hill where he died. Over time, this route became standardised and popularised by the Franciscan Order of friars. It came to be known as the Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrows).
When Christians could not travel to the Holy Land to visit the Way of Sorrows, images began to be set up in churches to help people to make a virtual pilgrimage instead. At first, they were found only within Franciscan churches, but with the approval of various popes, the stations also became a feature within many other Catholic churches.
As the devotion developed, Catholic artists were called upon to produce suitable images for the stations. Over the centuries, the artistic style of the scenes evolved. More traditional stations, often found within Baroque or Gothic Revival churches, tend to emphasise the emotions of the participants. In more modern churches, particularly those built following the Second World War, the style tends to be simpler, even abstract or symbolic.
Gradually, Catholic tradition settled on fourteen specific Stations of the Cross. In recent years, some churches have added a fifteenth scene: Christ’s resurrection. For the Holy Year of 1975, Pope St Paul VI approved a new series of Stations of the Cross, which featured other episodes from the gospels. In 1991, Pope St John Paul II proposed a similar set, which have since been used by Catholics all over the world.
This virtual set of stations is drawn from various Catholic churches from across the United Kingdom. This series features the traditional fourteen scenes. Each station includes a biblical text, a short meditation, a penitential prayer and a related story from the Old Testament.
You can meditate on all of the stations together, or go at your own pace, perhaps reflecting on one per day during Lent or on each Friday.
Unless otherwise stated, all quotations are from the New Catholic Bible. You can find out more about the history of the Way of the Cross here.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
O merciful Saviour, as I accompany you now on your journey towards the cross, touch my heart with true sorrow for my sins. Let the memory of your passion and death preserve me from evil, and increase my love for you. Amen.