Saint Brigid Religious Education
Where did the idea of the Stations of the Cross come from? After Jesus died and rose from the dead, many people reflected upon his passion and death. They began to make visits to Jerusalem and walk in the footsteps of Jesus. The street Jesus walked is still called Via Dolorosa, the way of pain. People would stop along the way and remember what had happened to Jesus. It is likely that they marked the places for those who came after them to follow as well. These people became known as "pilgrims."
As Christianity spread throughout the known world, distance made it nearly impossible for people to make the trip to Jerusalem. That didn't stop their need to know and remember. By the twelfth century the fervor of the Crusades and a heightened devotion to the Passion of Jesus created a demand in Europe for representations of the last events in the life of Jesus.
When the Franciscans took over the custody of the shrines in the Holy Land in 1342, they saw it as their mission to encourage devotion to these places. In Western Europe a series of shrines erected to help the faithful remember Christ's passion became commonplace. They were erected outside Churches and monasteries and in other places as well. For many years there was a considerable variety in the number and title of these "stations." The number that is now usual, of fourteen, first appeared in the Low Countries in the sixteenth century and became standard in the eighteenth century.
The chief promoter of this devotion was Leonard of Port Maurice, a Franciscan, who died in 1751. He set up more than five hundred sets of stations, the best known being in the Coliseum of Rome.
Modern liturgists have emphasized that devotion to the Passion is incomplete without special reference to the Resurrection and have thus promoted the addition of a fifteenth station, the Resurrection of Jesus. There are varieties of readings, meditations and prayers that may be used by those who visit the Stations as an act of worship.