History of the Stations of the Cross
Since most Christians in Western Europe were unable to make the pilgrimage to the Holy Land, using the Stations became a way for them to join in this procession of visits to the sites thought to be the ones that marked the way Jesus carried the cross to his death.
The Way of the Cross, or Stations of the Cross, as they have come to be known, is a devotional exercise that traces the passion of Christ from the palace of the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, to Calvary and his burial. The erection and devotional use of this prayer did not become general before the end of the 17th century, although in the 15th and 16th centuries, representations of Christ’s passion were erected as shrines.
The Franciscans became responsible for promoting the Stations, simply because they were the guardians of the holy places from the time of the Crusades. The number fourteen was fixed by Clement XII in 1731. Before that the number varied from place to place.
Stations of the Cross, a series of 14 crosses, usually accompanied by images, representing events in the Passion of Christ and its immediate aftermath. Each station signifies the actual site of the event in Jerusalem or on Calvary or Golgotha, and the series as a whole is a model of the route along which Christ was taken to Calvary. The stations may be placed along the walls of a church or a chapel. They also may be placed outdoors, along the way to a place of pilgrimage, as a wayside shrine, or in a freestanding group. The Stations of the Cross have considerable importance as a devotional exercise in the Roman Catholic Church; the devout meditate and pray at each station successively.
The object of the Stations is to help people make, in spirit, a pilgrimage to the main scenes of Christ’s sufferings and death.
Each station signifies an event in the passion of Jesus.