The Stations of the Cross refers to two related things: the pictorial representation of the final moments of Jesus, and the devotion commemorating the Passion. It is observed by Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans, usually during Lent and especially on Good Friday. Alternative terms are the Way of the Cross (Latin: Via Crucis) or Way of Suffering (Latin: Via Dolorosa, which was the name given in the 16th century to the route in the Old City of Jerusalem).
The stational devotions are believed to have been done since the 4th century in Jerusalem, following the path (Way) that Jesus took to his Crucifixion. The route became known as Via Dolorosa and was marked with miniature crosses.
Initially, there were seven stations (a popular number in Christian traditions):
|1. Jesus is given the cross to carry
2. He falls for the first time
3. He meets his mother
4. He falls for second time
|5. Veronica hands Jesus her veil to wipe his face
6. He falls for the third time
7. He is laid in the tomb
Actually visiting Jerusalem was difficult for many who wanted to take part in the devotion, and physically going to Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem was not considered as important as making a spiritual pilgrimage.
By the 18th century the stational services were well established in the West and by that time also, the Stations had doubled in number; most of the additions relating to the Crucifixion scene itself. The devotion is carried out by journeying (physically, or not) from Station to Station, praying and meditating on the particular incidents recalled by each Station.
It's easy to get carried away when you go 'on site' to the actual place where these events occurred. In fact, whilst there is absolutely no doubt that the Crucifixion of Jesus took place, some of the details described in the Stations are unverified. And this is of little importance to Christians - they put their faith in Jesus Christ, rather than associated relics or legends.
When the Stations are in the form of tableaux or pictures inside a church, they are always displayed with a cross above each scene. It is the cross that is the focus of a Station; not the picture.
The fourteen current Stations are:
More and more these days, there is a Fifteenth Station to celebrate Christ's resurrection.