Designed to imitate the visits of pilgrims to the various places hallowed by Christ’s sufferings in Jerusalem, different forms of the Way of the Cross began to appear in Europe as early as the 5th century. Devotion to the Passion of Christ became more widespread in the 12th and 13th centuries, probably receiving impetus from Crusaders returning from the Holy Land at that time. In the 14th century the Franciscans began to care for the ‘Holy Places’ in the Middle East, and further popularized the devotion, which was being referred to as the ‘Stations’ of the Cross by the 15th century. The present number and titles of these Stations first appear in the 16th century, the form followed by Papal decrees on indulgences attached to the Stations in the 17th and 18th centuries, round the time of St Paul of the Cross (1692–1775).
In earlier times, without fixed seating in churches, or much understanding of liturgical language on the part of the laity, various forms of ‘Stations’ drew people closer to the sacrifice of Christ being offered at the altar. They are now a treasured patrimony of the Catholic Church for public and private devotion, with a blossoming of prayers with which to follow Christ’s final journey to death and Resurrection. Through them we reflect on the ‘most stupendous work of God’s love’, as St Paul of the Cross termed it, Jesus’ own commitment to his Father, and the cost of the Risen Life he shares with us.
Devotion to the passion of Jesus is the easiest way to be saved. The crucifix is a book wherein we learn every virtue, we learn the science of the saints and there in we find all.