“Via Dolorosa” is translated from the Latin as “The Way of Suffering” and refers to the path that Jesus took from where and when he was sentenced to death, making his way through the streets of Jerusalem to the crucifixion site on Golgotha outside the city. On Good Friday, Christians around the world remember the events leading to the crucifixion and death of Jesus by visiting the “Stations of the Cross”—14 stations on this pathway that depict key moments in the sequence of events. In the city of Jerusalem, the Via Dolorosa is not one street, but a path including several streets and each of the 14 stations is indicated with a marker so that sojourners can stop, reflect and remember the poignancy of these events. Rather than leading outside the city, the final stations in Jerusalem are located in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, marking the stations of his crucifixion and burial.
For those not in Jerusalem, almost every Catholic church and cathedral in the world includes the 14 stations of the cross as worship art pieces, typically a mix of paintings and sculptural altars where worshipers can travel from station to station, contemplate, and pray. (The new Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral in Raleigh has a historical set of stations that were once used in the St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral in Philadelphia, a church no longer in use.) In recent years, Protestant Christian churches have adopted the meaningful practice of reflection on the stations of the cross as a spiritual preparation for Easter during Holy Week.
In 1983, Billy Sprague wrote a song that evoked the passion and pathos of the Via Dolorosa that was popularized by Christian artist Sandi Patty. The beautifully moving song evoked the drama of the way of suffering in a musical style similar to Spanish ballads so much that Sandi Patty recorded the second verse of the song in Spanish, and that has been a traditional practice of performers since then. The piano arrangement here, by Mark Hayes, employs several idioms of Spanish classical and folk music that evoke that same passion and pathos.
Here is a link to a wonderful online spiritual guide to the Stations of the Cross produced by the campus ministry of Creighton University, a Jesuit Catholic university in Omaha, Nebraska. The guide explains the spiritual practice of the stations of the cross and suggests ways to engage in this practice, no matter who or where you are. In their words, “it is a powerful way to contemplate, and enter into, the mystery of Jesus’ gift of himself to us. It takes the reflection on the passion out of my head, and makes it an imaginative exercise. It involves my senses, my experience and my emotions. To the extent I come to experience the love of Jesus for me, to that extent the gratitude I feel will be deep. Deep gratitude leads to real generosity and a desire to love as I have been loved.”