Origins of the Stations: 4th Century Jerusalem
The devotion originated in the late 4th century when pilgrims flocked to the Holy Land from all parts of the world to visit the land of Jesus. Heading the list of places they visited was the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which had been built by the Emperor Constantine in 335 AD atop Calvary and the tomb of Jesus.
right: Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Guerin
Processions of pilgrims to this church were common. Egeria, a woman from Gaul who traveled to the Holy Land in the 4th century, recalls in her diary how she joined Christians from all parts of the Roman world walking westward on Holy Thursday from the garden of Gethsemane to the church of the Holy Sepulcher, where they celebrated Jesus' death and resurrection. Look at her account of Holy Thursday in Jerusalem.
The Via Dolorosa
Over the years, the route of pilgrim processions -- beginning at the ruins of the Fortress Antonia and ending at the church of the Holy Sepulcher -- was accepted as the way that Jesus went to his death. It was known as the "Via Dolorosa," the "Sorrowful Way;" Today, it winds through the crowded areas of Jerusalem's Old City, and pilgrims still travel it in prayer.
"Stations" developed on this venerable route as early pilgrims honored places where specific incidents took place as Jesus went Calvary. However, the search for them was complicated because the Jerusalem of Jesus' day had been almost completely destroyed by Roman armies in 70 AD. In many cases, therefore, pilgrims could only guess where some incidents described in the gospel took place.