Meets His Mother, Jesus' Three Falls,
The gospel accounts of Jesus' passion --above all, St. Luke's account-- provide the background for most of the 14 traditional Stations of the Cross. Scenes of Jesus before Pilate, Jesus carrying his cross, Simon of Cyrene taking up the cross, the women lamenting as he passed, Jesus nailed to the Cross, and his death, deposition and burial are mentioned in them.
But what about incidents not mentioned in the gospels? Such as his meeting with Mary, his mother; Veronica wiping his face with a cloth; his three falls? Where did these scenes come from? Most likely they came from early pilgrims to Jerusalem.
According to the gospel of John, Mary stood by his Cross (John 19,25-27). Would she not be part of the crowd accompanying him to Calvary, and would they not have met on the way? Pilgrims who walked along the Via Dolorosa surely believed they did. (right: Jesus Falls)
Jesus must have been extremely weak during his passion. Why else was Simon of Cyrene pressed into service to carry his cross? Was his scourging by Pilate's soldiers exceptionally severe? Pilgrims on the Via Dolorosa surely concluded that Jesus fell from weakness more than once. As they themselves walked the rough, winding Jerusalem street, they came to believe that he fell many times.
The Story of Veronica
The story of Veronica is not told in the gospels, but in early apocryphal writings. An early 2nd century version of The Acts of Pilate reports that a woman named Veronica (Bernice, in the Greek version) was the same woman Jesus cured of a blood disorder (Matthew 9,20-22), and that she came to his trial before Pilate to claim his innocence.
Later versions of the story from the 4th or 5th century say that Veronica possessed a cloth imprinted with the face of Jesus. Western pilgrims returning to Europe passed her story on. As the Stations of the Cross developed in late medieval times, Veronica was remembered at the 6th Station: she wipes the face of Jesus on his way to Calvary and he leaves an image of his face on her veil. A healing relic, impressed with the image of Jesus' face, which came to be known as "Veronica's Veil," was honored in St. Peter's Church in Rome as early as the 8th century.
Veronica and the Other Women
Women play an important role in the Stations of the Cross. In fact, the gospels portray them favorably throughout the passion story. Two passion accounts begin with the story of an unknown woman who anoints Jesus' head with precious ointment in the house of Simon the leper, at the same time that Judas and the leaders of the people plot his death (Matthew 26, 6-13; Mark 14, 3-9).
On his way to Calvary, "A great number of people followed him and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing over him" (Luke23, 27). On Calvary itself, "Many women were also there, looking on from a distance" (Matthew 27, 55). Women attended his burial: they "followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments" (Luke 23, 55-56). On Easter morning, they came to finish anointing his body, but found an empty tomb (Matthew 28, 1-10; John 20, 1-10).
Women customarily comforted the dying and buried the dead in Jesus' time and the gospel accounts of the passion recognize them fulfilling these roles. Indeed, Veronica admirably fulfills the gospel portrait-- a woman who reaches out to someone who is suffering and finds God's face behind the disguise. More about Veronica's veil