Lent is approaching and during Holy Week, it is my understanding that every year at the Colosseum, the Pope leads the faithful in a devotion called the of the Way of the Cross [cf. this photo gallery].

According to Catholic Church tradition, where, when, how and by whom did the devotion of the Stations of the Cross begin?

Seeking answers from Catholic documents/sources. Please note the question is asking when, according to Church Tradition did the devotion start. Who , according to the Church Tradition did it first, when, and where?

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    Could you please clarify? Are you asking where, when, how and by whom did the church come to have this devotion and observe these stations outside of Jerusalem? That is to say: Is this a question about observing the stations as symbolic of visiting the actual places? Thanks.
    – Stephen
    Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 17:27

2 Answers 2


If you are asking specifically about The Stations of The Cross as we know them today in the West, that is to say: the practice of placing symbolic artwork around a worship space depicting the events of Jesus' final hours and the practice of moving about from station to station in prayer, you can probably pin it on The Franciscans (and by extension St. Francis of Assissi) sometime near the end of the 17th century in central Europe.

Taken in this regard The Stations are a symbolic representation of a physical, bodily pilgrimage to the purported locales of said events, which may have begun within a generation or two of Christ's crucifixion.

Tradition asserts that the Blessed Virgin used to visit daily the scenes of Christ's Passion and St. Jerome (c.  347 – 420) speaks of the crowds of pilgrims from all countries who used to visit the holy places in his day. (The Catholic Encyclopedia - 1907)

Fast forward to The Middle Ages and The Crusades. (The military campaigns enjoined by The Catholic Church to re-establish Christian access to said holy places.)

In 1342, Pope Clement VI, by the Papal bulls Gratiam agimus and Nuper charissimae declared the Franciscans as the official custodians of the Holy Places in the name of the Catholic Church. (The Bull of Clement VI - 1342)

Then, in central Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries, Franciscans started to create outdoor sculptures and shrines that would replicate these holy places of Jerusalem. These were usually placed, often in small buildings, along the approach to a church, as in a set of 1490 by Adam Kraft, leading to the Johanneskirche in Nuremberg. (1)

But to get to what - I think - is the crux of your question:

Realizing that few persons, comparatively, were able to gain these by means of a personal pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Innocent XI, in 1686, granted to the Franciscans, in answer to their petition, the right to erect the Stations in all their churches, and declared that all the indulgences that had ever been given for devoutly visiting the actual scenes of Christ's Passion, could thenceforth be gained by Franciscans and all others affiliated to their order if they made the Way of the Cross in their own churches in the accustomed manner.

Innocent XII confirmed the privilege in 1694 and Benedict XIII in 1726 extended it to all the faithful. In 1731 Clement XII still further extended it by permitting the indulgenced Stations to all churches, provided that they were erected by a Franciscan father with the sanction of the ordinary.

At the same time he definitely fixed the number of Stations at fourteen.

(The Catholic Encyclopedia - 1907)

(1) Schiller, Gertrud, Iconography of Christian Art, Vol. II, p. 82, 1972 (English trans from German), Lund Humphries, London, ISBN 0-85331-324-5

  • Thank you! This is very well answered. Tradition asserts that the Blessed Virgin used to visit daily the scenes of Christ's Passion. - This is something new I have learned and it made an impression on me.
    – user13992
    Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 22:19
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    You are most welcome. Happy to serve.
    – Stephen
    Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 22:34

At least since the times of Constantine, the Via Dolorosa was practiced at Jerusalem. See this.

  • Whoever down-voted, please tell me why you did so. Is my answer too short?
    – Geremia
    Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 18:10
  • I haven't downvoted but to me I would say it is of low quality.
    – user13992
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 0:28
  • @FMS: It does answer at least the "when" and "where" "did the devotion of the Stations of the Cross begin," though.
    – Geremia
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 16:40

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