Since the first century, Christians have been making pilgrimages to the land where Jesus lived. St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, made a famous pilgrimage in the fourth century, trying to identify where Jesus was born, died, and was buried.
For a short time after 1099 when the crusaders captured Jerusalem and nearby territory, visiting these sites was easier. After the crusaders lost this territory in 1291, pilgrimages became much more dangerous and expensive.
The Stations of the Cross, also known as the Way of the Cross, bring the Holy Land both to people unable to travel there and to those who have made that pilgrimage.
Francis of Assisi had two great devotions: Jesus’ Incarnation and his passion, symbolized in the crib and the cross.
The Franciscan friars popularized the Way of the Cross devotion, starting in the fourteenth century. People erected small stations inside churches and sometimes life-size ones outdoors. Soon, almost all churches had a Way of the Cross. A Franciscan wrote the Stabat Mater lyrics, often used during the Stations in the original Latin or in translation.
The number of stations and the events commemorated have varied over the centuries. Pope Clement XII (1730-40) fixed the present number and list.