We find the Stations of the Cross in just about every Catholic Church. Walking and praying the Stations of the Cross has been a popular Catholic devotion from the earliest of times. It is especially popular during the season of Lent. Did you know that the first Stations of the Cross were made by the Blessed Virgin Mary and that what we have today followed the pattern that she set up 2000 years ago? Our earliest traditions tell us that St. John took the Blessed Virgin Mary out of Jerusalem to Ephesus to protect her from the dangers in Jerusalem. Tradition tells us that Mary, after Jesus’ ascension used to walk the path that He had walked on His way to the Cross. When she moved out of Jerusalem she could no longer walk on that very path.
St. John built for her a House on a hill just outside of Ephesus (modern day Turkey). I was fortunate to be able to visit that home and it was an earthshaking spiritual experience for me. When Mary lived there she decided to walk out a path remembering the way of the cross that Jesus and she walked in Jerusalem. She set up stones and markings on trees to commemorate Jesus’ walk. Mary would walk along that path with its Stations of the Cross just like she had walked it on the actual streets that Jesus had walked. It was a special devotion for her.
One of the Church’s modern mystics and visionaries was Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich who was born in 1774 and died in 1824. She had numerous visions of Jesus and Mary and in her writings she recalled her visions, “Behind the house, at a little distance up the hill, the Blessed Virgin had made a kind of Way of the Cross. When she was living in Jerusalem, she had never failed, ever since Our Lord’s death, to follow His path to Calvary with tears of compassion. She had paced out and measured all the distances between the Stations of that Via Crucis, and her love for her Son made her unable to live without this constant contemplation of His sufferings. Soon after her arrival at her new home [in Ephesus] I saw her every day climbing part of the way up the hill behind her house to carry out this devotion. At first she went by herself, measuring the number of steps, so often counted by her, which separated the places of Our Lord’s different sufferings. At each of these places she put up a stone, or, if there was already a tree there, she made a mark upon it. The way led into a wood, and upon a hill in this wood she had marked the place of Calvary, and the grave of Christ in a little cave in another hill. After she had marked this Way of the Cross with twelve Stations, she went there with her maidservant in quiet meditation: at each Station they sat down and renewed the mystery of its significance in their hearts, praising the Lord for His love with tears of compassion. Afterwards she arranged the Stations better, and I saw her inscribing on the stones the meaning of each Station, the number of paces and so forth. I saw, too, that she cleaned out the cave of the Holy Sepulcher and made it a place for prayer. At that time I saw no picture and no fixed cross to designate the Stations, nothing but plain memorial stones with inscriptions, but afterwards, as the result of constant visits and attention, I saw the place becoming increasingly beautiful and easy of approach. After the Blessed Virgin’s death I saw this Way of the Cross being visited by Christians, who threw themselves down and kissed the ground.”
Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich’s writings were published about 50 years after her death. At that time Mary’s House in Ephesus was unknown to the western world. Two priests, Fr. Julien Gouyet and Fr. Eugène Poulin were so intrigued by the descriptions of Mary’s house in Emmerich’s writings that they went in search of it. The house was found using the descriptions from the visions. It was located in the center of old ruins of a monastery. The foundation of the house dated to the first century and Hebrew inscriptions were found on its stones. Even the hearth was located at the exact location of Emmerich’s visions. Although unknown to the western world, the locals celebrated the place for as long back as they could remember. They called the place “Panaghia-Capouli” which meant “The Door of the Holiest.” Perhaps more remarkable to us today is the fact that the locals had an annual pilgrimage that took place each year on August 15th, which was not declared the Feast of the Assumption of the Immaculate Virgin Mary until 1950. Today, some use the name “Panaya Kapulu” to describe the house on the hillside. Even though the majority of the locals are Muslims, they continue to celebrate and honor Mary there.
Our local guide told us that about ten years ago there was a terrible brush fire on the mountain where Mary’s house is. They said that the town people (Muslims) gathered to protect Mary’s house from the fire, even leaving their own houses in harms way. Fortunately they were successful.
I hope that each Friday of Lent you are able to pray the Stations of the Cross. When you do, say a special thank you prayer to Our Lady.
NOTE: There are several traditions about Mary’s house and about the location of her Assumption. The Church has not ruled on this.
THE FOURTEEN STATIONS OF THE CROSS
1. Jesus is condemned to death
2. Jesus takes up his Cross
3. Jesus falls for the first time
4. The Virgin Mary meets Jesus
5. Simon of Cyrene is made to help Jesus bear the Cross
6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
7. Jesus falls for the second time
8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
9. Jesus falls for the third time
10. Jesus is stripped of his garments
11. Jesus is crucified
12. Jesus dies on the Cross
13. Jesus is taken down from the Cross and laid in the arms of Mary
14. Jesus is laid in the tomb