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Stations of the Cross represent Good Friday in Europe

The oldest surviving medieval way of the cross in Germany leads through Bamberg’s Altstadt.

EN.BAMBERG.INFO

By Published: March 26, 2021

On Good Friday, April 2 in 2021, Christian communities worldwide commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. With a name at odds to its solemnity (a theory is that the word good stands in for holy), the day is celebrated across Europe with somber processions and poignant plays. In Rome, the Pope leads the Via Crucis, a reenactment of the Passion of the Christ, at the Colosseum. In Seville, Spain, La Madrugá processions begin on Holy Thursday and spill over into Good Friday. In the town of Sartène on the French island of Corsica, the “catenacciu” is a candlelit procession led by a penitent whose identity is a mystery to all save the priest.

A year into the pandemic, measures meant to stifle the spread of COVID-19 continue to render large-scale gatherings, religious and secular alike, impracticable. Any travel over Easter seems destined to be local, should it take place at all. Searching out the gems within one’s midst remains the best replacement to those far-flung horizons we miss exploring to date. 

A visual representation of Jesus’ death inviting contemplation not just at Easter but through the year is presented in the form of a Stations of the Cross. Also referred to as the Way of the Cross, Way of Sorrows or the Via Crucis, the term refers to a series of images, often numbering 14, that depict Jesus Christ on the day of his crucifixion. The route and stations are based on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, held to be the actual route Jesus walked while bearing his cross to Mount Calvary. Each image is meant to be accompanied by reflection and a specific prayer. Stations can be found inside churches, in church courtyards, or along outdoor routes. Calvary hills and sacred mountains, made up of chapels or markers built onto the slope of a hill, are versions of the same. Today we take a look at some sacred sites appropriate for Holy Week exploration in better times to come.

Germany

Since the 18th century, Catholic churches in Germany have been urged by the Vatican to erect “Kreuzwege.” The number of stations has changed over time from two to 7 to 14 and most recently, to 15, with the final station depicting the resurrection of Jesus.

Adenau: This community in the High Eifel of the Rhineland-Palatinate is known as a “Johanniterstadt” in remembrance of a branch of the Order of Saint John established there in the 12th century. Within walking distance of its handsome market square, a circa-1863 neo-Gothic Stations of the Cross beckons exploration. Many of the carvings are hewn into the basalt and lava rocks typical to the region, and rare plants and trees are planted along its approximately half-mile route.  Online: tinyurl.com/445hhmec

Bamberg: The Bamberger Kreuzweg is Germany's oldest, fully preserved Way of the Cross. A donation by Heinrich Marschalk von Raueneck to his town in 1503, he measured the distances between the stations on his own trip to the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem and adjusted the Bamberg route accordingly. The representation unfolds across seven well-preserved sandstone panels. The way starts in front of the portal of St. Elizabeth Church and depicts the house of Pilate where Christ took up his cross, and ends inside the St. Getreu Church with the scene of the crucifixion and entombment of Christ. Online: tinyurl.com/377k3ahp

Kevelaer: This town in North Rhine-Westphalia is an important Catholic pilgrimage location, attracting more than one million pilgrims annually. According to tradition, in 1641, a local merchant heard a voice requesting him to build a chapel, while his wife saw a vision of a chapel alight. This Chapel of Mercy (Gnadenkapelle) houses a copperplate engraving of Our Lady of Luxembourg that is considered to have miraculous healing powers. Kevelaer’s Great Stations of the Cross, inaugurated in 1874, passes 15 stations along a ¾ mile route passing through a leafy park. Online: tinyurl.com/8uw2whxu

St. Martin: This wine village along the German Wine Road in the Rhineland-Palatinate has a Stations of the Cross that typically serves as a pilgrimage site on Good Friday morning. At the intersection of Burgweg and Kreuzweg streets, a circa-1865 statue depicts Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. The way with its 14 stations begins in front of the Kropsburg hill and concludes with a crucifixion group on the Ottilienberg. The “Wetterkreuz,” or Weather Cross, is so named because people would come to it to pray for good weather. Online: tinyurl.com/af9dhjyw

Italy

The Sacred Mounts of Piemonte and of Lombardia is a collective name for nine groups of 16th and 17th-century chapels and structures built on mountains in northern Italy. The construction of such sites was one of the tools used by the Catholic Church to combat the Protestant movements seen across northern Europe. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 2003, they are notable not only for their religious significance but for their art, architecture and integration into the alpine landscape.

Sacro Monte di Varallo in Varallo Sesia, the oldest of the group, offers the faithful a symbolic pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The complex is comprised of a Baroque basilica and over 40 lavishly decorated chapels. Sacro Monte di Domodossola, the northernmost of the Sacred Mountains, is a Capuchin Calvary with 15 chapels dedicated to the Stations of the Cross. Completed over two centuries, its architectural styles range from Neoclassical to Baroque. Sacro Monte di Belmonte, above the town of Valpergo, is a Calvary with a sanctuary dating back to medieval times and is made up of 13 chapels dedicated to the Passion of Christ laid out upon a circular route. Online: whc.unesco.org/en/list/1068