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Introduction

The modern Via Dolorosa (the Way of Sorrows) was created in the 14th Century by Franciscan monks, and is represented on many churches as the Stations of the Cross. The movie The Passion of the Christ captures the Stations graphically, but nothing beats walking through the Old City of Jerusalem on the same path as so many pilgrims over the past 2000 years.

It is said the original Via was laid out by Saint Helena, the Queen Mother of the Emperor Constantine, who although a pagan until his deathbed allied himself with Christianity and promulgated the Edict of Toleration that ended 250 years of persecution, ever since Nero blamed this Jewish sect for the Great Fire of Rome. Helena came to the Old City in 326 AD, right after the great Council of Nicaea unified Christian canon. The story claims she came to Jerusalem in her enthusiasm for her new religion, but politics may have played a greater role in her decision. Constantine had just come back from an unsatisfactory visit to Rome and was laying out plans for his New Rome, Constantinople, the foundation for the Byzantine Empire. For reasons lost in history, but probably due to a plot against him, the Emperor had also just had his wife and eldest son killed. He dispatched his mother to the Holy Land to search for relics and solidify his Christian support.

She succeeded beyond imagining. Not only did she claim to find the True Cross, she also found the burial chamber of Jesus - the Holy Sepulchre - and other historic sites for the seminal events of 300 years earlier. She had a basilica built over the prime sites - the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - and preserved for us 2000 years later what may have been the actual site for the crucifixion and resurrection. In the Church is the hillside of Golgotha (preserved under glass), the exact spot of crucifixion, the burial slab, and the rock outside his tomb on which an angel alledgedly sat to tell the several Marys that Jesus had risen.

Jerusalem's Old City is a veritable historical roadmap, built on layer upon layer of older cities, much like the geological layers revealed in places like the Grand Canyon. The Byzantine Via Dolorosa would now be in the sub-basement of the current city. It is indeed remarkable and fortunate that the Queen Mother was able to mark the historical record early enough that it just may be the sites of the actual events.