The Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem’s Old City is the route Jesus took carrying his cross as he made his way towards Calvary and his crucifixion. Along the Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrows) there are 14 Stations of the Cross, points where Jesus stopped for various reasons. One of the Stations of the Cross identifies where Jesus was helped by Simon of Cyrene.
Story of Simon of Cyrene
The story of Simon helping Jesus is told in Luke 23:26. Simon was visiting Jerusalem from his home town, Cyrene, a Greek colony in Libya where he was part of a sizable Jewish community. He may have been in Jerusalem for the Passover festival and possibly new nothing of Jesus.
He probably became part of Biblical history simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Simon happened upon a crowd of people following Jesus as he was led by Roman soldiers along the Via Dolorosa from his judgment to his crucifixion at Calgary. Jesus had been flogged and beaten leaving him weak. The Roman soldiers noticed Jesus was having a hard time carrying his cross and so they randomly pulled someone from the crowd and demanded that he help Jesus carry the cross.
This person was the unsuspecting Simon of Cyrene. The Roman soldiers forced Simon to carry Jesus’ cross and he did not resist, most likely in fear of the Roman soldiers. There is no evidence in the scriptures to tell us if Simon was sympathetic towards Christ or whether he was unwilling to help but was just following orders from the Romans.
Simon’s actions teach Christians to join Christ in his suffering willingly, and unashamedly stand up for Christ. Christians symbolically share Christ’s death as their old self dies and they are reborn. In the same way Simon symbolically shared in Jesus’ crucifixion. Simon’s actions also embody the Christian principle of sharing the burden.
Where is the Simon of Cyrene Station?
Traditional Way of the Cross
The traditional site were Simon is thought to have helped Jesus is at the 5th Station of the Cross. The traditional Stations of the Cross were established in the 17th-20th century by hundreds of pilgrims who walked the Way of the Cross over the years. According to tradition the first few Stations are as follows: 1st Jesus is condemned by Pontius Pilate; 2nd Jesus takes up his cross; 3rd Jesus stumbles for the first time; 4th Jesus sees his mother Mary and at the 5th Station Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross.
Scriptural Way of the Cross
In the Holy Scriptures only eight stations are mentioned and others were established in the Middle Ages. In 1991 Pope Jon Paul II introduced the Scriptural Way of the Cross which is more closely aligned with the scriptures than the traditional Stations of the Cross. In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI confirmed this set of Stations as more appropriate for worship and veneration. These scripture-based Stations of the Cross go as follows: 1st Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane; 2nd Jesus is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane; 3rd Jesus is judged and condemned by the Jewish High Priests of the Sanhedrin; 4th Jesus is denied by Peter; 5th Jesus is judged and sentenced by Pontius Pilate (the traditional 1st Station); 6th Jesus is given a crown of thorns, flagellated and condemned; 7th Jesus takes up his cross and at the 8th Station Jesus is helped by Simon of Cyrene.
New Way of the Cross
There is a third version of the Stations of the Cross – the New Way of the Cross determined by the Catholic Church in the Philippines. According to this version Simon helps Jesus at the 7th Station.
Location of the 5th Station
The 5th Station is more commonly associated with Simon of Cyrene. It is located at the junction of Via Dolorosa and El-Wad Road. At this point the road turns right and Via Dolorosa follows several stairs up hill.
Chapel of Simon of Cyrene at the 5th Station
The site of the 5th Station is marked by a Franciscan chapel dedicated to Simon of Cyrene. From the outside the chapel has a modest entrance with the Latin words “Simoni Cyrenaeo Crux Imponitur” carved above the small doorway. There are also Franciscan crosses on either side of the doorway and the Roman numeral “V”. This small chapel was the first site established by the Franciscans in Jerusalem in 1229.
On the exterior wall of the chapel there is a stone in the wall with an indentation believed to be the impression of Jesus’ hand as he leaned on the wall under the weight of the cross. The paving around the entrance to the chapel is designed in a semi-circular pattern with the chapel entrance at the center. Within the chapel there are exposed stone walls and a simple altar in one of the arched alcoves. Another alcove holds a bronze statue of Simon helping Jesus lift the cross. On Holy Monday during Passion Week Mass is held in the chapel from 6am to 8am in various languages.
Location of the 8th Station
The 8th Station of the Cross is located along the Via Dolorosa about 20 meters after the Khan es-Zeit market. The site is marked by a stone in the external wall of the Monastery of St Haralambos. The stone bears a carved cross with the words “Jesus Christ Conquers” in Greek. The 8th Station has been identified with this location since the 19th century.
The Monastery of Saint Haralambos at the 8th Station
The Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. Haralambos (or St. Charalambos) flanks the Via Dolorosa at the site of the 8th Station. The monastery commemorates St. Haralambos who became a Christian martyr in 202AD at the age of 113. Haralambos was the Bishop of the ancient Greek city of Magnesia. He was put to death by the authorities for spreading the Gospel and refusing to deny his faith even after extreme torture. The St. Haralambos Monastery and Church in Jerusalem hold some of the saint’s relics.