Stations of the Cross: A Franciscan Tradition

The Stations of the Cross or the Way of the Cross, also known as the Way of Sorrows or the Via Crucis is a familiar Lent practice for many Catholics, a closer look at this Lent tradition reveals surprising connections to Franciscan spirituality.

In a recent article Stephen Copeland, a writer for, explored the Franciscan Connection to the Stations of the Cross.  Stephen shared, “On the surface, the liturgy of the Stations—where we pray and meditate upon 14 scenes in Jesus’ route to Calvary—might not seem to align with the optimism that animates Franciscanism. Yet its history has the power to enrich our Lenten practice today and our own approaches to the cross.” Stephen goes on to share, that Franciscans, have long had a different approach to the cross, one that comes into focus during the Lenten season. Their perspective and influence are most evident in the weekly liturgical practice of the Stations of the Cross, which the Franciscans played a vital historical role in establishing. Read the full article by Stephen Copeland to understand the Franciscan Connection to the Stations of the Cross. 

Explore The History Of Stations of the Cross

Within the Franciscan tradition Stations of the Cross were part of the Lenten devotional soon after St. Francis’ return from the Holy Land in 1221.  It was common when Holy Land pilgrims returned home, they often brought back a bit of Palestine. In addition to relics, the pilgrims also brought back the desire to re-create scenes from the Holy Land in order to share their experiences with those unable to visit the holy places firsthand. The Franciscans became active in the development of the devotion of the Stations of the Cross when they were granted custody of the sacred sites of Jerusalem in 1343. Then they began to promote the devotion of Christ’s passion. During the 15th and 16th centuries the Franciscans began to build a series of outdoor shrines in Europe to duplicate their counterparts in the Holy Land. The number of stations varied; seven was common. These were usually placed, often in small buildings, along the approach to a church. A number of rural examples were established as attractions in their own right, usually on attractive wooded hills.

In 1686, in answer to their petition, Pope Innocent XI granted to the Franciscans the right to erect stations within their churches. In 1731, Pope Clement XII extended to all churches the right to have the stations, provided that a Franciscan father erected them, with the consent of the local bishop. One friar, St. Leonard of Port Maurice, expressed his zeal by erecting 571 sets of stations between 1731 and 1751, becoming known as the “preacher of the way of the cross.” It is likely he was also responsible for reversing the order of the stations so that they ended at Calvary rather than at Pilate’s house.  At the same time, the number was fixed at fourteen. In 1862 this right was extended to bishops throughout the church – and the Stations of the Cross became a permanent and universal part of our Lenten prayers in commemoration of Christ’s passion, death, and burial. (Source:

Here is a link to the Stations of the Cross According to the Method of Saint Francis of Assisi

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