The Armenian Catholic Church struggles for her right and ownership for the chapel at the third station of the cross. So, who really built the chapel on the third station of the way of the cross? Why did the Poles ask to renew rent on this station? And why are priests and tour guides shooed away by the Armenians when reading out the explanations in the guide books? Learn more about The Armenian Catholic church struggle at the 3rd station of the way the cross.  

Two years ago I saw a  Polish priest leading a group of believers being at the third station of the way of the cross. Suddenly, his explanations were interrupted  by an Armenian demanding him to change his explanation and tell the group that the site was not built by Polish soldiers, but merely gained an addition of several paintings and statues.

The site was and still is owned by the Armenian Catholic Church. This wasn't the first time an incident like this has occurred. Alex Jololian, head of the Catholic Armenian assets in Jerusalem, makes a fundamental demand: "We will allow no one to damage our sovereignty, and anyone who insists on this historic mistake will be banned from the church."This road is the most famous in the world, right here in Jerusalem.

Millions of pilgrims flock to the Way of the Cross and its 14 stations in order to follow Christ's last footsteps, starting with his trial by Roman prefect Pontius Pilate at the Praetorium, through to Golgotha and the Rotunda commemorating the crucifixion, burial and resurrection. No Christian tourist would dream of passing on the Via Dolorosa, The way of the cross,  and as for the pilgrims, this is the height of their visit to the Holly land. At each of the way at the 14 stations, short prayers are often cited and spirituality is at its peak.     

Out of the 14 stations along the way, only 8 are mentioned in the New Testament as stops along Christ's final path, the others are a result of various traditions. The custom of following Christ's final path to the sound of hymns goes back to the 4th century, however with no stopping points along the way. Throughout the years the layout had been altered and stations were added. The current layout (with minor changes) was set by head of the Franciscan church at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Elazar Horn, in 1725. Who is in possession of the stations? The Catholics built chapels and churches alongside most of the stations, the Franciscans saw to the 2nd, 5th and 7th stopping points, the Greek Catholics adopted the 6th station and the Armenian Catholics built a grand church at the 4th one.

On the 3rd station there was a small chapel built over the inactive Turkish bath, commemorating the point where Christ collapsed under the weight of the cross. This incident is not mentioned in the New Testament. It is depicted in a stone relief above the entrance to the chapel, as in a stone statue inside it against the northern wall and in several murals on the inner walls.  

The guide books mention Polish soldiers who built the chapel during their stay in the Holy land during the Second World War between 1947-1948, however Alex Jololian wishes to clarify: "The chapel already existed as an entry to the Turkish bath built on top of the ruins of an ancient monastery. Photographs from 1710 prove it. The Turkish handed the complex over to the Armenians at the end of the 19th century (1858) and we have a "firman" authorizing this. The polish soldiers who were staying in the Holly land during World War II and were accompanied by a polish priest, asked the Catholic-Armenian priest for permission to pray in the chapel on a regular basis. The friendship between both priests allowed for a lease at a small price over a period of 25 years. The symbolic price was meant to protect the rights of the Catholic-Armenian church, and by the end of lease at 1973 the polish asked to extend the contract.

Supported by the Armenian patriarch of Lebanon, the Armenians refused, however the patriarch was asked to report to the Vatican, to one of the most powerful cardinals of polish descent. The cardinal explained that during the original contract, a large sum of money had been collected from the polish public in favor of building a new polish church in the ancient city. However, the priest in charge of collecting the money had run away with the money. The cardinal pointed out that providing Poland loses the third chapel it will lead to distrust among the public that donated the funds, therefore he requested to extend the contract for yet another 25 years leading to the final years of the generation that donated the money. The patriarch agreed on the condition that there will be no more demands for renewing the contract, and it was indeed renewed for another 25 years.

In 1998, by the end of the second lease, Alex took the keys from the Polish priest who was staying at the Dom Polski, a small monastery and inn, and saw to the renovation of the chapel, including linking the place to a gift shop as well as the remains of the Turkish bath, and a passage through the major under-ground chapels of the 4th station to the Armenian Church of Our Lady of the Spasm.  

In order to bring the public closer to the site, the Catholic Armenian church was opened, being the point where Christ encountered Mother Mary. Prior to the opening of the church doors to the broad public, a small chapel south of the church functioned as the fourth station. When the diplomatic contacts between Israel and Poland strengthened, large groups from Poland started arriving, often accompanied by Polish Franciscan priests telling the followers that the chapel was built by the Polish soldiers. The Polish priests were asked to correct themselves and having refused, were removed from the chapel. 

According to Alex, the incident in question brought the Polish priest to file a complaint at the Polish embassy in Israel, which found its way to the Polish minister of culture's office. The polish consul along with the polish priest arrived at the third station to inquire and Alex demanded that the priest leave the premises. Alex laid out the historic background in order to convince the consul, although since the consul did not accept his claim, Alex was asked to present his case to the Vatican embassy in Israel. According to Alex, his claim was accepted on the grounds that donating statues does not validate possession of the site and since then, no outstanding incidents were recorded. In order to remove any shadow of a doubt, Alex saw to removing the stone slate describing the polish soldiers contribution from the chapel, and every guide visiting the site is required to pass on the correct information on the building of the chapel and the current owners.

Pay attention to nuances and enjoy the cafeteria on site.