Cityfront: X marks the spot

The Fourth Station on the Via Dolorosa is crossed out.

To the consternation of traditionalists, the Fourth Station of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem's Old City was recently moved 30 meters to the north to a site adjoining the Third Station. The space in front of the original, now locked-up shrine, known as Our Lady of the Spasm, is being used by a storekeeper who sells Egyptian belly-dance costumes. According to a medieval tradition, the holy site marks the spot where Jesus faced his elderly mother Mary in a crowd of onlookers as he made his way from his trial in front of Pontius Pilate to his place of execution at Golgotha. Like many of the 14 stations along the Via Dolorosa (Latin for "Way of Sorrows"), the event is not recorded in the New Testament. In recent years, like all the stations along the Christian pilgrimage route, the site was marked by a semicircle of granite paving stones and a simple plaque recording the number in Roman numerals. While those details remain as background for the sundry tourist items now for sale, the bas-relief lunette over the entrance, carved by Polish artist Mikolaj Zieliensky, has been removed and reinstalled at the Third Station. There, too, there is a Polish Catholic connection. The Third Station, which marks when Jesus first fell under the weight of the hefty cross he was bearing, contains a small chapel built in 1942 by Catholic soldiers of the Free Polish Army led by Lt.-Gen. Wladyslaw Anders. Those soldiers, released by Josef Stalin from the Gulag after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, were exiled to Palestine en route to Egypt and Libya to fight Germany's Afrika Korps headed by Gen. Erwin Rommel. The Third Station is part of the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate, which was built in 1881 on the site of a ruined 16th-century bathhouse known as Hammat as-Sultan. How can tradition change so arbitrarily? Sites and traditions evolve, notes Hughie Aumann, a veteran tour guide in Israel. But rarely does one have the opportunity to see a new tradition created in front of one's eyes.