Vía crucis

I feel like I’ve been reading the expressión vía crucis (or viacrucis) everywhere lately. Its meaning has been obvious due to the context, but I never took the time to look the word up to understand what was really going on there. Cross way? Crux way? Kind of sounds like cruise, crucial . . . yeah. You can tell that it’s a metaphor that corresponds to something tangible, some clear image for the people that use it. But what image? It would be illogical to use it–even if it was correctly–without understanding what it was literally saying. It would be like a non-native English speaker using the phrase “to be up a creek without a paddle” and not actually knowing what a creek or paddle were! Fortunately, this kind of ignorance is corrected rather quickly. It was off to the dictionary for me.

El viacrucis or vía crucis is the Stations of the Cross, a series of artistic representations, often sculptural, depicting Christ carrying the cross to his crucifixion. There are usually 14-15 stations, and the idea is to help the faithful make a spiritual pilgrimage of prayer, through meditating upon the chief scenes of Christ’s sufferings and death. Often performed in a spirit of reparation for the sufferings and insults that Jesus endured during His Passion, it’s most commonly done during Lent, especially on Good Friday.

The Stations of the Cross are also known as the Way of the Cross, or the Via Dolorosa.

But back to the Vía Crucis. So, the phrase refers to the remembrance of Jesus’ tortured last journey, beaten, bloodied, taunted by crowds who wanted him dead, with thorns pushed into his head, and having to bear a heavy cross despite utter exhaustion and weakness. A strong image, to say the least.

How is the phrase used metaphorically? To say that something was a trial, an ordeal, with many difficulties, a nightmare, torture, or a living hell. Maybe it’s profane to cheapen Jesus’ suffering by comparing it to our own comparatively petty gripes, but the idea is certainly clear.

Mujer atacada con ácido vive todo un viacrucis por paro judicial

Woman attacked with acid forced to endure ordeal during judicial strike

Transitar por Cali, un vía crucis al que se enfrentan los discapacitados

Getting around Cali: a daily nightmare for the city’s handicapped population

El servicio del banco Colpatria es una porquería, un viacrucis. Lo peor de lo peor: un banco tan caro y con servicio pésimo.

Colpatria bank’s service is unbelievably bad, a real hell on earth. It couldn’t get any worse–so expensive and with a service that sucks!

Sacar la cédula se ha vuelto un verdadero vía crucis.

Getting a new ID card has become a major pain in the ass.

As you can see, it can be written as vía crucis or viacrucis. It’s always masculine. I’ve yet to hear it said, but I know I will at some point. I was told that it’s a little old-fashioned, but, like I said, I’ve been reading it everywhere. It’s still very much alive. A very similar word is calvario: it also means the Stations of the Cross (as well as Calvary/Golgotha: the hill where Jesus was crucified), and it’s also used to mean a torment or agony that someone undergoes.

I never knew until a few months ago that the word ordeal also has a historically religious meaning. Historically, ordeals were a method of trial in which the guilt or innocence of an accused person was determined by subjecting him or her to danger or to severe pain or torture, especially by fire or water. The outcome was then regarded as an indication of divine judgment. I think I learned this when I came across ordalías in the Javier Marías book I read earlier this year; you can read this fascinating Wikipedia article to learn more about trials by ordeal. How grateful I am not to have been born during the Middle Ages!

WordReference says that the phrase hacer el viacrucis is to do a pub crawl. Hmm, now that is bordering on sacrilege. I wonder what country they say that in. Anyone know?

Hopefully you have no need to use vía crucis; hopefully your life is a vía placeris instead, a real bowl of cherries. But just in case, here’s a new phrase for when you want to let off some steam and really exaggerate your trials and tribulations so as to maximize the pity others feel for you. ¡Qué vía crucis, por Dios!

6 responses to “Vía crucis

  1. I think a calvario refer exclusively to the hill of the crucifixion, not to the stations. I never thought too much about those expressions, and I always love to read your examples.


    • Edf, I would have thought the same thing, but I looked into it and apparently calvario can refer to the stations. Go figure!

      I took all of those examples from Twitter–of course, sometimes I have to clean up spelling and accents! :)


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