The emperor Constantine permitted Christians to legally worship in the Roman Empire in 313 after 250 years of persecution. In 335, he erected the Church of the Holy Sepulcher at the site where Jesus’ tomb was believed to have been. Processions of pilgrims to the church, especially during Holy Week, began soon after its completion.
Devotions to the Way of the Cross began in earnest after 1342, when the Franciscan friars were given custody of the holy sites in the Holy Land. The Franciscans have been closely identified with the devotion ever since; for years, Church regulations required a set of the stations to be blessed by a Franciscan when possible.