Good Friday

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Good Friday

Good Friday, anniversary of Jesus' death on the cross. According to the Gospels, Jesus was put to death on the Friday before Easter Day. Since the early church Good Friday has been observed by fasting and penance. In the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican traditions, the celebration of the Eucharist is suspended; liturgical service involves veneration of the cross, the Passion narrative from the Gospel of St. John, and communion using bread and wine consecrated the previous day, Maundy Thursday. Other forms of observance include prayer and meditation at the Stations of the Cross, a succession of 14 images, usually on wooden crosses, depicting Christ's crucifixion and the events leading up to it.
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Good Friday

Black Friday, Great Friday, Holy Friday,
Karfreitag, Langfredag, Long Friday, Pitkäperjanti,
Sorrowful Friday, Viernes Santo

Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on the Friday before Easter (for more on crucifixion, see also Cross). Known as "Good Friday," this day of observance came into being during the early Christian era. Solemn religious ceremonies and folk customs characterize the day in many parts of the world. Church services recall the account of Jesus' death given in Christian scripture in which soldiers loyal to the Jewish religious authorities capture Jesus on the evening of the Passover supper (see also Maundy Thursday). The next morning Jesus is questioned, beaten, and sentenced to death by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. Roman soldiers place a crown of thorns upon his head and strip him of his clothing. Broken and bleeding, Jesus is led to a place called Golgotha, where they nail him to a cross. He dies on the cross that afternoon.


The symbol most closely associated with the holiday is the cross or crucifix. A crown of thorns, recalling the crown of thorns placed on Jesus' head by Roman soldiers in an attempt to torment and mock him, serves as another symbol of the holiday. A rooster, or cock, may also represent Good Friday. On the night of his arrest, Jesus predicted that his disciple Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed the following morning. When Jesus was arrested, his followers deserted him. Peter followed along behind the crowd that took Jesus away, however. Three bystanders recognized Peter as one of Jesus' disciples, but Peter argued with them, telling each of them that they were mistaken. At that point a rooster crowed, reminding Peter of Jesus'prediction. Thus the rooster not only recalls Peter's denial but also Jesus'foreknowledge of it. Other religious symbols of the holiday include representations of the holy sepulchre - that is, Jesus' tomb - and the epitaphios, a cloth embroidered with the image of Jesus reposing in death (see also Shroud of Turin). The pelican and the passionflower also remind Christians of Jesus'sacrifice of himself on Good Friday.

The liturgical color for Good Friday is black, symbolizing grief and death. Liturgical color schemes dictate the color of clerical robes and other church decorations in those churches that observe them.

In England hot cross buns were once closely associated with the holiday. Now they are available throughout Lent. Hot cross buns are also eaten in countries where the British have settled.


Early Christian communities celebrated Easter in different ways and on different dates. Moreover, they memorialized the story of Jesus' Passion - that is, the events leading up to and including his death - during the same festival that celebrated his resurrection. As a result, little can be said for certain about the exact origins of Good Friday.

Some scholars believe that the earliest Easter celebrations occurred in the second century in important ancient cities like Rome, Jerusalem, and Alexandria. These celebrations fell on the Sunday following Passover (see also Easter Sunday). In some communities that adopted this observance, a two-day fast preceded the Easter festival. If this is true, then fasting may be said to be the first religious custom associated with the Friday before Easter.

Other scholars, however, believe that the first Easter celebrations took place instead in second-century Asia Minor, a region now known as the modern nation of Turkey. Christians in this area placed special emphasis on the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, a theme later assigned to Good Friday. They, like their counterparts in Rome, called the holiday "Pascha," a Greek word inspired by the Aramaic pronunciation of the Hebrew word Pesach, which means Passover. Indeed, the Asia Minor Christians held Pascha on the same date that their Jewish neighbors celebrated Passover, on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the Jewish month of Nisan. The observances included fasting, prayer, and readings from scripture, including the writings of the Jewish prophets and the Passover story as recounted in the Bible's Book of Exodus.

In the year 325 the Council of Nicaea, an important meeting of early Church leaders, attempted to unify these celebrations by setting a single date for the Easter festival (see also Easter, Date of). This decision not only helped to create the Easter festival we know today but also fostered the emergence of Good Friday as a separate and distinct observance. The best description of early Good Friday celebrations comes from Jerusalem, relayed to us in the diary of Egeria, a Spanish nun who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land around the year 380.

According to Egeria, Christians in Jerusalem spent Good Friday at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a large compound of courtyards and chapels built over the site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. They spent the morning engaged in a devotion we now call the Veneration of the Cross. From noon to three in the afternoon the faithful attended a series of Bible readings that included the writings of the Hebrew prophets, Christian texts affirming Jesus' fulfillment of these Old Testament prophecies, and the Passion story. Some researchers claim that special emphasis was placed on the Passion as told in the Gospel according to John. Another scripture service followed, which ended at about seven o'clock in the evening. Then the clergy began yet another ceremony memorializing Jesus'burial. Upon the conclusion of this event the clergy and those worshipers who were not already exhausted began a long vigil around the site of Jesus'tomb (see also Holy Sepulchre).

Good Friday celebrations continued to develop throughout the Middle Ages. Medieval Good Friday ceremonies emphasized human sin, the need for redemption, and Christ's suffering and sacrificial death. Therefore they took on a mournful tone. In western Europe Good Friday services centered around three ceremonies: the Veneration of the Cross, the vigil beside the holy sepulchre, and the Eucharist, performed with bread and wine consecrated on the previous day, Maundy Thursday. Medieval Christians also dramatized the sorrowful events of Good Friday with Passion plays, folk dramas retelling the events of the last days of Jesus' life. Unfortunately, both church and folk retellings of the Passion story often cast the blame for Jesus' death on the Jewish people. This interpretation of the events surrounding Jesus' death fueled anti-Jewish attitudes and actions, making Holy Week an especially dangerous time for this already persecuted minority.

Contemporary Religious Ceremonies

Roman Catholic Good Friday services frequently center around the Veneration of the Cross. During this ceremony worshipers approach a cross or crucifix, bow before it and kiss it. These gestures demonstrate their reverence for all that the cross represents. Although some Roman Catholic churches practice veiling during the last days of Lent, veils covering crosses or crucifixes are removed on Good Friday.

Another ceremony of Roman Catholic origin, the Three Hours service, is now observed in churches of many different denominations. This service considers the seven last utterances of Jesus as he hung on the cross.

In Hispanic countries Roman Catholics may also participate in a nighttime devotion called the Pésame, which focuses on the grief experienced by Jesus' mother (for more on Pésame, see also Mary, Blessed Virgin). In parts of central, southern, and eastern Europe Roman Catholic churches offer an extra-liturgical devotion known as the vigil of the holy sepulchre. This devotional exercise begins at the end of Good Friday religious services. The presiding priest carries a figure representing the crucified Christ to a side altar, designated as the holy sepulchre. He places it there, just as Jesus' followers took his body down from the cross and placed it in the tomb. Parishioners visit the holy sepulchre and offer prayers throughout the rest of the day and on Holy Saturday as well.

Many Roman Catholics also participate in the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday. This devotional exercise, in which worshipers pray and meditate on fourteen scenes from the Passion story, dates back to the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, it achieved widespread popularity hundreds of years later in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries.

Orthodox churches often offer a service called the Royal Hours on the morning of Good Friday. During the afternoon the devout return for another service in which worshipers come forward to bow before and kiss the epitaphios, a cloth embroidered with the image of Jesus in death. Then the epitaphios is placed in a bier which parishioners have covered with flowers earlier in the day. On the evening of Good Friday, Orthodox worshipers attend another service in which the epitaphios, in its bier, is carried around the church in a candlelit procession. Because Orthodox Christians reckon each new day as beginning at sunset, this observance technically belongs to Holy Saturday. The afternoon service belongs to Holy Saturday, too, due to a longstanding tendency to celebrate the services of Holy Week in advance. The afternoon service commemorates the burial of Christ; the evening procession symbolizes Jesus' triumph over the power of death and darkness.


The practice of fasting, a religious custom strongly associated with Good Friday, cuts across denominational boundaries. Although Roman Catholics eliminated many of their Lenten fasting customs in the last hundred years or so, Church authorities still require the faithful to fast on Good Friday. Observant Orthodox Christians fast throughout Lent. Those who do not observe a complete Lenten fast will often fast during Holy Week, especially on Good Friday. In Ethiopia some devout Orthodox Christians intensify their fast on Good Friday, going without food from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. Many other Christians, though not required to do so by their denominations, observe some kind of fast on Good Friday. In past times many Irish Christians practiced a "black fast" on this day, a regimen consisting of nothing more than tea and water.

Good Friday Customs

In Spain schools close during Holy Week and some shops observe shorter hours. Many businesses are closed on Good Friday. Spanish cities and towns frequently host processions on this day. Members of lay religious associations, called brotherhoods, carry floats depicting scenes from the Passion story on their shoulders. Hushed crowds of people line the streets in anticipation of the sober spectacle. Solemn religious processions also take place in Italy, Malta, and other southern European countries.

The city of Seville boasts the most famous Good Friday processions in Spain. Robed and hooded members of religious brotherhoods shoulder floats weighing thousands of pounds, carrying them in measured, swaying steps through the city streets. These floats feature life-sized wooden statues of figures from the Good Friday story. Real costumes made of silk, velvet, gold, and jewels adorn many of the figures, especially the revered images of the Virgin Mary. More robed and hooded marchers precede and follow behind the floats, those following often carrying large wooden crosses. Priests and elegantly attired civic leaders may also participate in these processions. Sometimes the spectacle moves onlookers so much that they offer a wailing kind of song, called a saeta, as the floats pass by (see also Spain, Easter and Holy Week in).

Mexican villagers observe Good Friday as a day of quiet. They view loud noises, laughter, running, swearing, and excitement as out of keeping with the spirit of the day. Churches remain darkened throughout the day, their interiors draped with black cloth. Many towns host somber parades representing Jesus'funeral procession. A figure of the crucified Christ is placed in a glass-faced coffin and carried through the streets. At some point along the route a statue of the Virgin Mary grieving for the death of her son is brought forward to meet the casket. This meeting between the Virgin Mary and her crucified son constitutes the climax of the event (see also Mexico, Easter and Holy Week in).

In some European and Latin American countries people burn Judas in effigy on Good Friday (see Judas, Burning of). Judas was the disciple who turned Jesus over to the Jewish religious authorities, thereby starting the chain of events that led to Jesus'crucifixion.

In Europe Roman Catholic churches do not ring their bells on Good Friday. In some predominately Catholic countries church bells ring so frequently that children notice this sudden silence. Adults inform the curious among them that the bells have flown away to Rome to visit the pope.

In several Scandinavian countries, old folk beliefs encouraged the switching of children on Good Friday. Years ago in Sweden everyone, men and women, boys and girls, slapped each other with birch switches on Good Friday. This was done in remembrance that Christ was flogged on this day. Today vases filled with budding birch twigs sit in Swedish parlors at this time of year, a faint reminder of this old custom (see also Sweden, Easter and Holy Week in).

In past times English boys played marbles on Good Friday. Indeed, the six weeks of Lent became known as the marbles season in England. Some researchers believe that this folk custom, which may have come from Holland or Belgium, was inspired by the game of dice that the Roman soldiers played at the foot of the cross (Mark 15:24, Luke 23:35, John 19:24). Lent also once served as the tops season in England. Playing with tops was particularly popular on Good Friday, the end of the season. Skipping rope was an English Good Friday pastime especially associated with women and girls. This practice led some to nickname the day "Long Rope Day." Some folklorists speculate that the custom may have become associated with Good Friday as a reminder of the fate that befell Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus. According to the Bible, he hung himself (Matthew 27:3-5). The citizens of Brighton were especially fond of skipping rope on Good Friday. The custom died out in the mid-twentieth century, however (see also England, Easter and Holy Week in).

In Bermuda children fly kites on Good Friday. Watching their kite ascending on the wind was supposed to provide children with a visual image of Jesus ascending to heaven (see also Ascension Day). In Poland and the former Yugoslavia children sit down with their grandparents to dye Easter eggs on Good Friday.

Good Friday Superstitions

Many superstitions have attached themselves to Good Friday. In past times blacksmiths hesitated to work on this day, out of respect for the terrible purpose that iron nails were put to on the first Good Friday. In medieval England monarchs blessed gold and silver "cramp rings" on Good Friday. These blessed rings were believed to protect the wearer against epilepsy and palsy. The custom dates back to the late Middle Ages but was discontinued by Elizabeth I (1533-1603).

In England people still eat hot cross buns on Good Friday. Studded with dried fruit and decorated with a cross made of icing, these buns were once the subject of much superstition. Some said these buns, and other bread baked on Good Friday, would never grow stale. Others thought the bread had the power to ward off ill luck. Still others mixed bun crumbs with water, creating a tonic said to cure intestinal illnesses.

French and English superstitions warned against washing clothes on Good Friday. Those who ignored this warning might find mysterious blood spots staining their newly laundered garments.

In some countries people believed that seeds sown on Good Friday would be certain to bloom. The English thought it a particularly good day to sow parsley, a plant associated with the devil. The holiness of the day could break the devil's hold upon the herb. In the western part of the United States potatoes were sown on Good Friday. The Pennsylvania Dutch, whose ancestors immigrated to the United States from Germany and Switzerland, claimed that Good Friday was an excellent day on which to plant seeds. One should not do any other garden work between Good Friday and Easter, however, out of respect for the belief that Jesus had been buried in the earth on those days.

The Pennsylvania Dutch also believed it bad luck to work on Good Friday. Folk superstition specifically warned women against baking on this day, though Friday normally served as baking day for Pennsylvania Dutch housewives. Eggs laid on Good Friday brought health and good luck to those who ate them. Sometimes people saved these eggs to eat for breakfast on Easter morning. Another superstition declared that rain always falls on Good Friday. On clear days the rain might only amount to a few drops that sprinkle the countryside unobserved.

German folk beliefs taught that Good Friday brought good luck in a number of endeavors. For example, hair cut on Good Friday would grow back in abundance and seeds planted would always sprout. Water used to cool hot iron on this day gained the power to cure warts. Finally, any rain that fell on Good Friday was thought to confer a blessing on the rest of the year.

In addition to the many superstitions associated with Good Friday, many legends have grown up around the events commemorated on this day. For example, several tales spin imaginative accounts of the tree of the cross. Various plant and animal legends tell of shrubs, flowers, and beasts whose encounter with Christ on Good Friday forever changed their appearance.

Names for Good Friday

Good Friday has been known by many names. The English phrase "Good Friday" came from the old German name for the observance, Gottes Freytag, or God's Friday. Today the Germans know the day as Karfreitag, which means Care Friday or Friday of Mourning. Nicknames for the day include Black Friday and Sorrowful Friday. In Norway it is called Langfredag and in Finland Pitkäperjanti, both of which mean Long Friday. The Swedes also know the day as Long Friday. Some suppose that this name came about in reference to the day's numerous and lengthy religious services; others speculate that it might refer to the suffering that Jesus endured on this day. Spanish speakers know the day as Viernes Santo, or Holy Friday. Orthodox Christians refer to the day as Holy Friday, Great Friday, or Holy and Great Friday.

Further Reading

Bradshaw, Paul F. "The Origins of Easter." In Paul F. Bradshaw and Lawrence A. Hoffman, eds. Passover and Easter: Origin and History to Modern Times. Two Liturgical Traditions series, volume 5. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1999. Downman, Lorna, Paul Britten Austin, and Anthony Baird. Round the Swed- ish Year. Stockholm, Sweden: Bokförlaget Fabel, 1961. Harrowven, Jean. Origins of Festivals and Feasts. London, England: Kaye and Ward, 1980. Henderson, Helene, and Sue Ellen Thompson, eds. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. Second edition. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 1997. Hutton, Ronald. Stations of the Sun. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1996. Lord, Priscilla Sawyer, and Daniel J. Foley. Easter Garland. 1963. Reprint. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 1999. Lord, Priscilla Sawyer, and Daniel J. Foley. Easter the World Over. Philadelphia, PA: Chilton Book Company, 1971. Monti, James. The Week of Salvation. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Publications, 1993. Myers, Robert J. Celebrations: The Complete Book of American Holidays. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1972. Pierce, Joanne M. "Holy Week and Easter in the Middle Ages." In Paul F. Bradshaw and Lawrence A. Hoffman, eds. Passover and Easter: Origin and History to Modern Times. Two Liturgical Traditions series, volume 5. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1999. Shoemaker, Alfred L. Eastertide in Pennsylvania. Kutztown, PA: Pennsylvania Folklife Society, 1960. Thompson, Sue Ellen. Holiday Symbols. Second edition. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 2000. Weiser, Francis X. The Easter Book. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1954. Wybrew, Hugh. Orthodox Lent, Holy Week and Easter. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1997.
Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival, and Lent, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2002

Good Friday

Type of Holiday: Religious (Christian)
Date of Observation: Between March 20 and April 23; the Friday before Easter
Where Celebrated: Throughout the Christian world
Symbols and Customs: Cock, Cross, Crown of Thorns, Hot Cross Buns, Kite-flying, Stations of the Cross, Tre Ore, Veil
Colors: Good Friday is traditionally associated with the color black, a symbol of death, despair, sorrow, and mourning. In many countries, churches are darkened and draped with black on this day, and religious processions often feature black-robed penitents or statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary draped in black.
Related Holidays: Easter, Maundy Thursday, Palm Sunday


Good Friday is a Christian holy day that commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The word Christian refers to a follower of Christ, a title derived from the Greek word meaning Messiah or Anointed One. The Christ of Christianity is Jesus of Nazareth, a man born between 7 and 4 B . C . E . in the region of Palestine. According to Christian teaching, Jesus was killed by Roman authorities using a form of execution called crucifixion (a term meaning he was nailed to a cross and hung from it until he died) in about the year 30 C . E . After his death, he rose back to life. His death and resurrection provide a way by which people can be reconciled with God. In remembrance of Jesus' death and resurrection, the cross serves as a fundamental symbol in Christianity.

With nearly two billion believers in countries around the globe, Christianity is the largest of the world's religions. There is no one central authority for all of Christianity. The pope (the bishop of Rome) is the authority for the Roman Catholic Church, but other sects look to other authorities. Orthodox communities look to patriarchs and emphasize doctrinal agreement and traditional practice. Protestant communities focus on individual conscience. The Roman Catholic and Protestant churches are often referred to as the Western Church, while the Orthodox churches may also be called the Eastern Church. All three main branches of Christianity acknowledge the authority of Christian scriptures, a compilation of writings assembled into a document called the Bible. Methods of biblical interpretation vary among the different Christian sects.

Good Friday commemorates Jesus' journey to Calvary (see STATIONS OF THE CROSS ) and his death on the CROSS , which took place on the Friday before EASTER Sunday. Christians have been observing Good Friday even longer than Easter, although there was a period when it was neglected by Protestant churches. Nowadays it is observed almost universally by Christians around the world, who devote this day to remembering Jesus' suffering and sacrifice.

There are several theories as to why the day commemorating Jesus' crucifixion is called "Good" Friday. Some scholars think it's a corruption of "God's Friday," while others take "good" to mean "observed as holy." Although it may seem paradoxical, Christians regard the death of Jesus as "good" in the sense that it opened the gates of everlasting life. Orthodox Christians call it Great Friday, but it's not surprising that the Friday before Easter is sometimes referred to as Black Friday or Sorrowful Friday.



As the bird of dawn, the cock is a sun symbol and stands for vigilance and resurrection. It became an important Christian image during the Middle Ages, when it began to appear on weathervanes, cathedral towers, and domes.

In the context of Good Friday, the cock is symbolic of the denial of Peter, one of Jesus' disciples. After Jesus had been seized by the servants of the high priest Caiaphas as he was leaving the Garden of Gethsemane, he was brought to the palace, where the council tried to find people who would bear witness against him. Peter was there in the palace while Jesus was being accused. Some of the onlookers recognized him and accused him of being a follower of Christ. But just as Jesus had predicted would happen, Peter declared three times that he did not know the man who had been taken prisoner. When he heard the cock crow a second time, he remembered Jesus' words: "Verily, I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crows twice, thou shalt deny me thrice" (Mark 14:30). Peter wept when he realized that he had been unfaithful to his beloved Master.


Although the cross is even older than the Christian religion, the cross on which Christ died has become a symbol for salvation and redemption through Christianity. It can be seen in many different forms, but the so-called Latin cross (with a longer upright and shorter crossbar) is usually the symbol for the Passion of Christ. Five red marks or jewels are sometimes placed on the face of the cross to represent the five wounds Christ received when He was crucified. When the Latin cross stands on three steps-symbolizing faith, hope, and love (1 Cor. 13:13)-it is called the Calvary, or Graded, Cross. (See also Exaltation of the Cross.)

Crown of Thorns

The crown of thorns is an emblem of the Passion and the crucifixion of Christ. As described in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 15, verses 16-18, the soldiers into whose hands Jesus was delivered by Pontius Pilate dressed him in purple and placed a crown of thorns on his head. Then, saluting him with mock respect, they cried, "Hail, King of the Jews!" Christ is usually shown wearing the crown of thorns from this moment until he was taken down from the cross.

The way monks wear their hair-shaved on the top and with a short fringe all around-is designed to imitate Jesus' crown of thorns.

Hot Cross Buns

The pagans worshipped the goddess Eostre (after whom Easter was named) by serving tiny cakes, often decorated with a cross, at their annual spring festival. When archaeologists excavated the ancient city of Herculaneum in southwestern Italy, which had been buried under volcanic ash and lava since 79 C . E ., they found two small loaves, each with a cross on it, among the ruins. The English word "bun" probably came from the Greek boun, which referred to a ceremonial cake of circular or crescent shape, made of flour and honey and offered to the gods.

Superstitions regarding bread that was baked on Good Friday date back to a very early period. In England particularly, people believed that bread baked on this day could be hardened in the oven and kept all year to protect the house from fire. Sailors took loaves of it on their voyages to prevent shipwreck, and a Good Friday loaf was often buried in a heap of corn to protect it from rats, mice, and weevils. Finely grated and mixed with water, it was sometimes used as a medicine.

In England nowadays, hot cross buns are served at breakfast on Good Friday morning. They are small, usually spiced buns whose sugary surface is marked with a cross. The English believe that hanging a hot cross bun in the house on this day offers protection from bad luck in the coming year. It's not unusual to see Good Friday buns or cakes hanging on a rack or in a wire basket for years, gathering dust and growing black with mold-although some people believe that if the ingredients are mixed, the dough prepared, and the buns baked on Good Friday itself, they will never get moldy.


On the island of Bermuda, the custom of flying kites is synonymous with Good Friday. It dates back to the nineteenth century, when a teacher who was having trouble explaining to his students how Jesus ascended into heaven took them to the highest hill on the island and launched a kite bearing an image of Jesus. When he ran out of string, he cut the line and let the kite fly out of sight. Flying kites has been a Good Friday tradition ever since.

Stations of the Cross

Christ was crucified at Calvary, a place near Jerusalem also known as Golgotha, which means "skull." His journey there is usually divided into fourteen scenes or "Stations": (1) Jesus is condemned to death; (2) he receives his cross; (3) he falls the first time under his cross; (4) he meets his Mother; (5) Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry his cross; (6) Veronica wipes Jesus' face; (7) Jesus falls a second time; (8) he speaks to the women of Jerusalem; (9) he falls a third time; (10) he is stripped of his garments; (11) Jesus is nailed to the cross; (12) he dies on the cross; (13) he is taken down from the cross; and (14) he is laid in the Sepulchre. Although the number of stations was fixed at fourteen in the eighteenth century, five of them have no basis in the Bible's account of Jesus' Passion.

The original Stations of the Cross were the sites in Jerusalem and the surrounding area identified with these events. During the time of the Crusades, pilgrims to the Holy Land marked off these sites and, when they returned to their homes in Europe, they erected memorials of these stations in their churches and even their fields. Pictures of the Stations of the Cross can still be seen on the walls of Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches.

The form of worship that takes place at the Stations of the Cross has never been officially determined by any church authority. Sometimes groups of worshippers will pray together at each station and sing hymns as they pass from one station to the next. More often, individuals engage in private prayer and meditation.

Tre Ore

The Tre Ore or "Three Hours" service takes place in many Protestant and Catholic churches on Good Friday. The name refers to the last three hours that Jesus hung on the cross, and the service itself is based on the last seven things that Jesus said before he died (also known as the "Seven Last Words"):

1. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. 2. Today shalt thou be with me in paradise. 3. Woman, behold thy son! 4. My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me? 5. I thirst. 6. It is finished. 7. Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit. The Tre Ore service is a devotional service that was first performed by Alonso Mexía, a Jesuit in Peru, after a devastating earthquake struck Lima in 1687. An Anglican priest named A.H. Mackonochie promoted it in England in the nineteenth century, and it eventually became the main Good Friday observance for many evangelical congregations. The words have been set to music by a number of composers, most notably Heinrich Schutz (c. 1645) and Charles François Gounod (1855). Brief speeches, hymns, and periods for meditation and prayer are usually interspersed throughout the musical score.

The Tre Ore service is held from noon until 3:00 p.m. to coincide with the period of time during which Jesus actually hung on the cross, which the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 27, verses 45-46) establishes as falling between the sixth and ninth hours of the day. In modern terms, this would be 12:00-3:00 p.m.


When Jesus was on his way to be crucified, according to legend, a woman in the crowd named Veronica took pity on him and wiped the sweat from his brow with her veil or handkerchief. Miraculously the cloth retained the likeness of Christ wearing his CROWN OF THORNS .

The veil passed through a series of adventures but finally ended up in Rome, where it has been kept for many centuries in St. Peter's Church.


Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Brewster, H. Pomeroy. Saints and Festivals of the Christian Church. 1904. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Chambers, Robert. The Book of Days. 2 vols. 1862-64. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Cirlot, J.E. A Dictionary of Symbols. New York: Philosophical Library, 1962. Dobler, Lavinia G. Customs and Holidays Around the World. New York: Fleet Pub. Corp., 1962. Ferguson, George. Signs and Symbols in Christian Art. New York: Oxford University Press, 1954. Gulevich, Tanya. Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival, and Lent. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2002. Harper, Howard V. Days and Customs of All Faiths. 1957. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Ickis, Marguerite. The Book of Festivals and Holidays the World Over. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1970. Ickis, Marguerite. The Book of Religious Holidays and Celebrations. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1966. Lord, Priscilla Sawyer, and Daniel J. Foley. Easter the World Over. Philadelphia: Chilton Book Co., 1971. Metford, J.C.J. The Christian Year. New York: Crossroad, 1991. Monks, James L. Great Catholic Festivals. New York: Henry Schuman, 1951. Rest, Friedrich. Our Christian Symbols. New York: Pilgrim Press, 1954. Urlin, Ethel L. Festivals, Holy Days, and Saints' Days. 1915. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1992.


New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia

Orthodox Church in America
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009

Good Friday

Between March 20 and April 23; Friday before Easter
There are several theories as to why the day commemorating Jesus' crucifixion is called "Good" Friday. Some scholars think it's a corruption of "God's Friday," while others interpret "good" in the sense of "observed as holy," or to signify that the act of the Crucifixion is central to the Christian view of salvation. It is called Great Friday by Orthodox Christians, but it's not surprising that the Friday before Easter is sometimes referred to as Black Friday or Sorrowful Friday .
This day has been in the Christian calendar even longer than Easter. And although it was neglected for a long time by Protestant churches, Good Friday has again come into almost universal observance by Christians. From noon to three o'clock many western Christian churches in the U.S. hold the Tre Ore (Italian for "three hours," referring to the last three hours Jesus hung on the cross), a service based on the last seven things Jesus said on the cross. Many churches also observe the day by reenacting the procession to the cross as in the ritual of the Stations of the Cross.
In every Orthodox church, the Epitaphios, a gold-embroidered pall representing the body of Christ, is laid on a special platform, which is smothered in flowers. During the evening service, the platform is carried out of the church in a procession. The faithful follow, carrying lighted candles and chanting hymns. At squares and crossroads, the procession stops for a prayer by the priest.
Long Friday is another name for Good Friday. In Norway, this day is called Langfredag ; in Finland, Pitkäperjantai (or Long Friday) because it was a day of suffering for Christ.
See also Pleureuses, Ceremony of
Orthodox Church in America
P.O. Box 675
Syosset, NY 11791
516-922-0550; fax: 516-922-0954
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FestSaintDays-1915, p. 62
FestWestEur-1958, pp. 8, 93, 107, 152, 212
FolkAmerHol-1999, p. 168
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 224
OxYear-1999, p. 618
RelHolCal-2004, pp. 93, 120
SaintFestCh-1904, p. 160

Celebrated in: Andorra, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Bermuda, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Cyprus, Denmark, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, England and Wales, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Gibraltar, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, Iceland, Italy, Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Malawi, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Namibia, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Niue, Northern Ireland, Norway, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Georgia, Rwanda, Samoa, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Good Friday (Belgium) (Goede Vrijdag)
Between March 20 and April 23; Friday before Easter
Belgian churches are draped in black on Good Friday, in memory of Jesus' suffering on the cross, and a general air of sadness prevails in the cities and towns. In rural villages, women often wear mourning on this day. In the afternoon, many attend the three-hour Passion service at the local church.
In Veurne, there is a pilgrims' procession that stops before each of the 18 Stations of the Cross, built there in 1680, to pray and sing hymns. The distance between the different stations is said to correspond to the number of steps (5,751) taken by Christ as he went from Jerusalem to Mount Calvary. The original Stations of the Cross were sites associated with Christ's Passion in Jerusalem and the surrounding area. Pictures or carvings of the Stations of the Cross can often be seen on the walls of Roman Catholic churches.
Belgian Tourist Office
220 E. 42nd St., Ste. 3402
New York, NY 10017
212-758-8130; fax: 212-355-7675
BkFest-1937, p. 41
BkFestHolWrld-1970, p. 54
FestWestEur-1958, p. 8

Celebrated in: Belgium

Good Friday (Bermuda)
Between March 20 and April 23; Friday before Easter
The custom of flying kites on Good Friday in Bermuda dates back to the 19th century, when a teacher who was having difficulty explaining to his students how Jesus ascended into heaven took them to the highest hill on the island and launched a kite bearing an image of Jesus. When he ran out of string, he cut the line and let the kite fly out of sight. It has been an island tradition since that time for children to fly kites on Good Friday.
Breakfast on Easter is another Bermudian tradition. It consists of salted cod that has been soaked overnight and then boiled the next day with potatoes. It is served with an olive oil and mayonnaise topping, and sliced bananas on the side.
Bermuda Department of Tourism
675 Third Ave., Fl. 20
New York, NY 10017
800-223-6106 or 212-818-9800; fax: 212-983-5289
BkHolWrld-1986, Apr 10
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 226

Celebrated in: Bermuda

Good Friday (England)
Between March 20 and April 23; Friday before Easter
The Friday before Easter has often been regarded as a day of ill omen by those in rural areas. In England, bread baked on Good Friday was marked with a cross to keep the Devil away, and there was a superstition that hanging a "hot cross bun" in the house on this day would protect it from bad luck in the coming year. Sometimes Good Friday buns or cakes remained hanging on a rack or in a wire basket for years afterward, gathering dust and growing black with mold. A piece of Good Friday cake was thought to be especially good for ill cows.
Other Good Friday superstitions include the belief that breaking a piece of crockery on Good Friday would bring good luck because the sharp point would penetrate Judas Iscariot's body. In rural areas, boys often hunted squirrels on this day, because according to legend, Judas was turned into a squirrel.
BkFest-1937, p. 56
EncyEaster-2002, p. 178
FestSaintDays-1915, p. 63
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 241

Good Friday (Italy)
Between March 20 and April 23; Friday before Easter
Folk processions with realistic images of the dead Jesus displayed on platforms are common in Italian towns and villages on Good Friday. Sometimes the platforms are accompanied by cloaked and hooded worshippers, or by large candles carried aloft on long spiked poles. Funereal music and figures of the grieving Mary and angels holding stained graveclothes accompany the procession. Other objects symbolic of the Passion include the cross, the crown of thorns, and the spear. In the afternoon, there is a church service known as l'agonia.
At Santa Croce and other churches in Florence, a custom known as "Thrashing Judas Iscariot" traditionally has been observed on Good Friday. Young boys bring long willow rods tied with colored ribbons to church and at a certain point in the service, they beat the benches loudly with the branches.
Italian Government Tourist Board
630 Fifth Ave., Ste. 1565
New York, NY 10111
212-245-5618; fax: 212-586-9249
BkFest-1937, p. 184
EncyEaster-2002, p. 313
FestSaintDays-1915, p. 64
FestWestEur-1958, p. 93

Celebrated in: Italy

Good Friday (Mexico) (Viernes Santo)
Between March 20 and April 23; Friday before Easter
Good Friday is a very somber day in Mexico. The churches are often darkened and draped in black. The religious processions that take place on this day represent the funeral that Jesus never had. An effigy of the dead Christ, stained with blood and wearing a crown of thorns, is carried in a glass coffin through the streets. The highlight of these processions is when the statue of Mary, also draped in black, meets the effigy of her crucified son.
The funereal atmosphere is maintained throughout the day. Running, shouting, or using profanity is discouraged, in reverence for the Lord. The mood of those attending church services is very much that of friends and neighbors paying a condolence call on the members of a bereaved family.
See also Passion Play at Tzintzuntzan
BkFest-1937, p. 227
EncyEaster-2002, pp. 240, 406
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 235

Celebrated in: Mexico

Good Friday (Poland) (Wielki Piatek)
Between March 20 and April 23; Friday before Easter
People fast on dry bread and roasted potatoes from Good Friday until Easter Sunday in Poland, but housewives often spend Great Friday or Holy Friday kneading and rolling out the dough for elaborate Easter cakes. Egg-decorating is also part of the preparations for Easter, and there are three different techniques for decorating eggs: (1) malowanki are eggs painted in solid colors with natural substances, such as vegetable skins, roots, or grains; (2) pisanki are eggs that are batiked in traditional designs, usually animal or geometrical figures that have been handed down from generation to generation; and (3) skrobanki are eggs dyed in solid colors upon which the outlines of birds, flowers, and animals are scratched with a pointed instrument.
In Krakow and other large cities, going from church to church on Good Friday to view the replicas of Jesus' body that are on display traditionally is considered to be an important social event.
See also Easter in the Ukraine
BkFest-1937, p. 259
EncyEaster-2002, p. 500

Celebrated in: Poland

Good Friday (Spain)
Between March 20 and April 23; Friday before Easter
The religious processions that take place on Good Friday in Spain are among the most impressive and elaborate in the world. They are made up of huge pasos, or floats, illustrating different scenes in the Passion story and carried by members of various organizations or trade guilds. The pasos are so heavy that it can take 25 or 30 bearers to carry one, and the procession must halt frequently so they can rest.
In Seville, the Good Friday procession dates back to the Middle Ages and includes more than 100 pasos, many of which are elaborate works of art in themselves, with platforms made out of real silver and figures wearing robes embroidered in gold. Among the more outstanding pasos are those portraying the Agony in the Garden, Christ Bearing the Cross, the Crucifixion, and the Descent from the Cross. They are carried by black-robed penitents through the streets of Seville, followed by cross-bearers, uniformed civic leaders, and clergy in magnificent robes.
Tourist Office of Spain
666 Fifth Ave., 35th Fl.
New York, NY 10103
212-265-8822; fax: 212-265-8864
BkFest-1937, p. 300
BkFestHolWrld-1970, p. 54
EncyEaster-2002, pp. 240, 565

Celebrated in: Spain

Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.

Good Friday

the Friday before Easter, observed as a commemoration of the Crucifixion of Jesus
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
La imagen de un Viernes Santo universal, sin fin, en el que el Cristo nunca accede al momento de la Resurreccion, senala a una muerte de Dios sin tregua.
Kelly Montoya Estrada, historiadora de la Universidad Nacional Federico Villarreal, considera el orden de las cofradias en las procesiones de Viernes Santo en la Lima del siglo XVII como una expresion clara de la jerarquia social existente.
Comienza con la entrada de Jesus en Jerusalen, y continua con el Jueves y Viernes Santo y el Domingo de Resurreccion.