The ash to which we will all return | Understand + with History


One of the things that has been most commented these days is the contrast between the information coming from Ukraine and the carnival celebration that has been lived in many localities. It had to be a moment of joy for recover a minimum normality after two years trying to adapt to a global pandemic, but it has ended up being a bittersweet party because of the outbreak of a war that is difficult to understand and, what is worse, with an uncertain outcome.

Today the contrast ends because it is Ash Wednesday. The day that puts an end to the Carnival that began on Fat Thursday. After a week of debauchery, now it’s time to begin penance. This is how the Christian tradition marks it, because all these festivals have their religious origin. As we already explained in the article dedicated to the history of the word “quarantine”, Christianity has a fixation with the number 40. If you do the math, you will see that (not counting Sundays) this is the number of days remaining to get to Easter. The set I receive the name of Lent. During these days, believers begin a process of penance and fasting with which they want to emulate the forty days that Jesus was wandering in the desert. However, all this does not explain why today is the Ash Day.

In primitive Christianity, halfway between the end of antiquity and the first centuries of the Middle Ages, one way to publicly show repentance for having sinned was dress in sack clothes and have the forehead marked with ashes. If we take into account that this habit appears in different passages of the Old Testament such as the books of Jonah and Esther, it is easy to imagine that it was a custom present and rooted in the areas of the Near East before the appearance of Christianity, and that this new religion adapted to its rituals.

Little by little it spread throughout Western Europe, but the one who made it a generalized ceremony that all the faithful had to follow was the Pope Urban II. This French priest named Otto of Chantillon, born in the Marne region in 1035, he sat on the throne of Saint Peter between 1088 and 1099. In 1091, after a synod held in the city of Benevento, he established Ash Wednesday to mark the beginning of Lent. It was a way of remembering that everyone could be a sinner and that they should do penance for their faults. Given the context of the time, it is understandable that he proposed such a move. The Church was going through turbulent times, on the one hand there was a dispute with the Holy Roman Empire to know who had the authority to make ecclesiastical appointments; and on the other hand Urban II faced opposition from a suitor to take his place, known as the ‘antipope’ Clement III.

Urban II wanted to reform the pontifical administration and bring order. He did it in two directions. Outward, organizing the first crusade against the Muslims who controlled the Holy Land to strengthen the power of Rome against the European royal houses; but also internally, emphasizing the rectitude of customs. And nothing better than reminding believers that they could be eternally damned if they did not follow the word of God. Now all this can make us draw a sly half smile, but in the Middle Ages it was unthinkable to consider the non-existence of Jesus or to question anything that the Bible explains.

In addition, that ash had a lot of symbolic value because it was obtained from the burning of the palms of Palm Sunday of the previous year, which had been kept until that moment. Since then, the priests are in charge of making the sign of the cross on the foreheads of the parishioners with that ash, while reciting verse 19 of chapter 3 of Genesis: “You are dust and to dust you will return”. A way to remember that our passage through this world is ephemeral and that at the end of our lives we will be judged by our actions. Therefore, it is convenient to follow the commandments of God so that when we appear before him we will not have to account for any wrongdoing.


The burial of the sardine in Murcia

Related news

This closing day of the Carnival is also known as the burial of the sardine and usually ends with a popular meal after fire King Carnival with a parodic funeral. On the other hand, in Murcia they bury the sardine after Easter. A tradition that began in the mid-nineteenth century and is now one of the great attractions of the region.

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