Czech Easter - Holy Week: Good Friday
Contributed by Petr Chudoba

In English, the name "Good Friday" is generally believed to be a corruption of "God's Friday." From very early times, the Holy Day has been observed by Christians everywhere as the most solemn feast of the year, a day of sadness, mourning, fasting and prayer, when the Passion and Death of our Lord is remembered in countless churches by services of sorrow and gratitude.

Good Friday was always regarded by the Roman Catholic Church as the day of greatest grief in the Church. It's the only day in the year when Mass is not held anywhere in the world. Also, organs are silent, all ornaments are cleared from the altar, and no lights are burned. The cross is shrouded in a black veil.

Great Friday (Velký pátek) is the popular name for the day in the Czech Republic. Velký pátek is a day of fasting for Roman Catholics who will not eat meat until Saturday evening after the church bells start ringing on their legendary return from Rome.

On Velký pátek, Czech and Moravian cooks prepare their holiday bread (coffee cake) which must not be cut or eaten until the priest says, "Christ is risen!" (Kristus vstal z mrtvých!) on Easter Sunday. It is a universal custom to mark a new loaf of bread with the sign of the cross before cutting it, in order to bless it and thank God for it. On special occasions, the cross is imprinted on the loaf before baking it. Bread baked on Velký pátek - if hardened in the oven - can be kept all year, and its presence protects the house from fire.

Good Friday has always inspired folk poetry and has been the subject of many romantic superstitions. Women carry out their quilts to air out, in order to chase illnesses out of the house. Some believe that water dipped before sunrise without a spoken word has healing power and will stay pure all year. People get up very early on this day and hurry down to the brook or river, where they wash themselves with cold water and then cross the brook or stream with bare legs because they believed that this ensured good health for the whole next year. They also take their daughters down to wash at the well, so they'll be pretty and well spoken for. It is also believed that water sprites come out onto dry land on this day.

One very common manifestation on Velký pátek is a reluctance to do customary work then, either from genuine respect for the religious festival, or from superstitious fears that to do it will somehow bring misfortune. According to an old Czech saying, for example, farming should not be done on Good Friday. Na Velký pátek zemi nehýbej. ("On Good Friday, do not move the soil.")

The weather for the whole year is foretold from the weather on Velký pátek. For instance, if it rains on Velký pátek, then the rest of the year will be dry.
Velký pátek deštivý dělává rok žíznivý. ("A rainy Good Friday makes for a thirsty year.")

On Velký pátek, according to legend, anyone can look upon the sun without being blinded by its glare.

In folk tradition this day is closely connected with the belief in the magic powers of the Earth. Many believe that on this day the Earth gives up its secret treasures before sunrise. It was believed that Mt. Blaník opens up for a couple of hours on this day. Mt. Blaník is famous among the Czechs as it's said that an army of Czech knights lies asleep within the mountain, waiting to come forth and help the nation in its hour of greatest danger.

An ancient ballad tells of a woman who went before sunrise on Velký pátek to a mountainside. The rocks opened and she beheld quantities of shining gold. Hastily laying down her child, she filled her apron with gold and then ran home for a large vessel to hold more treasure. By the time she returned, however, the sun was up and her child was shut up in the mountain. A year later she returned to the same spot before sunrise; the mountain opened and she found her child alive and well.

Another old legend states that high up in the mountains amidst the cliffs there is the stone figure of a maiden. She is seated and holds in her lap an unfinished shirt, also of stone. Each year, on Velký pátek, at the hour of the Passion, she sews a stitch: one year, one stitch. When the shirt is finished, the world will end. Everything under the sun will die, and Judgement Day will be at hand.