The Punishment of Judas

Probably the oddest and most obscure Czech Easter custom documented by photographer Vladimir Pomortzeff
Vladimir Pomortzeff
This ancient Easter custom has survived only in few villages in the east of the Czech Republic. Early in the morning on Holy Saturday, the eldest teenage boy in the village is being dressed in a ridiculous straw suit. He is supposed to perform Judas Iscariot in this way. Wearing this obscure outfit, he has to march through the village from house to house escorted by other village boys armed with wooden ratchets. During this strange Easter procession, known as Vodění Jidáše (Marching Judas) in Czech language, the children sing a not very politically correct song about Judas, who betrayed his master to the Jews, and collect sweets and eggs in reward.
Judas attends the Easter procession in the village of Stradouň some 130 kilometers east of Prague.
Each participant of the Easter procession has a large wooden ratchet. They form together a kind of orchestra of folk musical instruments, which produces a deafening crash.
The Easter procession is leaded by the second eldest teenage boy in the village, who carries a cart for donations. According to unwritten rules, he will perform Judas next year.
The Easter procession stops in front of each house in the village to recite a song to a landlord for small donations in form of sweets and raw chicken eggs. Money donations are also accepted.
The straw suit of Judas weighs about twenty kilograms. The marching in this outfit for about three hours is not an easy task for a teenager. Together with other children, he has to visit all houses in the village one by one. The procession covers about five kilometers on foot. The boy is allowed to perform Judas only once in his lifetime. According to other unwritten rules, the teenage boy who performed Judas last year does not participate the Easter procession in the following year at all.
Teenage boy Sebastian Talacko, who performs Judas this year, being dressed in the straw suit.
This high conical cap made from reeds is used in the village of Stradouň for almost 25 years already.
The straw man is ready for a long march through the village.
The existence of the tradition of Easter ceremonial processions with Judas is documented as far as from the end of the 19th century, when the present day Czech Republic was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Meanwhile ethnographers are convinced that the custom is much older and its origins go back to the pagan times. Most likely the figure of the straw man initially was associated with a cult of fertility. When the Slavs were converted to Christianity, the pagan custom was devoted to the Easter, and the straw man was personified with Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus Christ for thirty pieces of silver. Today, the procession called Vodění Jidáše (Marching Judas) has preserved only in few villages, located relatively compactly between the Bohemian towns of Chrudim and Vysoké Mýto in Pardubice Region of the Czech Republic. This odd folk custom has been inscribed on the Czech national list of intangible cultural heritage.
Each village boy, who is already strong enough to twist a ratchet for a long time, attends the procession.
The procession stops in front of each house and the boys twist the ratchets until the landlord goes out. Then the children recite a short song with the following lyrics: "Oh, Judas, the unfaithful one! What have you done! You have betrayed his master to the Jews! For this, you will burn in hell together with Lucifer the Devil! Meanwhile we, the schoolboys, are going around and asking for gifts!" Listen, how it sounds in the video:
The costume of Judas looks a little different in each village. Sometimes tow is used instead of straw. Sometimes it is made of sackcloth. Sometimes the face of Judas is smeared with black paint. The lyrics of the song also vary slightly, although the content of the ceremony remains the same everywhere.
The Marching Judas procession in the village of Stradouň in Pardubice Region, Czech Republic.
The most popular donations of the villagers are raw eggs and sweets.
The procession ends on the field just outside the village, where the boys divide the donations equally.
Teenage boy Sebastian Talacko, who performs Judas this year, divides the collected eggs among the boys.
Participants of the Easter procession wait for their portions of sweets with empty plastic bags.
The ceremony ends with the burning of the straw suit of Judas on the field outside the village.

The photographs were taken on Holy Saturday in March 2018 in the village of Stradouň some 130 kilometers east of Prague in Pardubice Region, Czech Republic.
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