History of Holy Wednesday: Why was it called Spy Wednesday?

duccio di buoninsegna pact of judas wga06789

Pact of Judas, by Duccio di Buoninsegna (1308-1311)


The Wednesday of Passion Week – called “Passion” from the Latin passio, meaning suffering – is called Holy Wednesday.

Alternatively, it is called Good Wednesday in the Western Church or Great and Holy Wednesday in the Eastern Church.

It was previously called Spy Wednesday and was about Judas Iscariot. That Wednesday was when Judas met with the Sanhedrin to decide to betray Jesus in exchange for money, ahead of the Last Supper held in the Upper Room on the following day, Maundy Thursday (Matthew 26:14-16). The word spy in this usage means “ambush or snare.”


Before Triduum

In the Church liturgical calendar, the three days before Easter are called the Triduum of Passion Week, or the “Paschal Triduum.” Triduum means three days, and Paschal means Easter (or Passover, as the original Easter occurred during the Passover holiday). The Paschal Triduum includes Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.

Holy Wednesday is the day before the Triduum. It is associated with Judas’ decision to betray Jesus and is connected with darkness. The Latin word for darkness or shadows is Tenebrae.

Several Western churches hold Holy Wednesday services, including Roman Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, and Methodist churches. Eastern churches that observe it include the Eastern Orthodox, some Eastern Catholic, and Eastern Lutheran churches. They also include the commemoration of the “sinful woman” who anointed Jesus’ feet in Bethany before his crucifixion, as told in Luke 7:36-50.


Holy Wednesday Traditions

(barcelona) tenebrae candelabra antoni gaudí museums of the sagrada família

Tenebrae Candelabra, Antoni Gaudí, Museums of the Sagrada Família, Barcelona


On Holy Wednesday, a service of Tenebrae may be held. This service involves reading psalms and singing hymns. Candles on the “Tenebrae hearse,” a candelabrum, are gradually put out, creating a growing sense of darkness.


judas buns

Czech Judas buns


In Czechoslovakia, Judas buns (Jidáše) are traditionally baked in the shape of ropes, nooses, or money bags. They contain lemon juice or zest to signify the sourness of sin and are glazed with honey to signify the sweetness of forgiveness in salvation… remembering Judas’ betrayal.

Eaten before daybreak on Maundy Thursday, they are said to protect against bee stings, snake bites, and human deceit for the entire next year.


Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian


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About billpetro

Bill Petro writes articles on history, technology, pop culture, and travel. He has been a technology sales enablement executive with extensive experience in Cloud Computing, Automation, Data Center, Information Storage, Big Data/Analytics, Mobile, and Social technologies.

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