Columns ‘in Antis’ in Ancient Temples and Tombs

In ancient architecture, an anta or antae (antas) is an architectural term that describes the end of the protruding side walls of the naos (the inner chamber or sanctuary of a temple), forming a pronaos (a porch). By these means, the antas, as a part of the front walls, create posts or pillars on either side of an entrance to the naos and are usually shaped as pilasters, usually with more decorative capitals than the front columns. However, the anta differs from the pilaster, where the latter is purely decorative element and does not function as a structural support of the anta. The term in antis, applied to a pronaos or a temple (aedes in antis, templum in antis), meaning a type of structure (a temple, a tomb) with two (or more) columns or caryatids in the pronaos, placed between the antas.

The Athenian Treasury in Delphi with two antae framing a set of two columns. Photo by Dennis Jarvis from Halifax, Canada (2005). CC BY-SA 2.0. Photo and caption source: “Anta (architecture)” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

The antas could also appear from the side of the naos‘s rear wall, as a repetition of the arrangement used from the front side of the temple (the so-called temple in double antis). In the layouts of temples with a full colonnade in the facade (such as, for example, prostylos or amphiprostylos), the antas are much shorter.

Templum in antis. Drawing by CLI (2009). Public domain. Photo and caption source: “Anta (architektura)” (2021). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia.

Featured image: Athenian Treasury with two columns in antis. Photo by Rob Stoeltje from loenen, Netherlands (2015). CC BY 2.0. Photo source: “Athenian Treasury” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.


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PWN (2007). Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych, p. 14. Kubalska-Sulkiewicz K., Bielska-Łach M., Manteuffel-Szarota A. eds. Wydanie piąte. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.

Naiskos in the Funerary Architecture of Ancient Greeks

A type of tombstone in ancient Greece, mostly in the fourth and fifth centuries BC. It imitated the shape of templum in antis. It, namely, it looked like a small temple in classical order with antas, columns or pillars and a decorative pediment, also decorated with figures in the facade. The pediment (frontispiece) was usually filled with family scenes in high relief, where the dead appeared inside the house alongside the living. Also “[some] of the Hellenistic inscriptions found in the Bay of Grama, [in the Ionian Sea of Albania], are placed inside a naiskos, and in this case the religious context is an invocation of Castor and Pollux, [the] Dioskouroi [in Greek and Roman mythology], for a safe passage across the Adriatic, rather than funerary” (“Naiskos” 2020).

Funerary naiskos of a young soldier (Aristonautes, son of Archenautes, of the deme Halai). Pentelic marble, found in the Kerameikos necropolis in Athens, ca. 350–325 BC. Photo by Marsyas (2005). CC BY 2.5. Photo and caption source: “Naiskos” (2020). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia.

The naiskos form developed from an Attic tombstone stelae in the second half of the fourth century BC.; initially simple in shape, with time they had acquired a more complicated form referring to the facade of a Greek temple with a pediment supported by columns.

The facade of Naiksos also appears as a decorative motif  in the funerary “black-figure and red-figure pottery of Ancient Greece at the Loutrophoros and the Lekythos and the red-figure wares of Apulia in South Italy, [the fourth century BC.]” (“Naiskos” 2020).

A similar style of funerary tombstones can be also observed in the so-called aedicula, typical of Roman art.

Featured image: Naiskos-style funerary stele of Cyzicus (an ancient town of Mysia in Anatolia, in the current Balıkesir Province of Turkey), with high-relief decoration; epitaph inscribed on the plint: “Attalos, son of Asklepiodoros, greetings!” Made of marble, from the second quarter of the second century BC. Stele of funerary banquet represents, from left to right, a servant holding a round object, perhaps a model of the Arsinoeion in Samothrace, a seated woman, a half-reclining man holding a phiale in which a snake is drinking, a boy cupbearer. Department of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities, Denon, ground floor, room 11 (Musée du Louvre, Paris, France). Photo by Jastrow (2008). Credit given by W. H. Waddington, (1854). CC BY 3.0. Image cropped. Photo and caption source: Wikimedia Commons (2021).


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PWN (2007). Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych, p. 274. Kubalska-Sulkiewicz K., Bielska-Łach M., Manteuffel-Szarota A. eds. Wydanie piąte. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.

Matzevah – a Traditional Form of a Jewish tombstone

Jewish tombstone in the form of a vertically positioned rectangular stone or wooden slab, and from the nineteenth century also made of cast iron, topped with a straight line, triangle, semicircle or two segments of a circle, decorated with a bas-relief in the upper part and covered with an inscription (epitaph) at the bottom. The Hebrew epitaph was placed on the eastern side of the slab, as both, the tomb and the tombstone were oriented to the east. The stone slab was placed on the grave, on the headboard or in the legs of the deceased. It was often supported from the back by a stone block with a rectangular or semicircular cross-section, very rarely decorated.

Matzevot at the Cemetery in Warsaw at Okopowa Street. Photo by Grzegorz Petka (2008). Public domain. Image cropped. Colours intensified. Photo source: “Macewa” (2021). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia.

The reliefs in the upper part of the tombstone are not only decorative, but also symbolic; from the sixteenth century on, above the epitaph but under the top of the matzeva, there were usually sculpted symbols referring to the name of the deceased, their profession, character features, or sadness, mourning and death. Some of the decorative motifs on the matzevot are intended for representatives of traditional groups of the Jewish community, e.g. for a person from a priestly family (kohena) – those were hands folded in prayer, for a descendant of a Levite family, a cup, for a scholar or a rabbi – a Torah crown or a book for a woman, a lamp-stand, for the descendants of the tribe of Judah, a lion. Over time, the matzevot were given an increasingly complex architectural form, with cornices, columns, and recesses, and its height increased, sometimes reaching four meters.

Matzevah derived from the distant past, when it first meant sacred pillars in Canaanite sanctuaries, and then boulders, placed in memory of some important event; placed in cemeteries by Ashkenazi Jews.

Such a tombstone was adopted in Poland; the oldest one preserved there dates back to 1203 and is now at a Jewish cemetery in Wrocław (Poland), at Ślężna Street. The form of the matzevot is also recalled by erratic boulders placed on graves in Jewish cemeteries in north-eastern Poland. When in the early nineteenth century’s Poland, the administrative authorities of the partitioning powers ordered Jews to take surnames, Jewish traditionalists placed an appropriate entry containing this name on the reverse, unfinished side of the matzeva. In the areas associated with German culture, from the mid-nineteenth century, it was customary to place an epitaph in Hebrew on one side of the matzevah, and in German on the other. Similar records can also be found in Jewish cemeteries in large cities of central Poland, on the graves of assimilated Jews.

Featured image: Matzevot at the old Jewish cemetery in Wrocław. Photo by Barbara Maliszewska (2010). CC BY-SA 3.0 pl. Image cropped. Colours intensified. Photo source: “Macewa” (2021). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia.


“Macewa” (2021). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia. Available at <>. [Accessed 14th February, 2021].

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PWN (2007). Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych, p. 244. Kubalska-Sulkiewicz K., Bielska-Łach M., Manteuffel-Szarota A. eds. Wydanie piąte. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.

The Labarum of Constantine the Great

From the time of the Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great (306-337), it was the imperial and military banner (a vexillum). The original standard was first used by Constantine during the Battle of the Milvian Bridge against Maxentius (312) but the same name also refers to similar standards produced in imitation of the original one in the Late Antique world and later on.

A follis of Constantine (c. 337) showing a depiction of his labarum spearing a serpent on the reverse; the inscription reads SPES PVBLICA. Struck 337 AD. Constantinople mint. CONSTANTI-NVS MAX AVG, laureate head right SPES PVBLICA across field, labarum, with three medallions on drapery and crowned by a christogram, spearing serpent. CONS in exergue. RIC VII 19. According to RIC, this famous reverse type represents the defeat of tyranny by the death of Licinius. Yet, the scene also has powerful Christian imagery in that it allegorically portrays the power of Christianity over evil. Coin from CNG coins, through Wildwinds. Used with permission. Follis 337 Constantine. Photo and caption by Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. (2005). CC BY-SA 3.0. Image enlarged; colours intensified. Photo source: “Labarum” (2020). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

The origin of the word labarum is a matter of scientific debate. Some suggest it derived from the Latin word labarum. Others say it is a Gallic word because Gaul was the starting point for the war against Maxentius, and there were many Gauls in the army.

The emperor Honorius (393-423) holding a variant of the labarum – the Latin phrase on the cloth means “In the name of Christ [rendered by the Greek letters XPI] be ever victorious” and the Globus with the still pagan symbol the victory. Photo and caption by Marsyas (2006). Public domain. Colours intensified. Photo source: “Labarum” (2020). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

After a Christian author and an advisor to Roman emperor, Constantine I, Lactantius (240-320), shortly before the battle, the emperor fell into ecstasy, during which he received an order from Christ to place on the shields of soldiers the sign of heaven, consisting of the first two Greek letters of the word ‘Christ’ (ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ) — Chi (χ) and Rho (ρ). This monogram is indeed found on coins and writings from the time of Constantine. Eusebius of Caesarea (260-339), a biographer of the emperor’s life, adds that at the moment of the start of the fight, the pagan ruler called for the help of the Christian God, as a result of which he saw in the daylight a radiant cross with the Greek words: ‘Through this sign you will win!’ The next night, Constantine saw Christ with the cross and was advised to have a banner made with the image of the cross, displaying the christogram of the ‘Chi-Rho’ symbol ☧. This banner is, of course, a labarum, made in the shape of the letter T, standing for the cross, and attached to the upper bar. As such it was henceforth carried by Constantine’s troops.

The day after his victory, on October 29, 312, Constantine rode triumphantly into Rome. The city gave him a wonderful party. As for the vaccination of Christianity, it was still until the end of his reign, a transitional period. But although Constantine chose not to tease the Roman pagans with a new religion in one God, he nonetheless openly manifested the origins of Christianism in the heart of the Western world by minting coins with the christogram of the ‘Chi-Rho’ while the labarum in the form of the cross flew over the ranks of his army.

Constantine’s labarum, with a wreathed Chi Rho from an antique silver medal. The “medallions” which are said to have shown portraits of Constantine and his sons are sometimes replaced by the three circles or dots. Drawing by Nordisk familjebok (1911), vol.14, p.1088. Uploaded in 2006. Public domain. Photo and caption source: “Labarum” (2020). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.
Coin of Vetranio (350 AD.), a soldier is holding two labara. Notably, they differ from the labarum of Constantine in having the Chi-Rho depicted on the cloth rather than above it, and in having their staves decorated with phalerae as were earlier Roman military unit standards. Photo by Marsyas (2010). Public domain. Colours intensified. Photo and caption source: “Labarum” (2020). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

Featured image: The emperor Constantine IX Monomachos (1042-1055) (centre panel of a Byzantine enamelled crown) holding a miniature labarum. Photo by Andrew massyn (2008). Public domain. Image cropped. Colours intensified. Photo source: “Labarum” (2020). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.


“Labarum” (2020). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <>. [Accessed 12th February, 2021].

PWN (2007). Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych, pp. 69, 224. Kubalska-Sulkiewicz K., Bielska-Łach M., Manteuffel-Szarota A. eds. Wydanie piąte. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.

Rops D. (1968). Kościół pierwszych wieków. pp. 477-480. [L’église des apôtres et des martyrs]. Ostrowska K. trans. Warszawa: Instytut Wydawniczy PAX.

Traces of Slavic Pagan Rites in the Polish Easter Tradition

Easter comes with spring and it is the most significant Christian holiday, also beautifully celebrated in Poland. The very beginning of spring had already been celebrated in Polish territory in the times of paganism and was associated among the former Slavs with the so-called Jare Gody, a several-day Slavic ritual spring festival that was a farewell to winter and a welcome to spring (Sławosł 2019). These celebrations took place around the spring equinox and so began with the calendar spring, that is to say on the twenty-first March (Ibid.).

Goodbye to Marzanna

The first important ritual of the Jare Gody was to burn or drown Morena (Marzanna in Polish), an effigy which has been a symbol of the Slavic goddess of winter of the same name (Sławosł 2019; “Morana (goddess)” 2021).

Marzanna in Poland. Photo by Ratomir Wilkowski, (2010). CC BY 3.0. Photo source: “Morana (goddess)” (2021). In Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

Sometimes, for a better effect, even both of these activities were performed: first, Marzanna was set on fire, and then thrown into the water, especially into rivers whose currents are able to take her away from the view of the audience (Sławosł 2019). In the past, this ritual was often accompanied by making noise: crackling, rattling, knocking, singing and playing all kinds of instruments (Ibid.). I am not sure if this custom is still celebrated in Polish schools. In my time, all the children at school participated in the competition to create the best effigy of Marzanna, which we later carried to the river and drowned them all there. I remember that the fun was great, although now children’s entertainment is unfortunately changing … Yet, my seven-year-old nephew still cuts out a small image of Marzanna from coloured paper and glues to her round head curly hair from tissue paper.

Jare Gody and Easter

As Marzanna is associated with winter, Jaryło and Jarowit, who were gods of fertility in the folklore of eastern and southern Slavs, are both associated with spring (Sławosł 2019).

Morena effigy, Slovakia. Photo by T. Kičin, early twentieth century. Public domain. Colours intensified. Photo source: “Morana (goddess)” (2021). In Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

Today, the place of pagan deities in Poland is obviously taken by the Risen Christ, who replaced them as a symbol of the New Life. In the pagan times, after the beginning of Jare Gody (the name originates from the names of the gods), people lit fires on the hills to summon as much heat and sun as possible (Ibid.). Willow and hazel twigs were also collected, from which the so-called panicles were made (Ibid.). Those were bunches of branches and flowers clogged on the roofs of new buildings (Ibid.). At that time, the houses were cleaned and incensed, as much as it is today, and traditional Slavic cakes were also baked (Ibid.). It was a time of joy, because then everything was slowly beginning to bloom and revive (Ibid.).

Pussy willow branches are cut and used for the panicles. Photo by Avicennasis (2010). Public domain. Photo source: “Śmigus-dyngus” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

Christianity celebrates this time in a similar way, but with other religious values; houses are adorned with flowers and blooming twigs to glorify the promise of the Resurrection with the forthcoming of spring and with it, the hope that the dead will be reawakened to eternal life.

Different ways of fasting

In Poland, Easter is also a culinary celebration (Lemnis, Vitry 1979, p. 218). The overture to the Easter feasts has always been the preceding Lent. In old Poland, fasting was followed very strictly, even at the royal court, but those were primarily the poor urban population and peasants who fasted truly, in a real “Catholic” way, both for religious and material reasons (Ibid.:218). So people ate sour rye soup (żur), groats, cabbage, herring, and later also potatoes, all sprinkled only with oil (Ibid.:218). In the Polish region of Masuria, fasting was particularly exemplary, without using either butter or milk (Ibid.:218). At magnate courts and rich monasteries, people fasted in a peculiar way, serving various and deliciously seasoned fish dishes, by no means in fasting amounts, and alcoholic drinks did not seem to interfere with fasting at all (Ibid.:218).

Funeral of herring

On Good Friday, the court and city youth organized a “funeral of sour rye (żur) and herring” (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:218). The clay pot with the sour rye soup was smashed, while the herring was hung on a branch as a punishment for the fact it had ruled over meat for six weeks, harassing human stomachs with its weak meal” (Ibid.:218).

Actually nowadays, Polish żur is one of the most frequent served soups during Easter. Still, it is not a fasting dish, as it is usually enriched with halves of boiled eggs and slices of white or ordinary sausage.

The Easter “Blessed

In the mansions of magnates and noble courts, a wonderfully set Easter table was blessed by the parish priest or chaplain, while the poor brought food for the same reason to the church (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:218-219). On Easter Saturday, both in towns and villages, eggs, bread and salt were brought to the church and placed on the festive table after blessing (Ibid.:218).

Food blessing in the nineteenth century, by Michał Elwiro Andriolli (before 1893). Public domain. Photo source: “Święconka” 2020. In Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

This custom has fortunately remained in Poland to this day, when beautifully decorated baskets filled to the brim with Easter specialties are brought to the church and blessed. As the old Polish tradition dictates, the basket is not complete without beautifully painted eggs (pisanki), a piece of bread and salt.

Modern ceremony in Poland of blessing the food brought to the church in baskets for Easter breakfast. Photo by Błażej Benisz – WSD Ołtarzew, (2007). CC BY-SA 2.5. Photo source: “Święconka” 2020. In Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

In addition, we put now a little bit of everything in the basket that will later be served on the Easter table: pepper, sausage, ham, horseradish, butter, a lamb made of sugar or flour, with the inscription “Hallelujah”, and for children – chocolate hares.

Pisanki and kraszanki

Easter in Polish folk cuisine was much more modest than that of the nobles, but more closely related to the old customs and rituals (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:219). Such relics of pagan beliefs include Easter eggs (pisanki or kraszanki in Polish), which are hard-boiled, dyed and artfully decorated; in the past it was usually made by village women (Ibid.:219). Painting eggs, which for the Slavs symbolized energy, joy of life and harvest in the new growing year was an important part of the pagan festival of Jare Gody (Sławosł 2019). The culmination of the celebrations were feasts given on the hills, during which people sang, danced and exchanged Easter eggs as gifts (Ibid.). The practice of dyeing eggs for Easter still persists (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:219). The old Easter eggs were often true works of folk art; today’s ones usually give way to the old ones in terms of elegance and artistry (Ibid.:219). Yet all do their best to make them colourful and carefully decorated.

Easter eggs (pisanki). Photo by LeCornichon (2007). CC BY-SA 3.0. Photo source: “Pisanka” (2021). In Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia.

Since the egg is an ancient symbol of life, it has reigned supreme on Easter tables, because Easter is also a feast of nature awakening to life (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:219). Easter eggs were often dyed red in particular (Ibid.:219). A special dye can be used to obtain a dark red colour, but my mother always dyes the eggs organically by soaking them in onion shells. Such red Easter eggs had, according to ancient Slavic beliefs, magical properties and were said to be effective, especially in matters of love (Ibid.:219).

In the eastern territories of former Poland, it was also customary to give the priest Easter eggs on Good Friday (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:219). A French cartographer and architect, Guillaume de Beauplan, who stayed in seventeenth-century Poland, described this custom, claiming that the priest collected up to five thousand eggs in two hours (Ibid.:219). He also adds that while thanking the pious donors, he kissed the girls and the younger girls, but he only gave the hand to kiss to the old women (Ibid.:219).

Easter traffic in the kitchen

During the Holy Week, the greatest traffic was in the kitchen, from which the delicious smells of various dishes prepared for Easter came from (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:219). They aroused the appetites of the fasting household, longing for the Resurrection, which marked the end of the fast and the beginning of the Easter feast (Ibid.:219). Nowadays, we do fasting in Poland only on the Good Friday and Good Saturday, till the Resurrection, or we start celebrating just after the Easter Mass, when finally we sit down to a ceremonial breakfast. As in modern-day Poland, the so-called “Blessed” (“Święcone” in Polish), that is to say the food from the basket, and other delicacies were placed on the spring-decorated table in the dining room (Ibid.:219). Compared to the old Polish appetite, today’s one is much smaller. In old Poland, the Easter breakfast consisted of hams, sausages, brawn fish, fish in jelly, whole baked piglet and Easter cakes: mazurek cakes (Easter pastry), tortes and the famous old Polish “baba” cakes (Ibid.:219-220). Of course, vodka, meads, beer and wine were not forgotten (Ibid.:210).

The Easter Lamb made of butter or sugar towered over everything. It has been a symbol of the Risen Christ (Ibid.:210). The entire table, shimmering with a wide range of colours and tempting with seductive scents, was decorated with green dyes and colourful Easter eggs (Ibid.:220). Of course, the blessed food eaten on Easter was either more modest or stunningly rich, which depended on the wealth of the house (Ibid.:220).

Easter breakfast

Easter breakfast started either quite early, or at noon or even a little later (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:242). In some houses, the more impatient gentlemen “attacked” the festive table already on Good Saturday, but mostly these were just preliminaries to the Sunday “culinary battle” (Ibid.:242). The Easter feast, even the most modest one, began with the sharing of a hard-boiled egg with mutual wishes, as it happened between pagan Slavs (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:220; Sławosł 2019). The “Blessed” consisted only of cold dishes, with a huge variety of tastes and aromas (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:220). People were seated at the table, which, due to the set of dishes, was the prototype of today’s cold buffet (Ibid.:220). Of the hot dishes, only red borscht prepared on beetroot kvass was served, which differed from Christmas borscht in that it was cooked on essential meat broth, often on boiled ham (Ibid.:242). Instead of Christmas Eve dumplings, quarters of hard-boiled eggs or sliced ​​sausage were put into the borscht (Ibid.:242). At the end of the feast, hot bigos (a Polish dish of cabbage, meat and sausages) was served (Ibid.:242).

Formerly, different beliefs were associated with some of the dishes on the Easter table (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:242). According to Mikołaj Rej (1505-1569), a poet and prose writer who lived during the reign of King Zygmunt August, sausage protected against snake biting, horseradish – from fleas, and roasted hazel grouse from … prison.

Easter baba sprinkled with powdered sugar. Photo by Diego Delso (2013). CC BY-SA 3.0. Photo source: “Baba wielkanocna” (2019). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia.

Polish Easter pastries also deserve special attention during the celebration: tortes, bundt cakes (“baba” cakes) and Easter pastry (“mazurek” cakes) (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:220).

Polish queen from Italy and tortes

Tortes appeared relatively late in Polish cuisine and the fashion for them probably came from Italy, thanks to Polish queen, Bona Sforza d’Aragona (1494 – 1557) who came from the Dutchy of Milan (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:220). During the reign of her son, Zygmunt II August (Sigismund II Augustus 1520 – 1572), splendour and luxury prevailed at the royal court in Krakow (Ibid.:222). The queen mother herself, marrying the Polish king, Zygmunt I Stary (Sigismund the Old 1467 – 1548), introduced Italian customs to the court (Ibid.:222).

The traditional form of baking baba cakes. Photo by Hubertl (2014). CC BY-SA 3.0. The making of this work was supported by Wikimedia Austria. Photo source; “Baba wielkanocna” (2019). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia.

This meeting of two high-level European cultures has proved beneficial in many cases, particularly in the fields of art, architecture, literature and music (Ibid.:223). With time, Italian influences also began to emerge in Polish cuisine (Ibid.:223). Italians were amazed to see how much meat Poles ate every day (Ibid.:223). The Poles, on the other hand, mocked the Italians’ love of vegetables, which they considered exaggerated (Ibid.:223). And although vegetables are often served on Polish tables, the excessive and by no means health-promoting passion for meat dishes has remained with us to this day (Ibid.:223). An example of this is the Easter table with the “Blessed”, both in the past and now (Ibid.:223).

Baba cakes

Among the Easter cakes served to this day, the so-called baba cakes (bundt cakes) and mazurek cakes (Easter pastry) are a peculiarity and pride of Old Polish cuisine and native Polish specialties (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:220).

The girl in the national Polish costume, serving Polish baba cake. Postcard sent on April 11, 1936, entitled “Happy Hallelujah”. Publisher: Polonia Kraków. By Adam Setkowicz.Publisher: Polonia Kraków (1936). Public domain. Image source: “Baba wielkanocna” (2019). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia.

Baking Easter baba cakes was an emotional event and could be called a kind of theatrical mystery (Ibid.:221). The cook, the housewife and other women locked themselves in the kitchen, where men were forbidden to enter their kingdom (Ibid.:221). The whitest wheat flour was sifted through a sieve, hundreds of yolks with sugar were rubbed in pots, saffron was dissolved in vodka, which not only beautifully coloured the dough yellow, but also gave it a spicy aroma Ibid.:221). Then the almonds were ground, the raisins were carefully selected, the scented vanilla was mashed in mortars, and the yeast was made into a leaven (Ibid.:221). The dough placed in the cupcake moulds was covered with linen tablecloths, because the “chilled” baba cake did not grow and was slack-baked (Ibid.:221). So the windows and doors of the kitchen were sealed for fear of drafts (Ibid.:221). Properly grown baba cakes were carefully put into the oven (Ibid.:221). Finally, as they were lifted from the hot cavities of the oven on a wooden shovel, it was not uncommon for the kitchen to hear dramatic shouts and crying; a baba cake which was browned too much or “sat down” was a disgrace (Ibid.:221).

A selection of Mazurek cakes ready for Easter in Poland. Photo by Magic Madzik – Flickr: 100/365: Ready for Easter (2009). CC BY 2.0. Photo source: “Mazurek (cake)” (2020). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

Simultaneously, successful baba cakes taken out of the oven were placed on fluffy quilts to prevent them from being crushed while cooling down (Ibid.:221). In addition, the conversation was in whispers, as the noise could harm the delicate dough (Ibid.:221). The cooled baba cakes were beautifully and generously glazed (Ibid.:221). The most famous and delicate were the so-called fluffy and muslin babas (Ibid.:221).


On the other hand, the origin of the mazurek has not been sufficiently explained so far (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:221). Perhaps they reveal the influence of sweet Turkish cuisine (Ibid.:221). Mazurek is a low cake, usually on a crispy bottom or on a wafer, covered with a layer of nut, almond, cheese and dried fruit mass, colourfully glazed and beautifully decorated with preserves and dried fruit (Ibid.:221). Good housewives often had several dozen recipes for mazurek cakes (Ibid.:221).

How Poles spend Easter

According to our tradition, we spend the first day of Easter at home with our family and sometimes we invite our closest friends to the “Blessed” breakfast (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:264). On the second day of Christmas, that is the Good Monday, we either visit our friends ourselves or host guests (Ibid.:264). Then we serve cold stews or bigos as a starter, and after borscht or żur, usually roast meat, such as turkey in rich sauce (Ibid.:264). The sweet finale are surely Easter cakes: mazurek, baba cakes and tortes (Ibid.:221).


The Good Monday morning is still associated with a long tradition of pouring water over each other, hence usually called “Wet Monday” or, more commonly, “Śmigus-Dyngus” (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:264).

Soaking a Polish girl on śmigus-dyngus (a postcard). Nationwide Specialty Co., Arlington, Texas — In Buffalo, N.Y., Stanley Novelty Co., 200 S. Ogden St. – Boston Public Library (circa 1930-1945). CC BY 3.0. Photo source: “Śmigus-dyngus” (2021). Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

Of course, this rite comes from our pagan ancestors (Sławosł 2019). Slavic Śmigus and Dyngus were originally separate rites and cleansing rituals, bringing strength and health (Ibid.). Śmigus relied on lashing each other with blooming twigs, and Dyngus on pouring water over each other (Ibid.). In the evening of that day, the dead were remembered, their graves were visited and they were offered food (Ibid.). The custom of pouring water, that is to say Dyngus, has survived to this day as a real national water fight, especially in the countryside (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:264). Yet, it is still called Śmigus-Dyngus. In the Old Poland, particularly unmarried girls were the victims of watering, and boys were their “water” attackers (Ibid.:264). The girls defended themselves vigorously and noisily (Ibid.:264). In reality, however, they were satisfied, because if a girl had not got soaked on that day, she would have been considered deliberately disregarded, which did not bring about a quick marriage, and even threatened with her ending as a spinster (Ibid.:264). In cities, especially nowadays, water can be streamed to anybody, either with buckets, water guns, bottles, or balloons filled with water and thrown from above ( 2014). In rare cases, water is sprayed in small sprinklers in the form of colourful eggs or perfumes are used instead of water, confined to rather symbolic sprinkling of a potential “victim” (Lemnis, Vitry 1979:264).

But just in case, to avoid getting soaked, especially when it is still chilly outside, it is definitely better to stay home on that day, enjoying that time together with your family and friends and to have an opportunity to change your clothes if the fun is full-blown ( 2014).

Another opportunity to spend family holidays

As in 2020, Easter of 2021 is still heavily marked by the time of pandemic and so it cannot be fully celebrated, especially by participating in all religious celebrations in the church. People usually take part in them by means of online transmissions. Nevertheless, today, that is to say on Good Saturday, according to the long Polish tradition, people anyway came to the church with their beautifully decorated baskets to bless the food to be served on Easter Sunday as the “Blessed”. Although last year I was spending Easter on my own in Dublin due to the pandemic, this year for the same reasons, I can enjoy it together with my family. After Christmas, 2020, it is the second important family feast I have had an opportunity to celebrate in Poland, and hence write on typical Polish traditions connected with Christian feasts, some of which have originated from pagan Slavic rites, still very present in our modern Polish lives.

Happy Easter and God bless!

Featured image: “The Resurrection” by Ricci, Sebastiano (1659 – 1734). Uploaded by DcoetzeeBot (2012). Public domain {{PD-US}}. In: Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Image cropped.

By Joanna
Faculties of English Philology, History of Art and Archaeology;
University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland;
Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, Poland;
University College Dublin, Ireland.


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