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Ideas / Album / Good Friday
Traditions in the UK on Good Friday
  The Crucifixion on Victoria Street
  Distribution of the Butterworth Charity
  The Widow's Son bun ceremony
  Further information


This page gives a brief introduction to some of the traditions which take place in the UK on Good Friday. On this day Christians remember the death of Jesus on a cross (his "crucifixion"), so churches in all parts of the country have special services. The main service often starts at midday and lasts until shortly after 3pm. According to the New Testament, Jesus was crucified at 9am, the skies became dark at midday, and at 3pm Jesus cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" and died on the cross.

Good Friday is two days before Easter Sunday. It is always a day between the end of March and the end of April, but the exact date is different each year because it depends on the position of the moon. Both Good Friday and the following Monday (known as Easter Monday) are public holidays in the UK (known as "bank holidays": banks, offices, schools and many shops are closed). Many people use this four-day holiday as a chance to travel, so roads and airports are usually very busy.

Between 2011 and 2020 Good Friday will be on these dates:
2011 April 22 ; 2012 April 6 ; 2013 March 29 ; 2014 April 18 ; 2015 April 3 ; 2016 March 25 ; 2017 April 14 ; 2018 March 30 ; 2019 April 19 ; 2020 April 10

It is traditional for people to eat hot cross buns on this day. These are current buns which are marked with a white cross (representing the cross on which Jesus died). The buns are cut in two and toasted, and when they are ready butter is spread on top. These days it is increasingly common to eat the buns at room temperature (without toasting them). It is also traditional to eat fish instead of meat for the main meal of the day.

Below are photos and explanations about some traditional events in London which take place on Good Friday each year.

Passiontide at St Paul's (music CD)
Artist: St Paul's Cathedral Choir
Label: Hyperion
Date: March 1997
Famous Hymns from Westminster Abbey (music CD)
Artist: Westminster Abbey Choir
Label: Essential Classics
Date: November 2001

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Each Good Friday there is an annual religious service called the Crucifixion on Victoria Street. This is an "ecumenical" service, involving members from several different types of Christian religion. It is open to anyone who wishes to attend.

This event takes place in Westminster (the area of London near the Houses of Parliament; nearest Tube: St James's Park or Westminster). A procession starts at noon at the Methodist Central Hall (a Methodist church; map), follows Victoria Street to Westminster Cathedral (a Roman Catholic church; map), and returns along the same road to Westminster Abbey (an Anglican church; map). A man walks at the front carrying a wooden cross: Jesus was made to carry his own cross before he was nailed to it and left to die. There is then a service in Westminster Abbey which is based on the theme of the crucifixion. The first part lasts from about 1:30pm until 2pm, when there is a period of silence during which it is possible to leave quietly. The second part continues for another hour until 3pm. The service ends with the singing of "The Solumn Liturgy of the Passion and Death of Our Lord".

At 11:45am people gather outside
Methodist Central Hall in Westminster

The Lord Mayor of Westminster
greets the crowd

The chaplain from Westminster Central Hall
introduces the event and a hymn is sung

Big Ben strikes midday

A wooden cross is carried ...

... at the front of a silent procession along Victoria Street

The procession reaches Westminster Cathedral
and gathers outside the entrance ...

... the cross is raised, a prayer is said,
and a reading is made from the Bible ...

... followed by a meditation
by the Canon of Westminster

The procession continues
to Westminster Abbey ...

... where the cross-bearer
enters first ...

... followed by the rest of the congregation.
A Christian service is conducted inside

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Another traditional event on Good Friday is the Distribution of the Butterworth Charity. It takes place outside the Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great, which is an Anglican church in a road called Cloth Fair in London's West Smithfield area (nearest Tube: Barbican; map). In Victorian times it was a custom to have a service each Good Friday during which some money (sixpence) was given to twenty-one poor widows in Smithfield, and buns were given to the children who attended. The bun part of the ceremony is still performed each year. The distribution usually starts at 11:30am and lasts about 30 minutes. There are normally enough buns for everyone, not just for children. Afterwards there is a Good Friday service inside the church.

The Priory Church of
St Bartholomew the Great

The distribution service
is held outside, in the churchyard

Several baskets of buttered
hot cross buns have been prepared

The buns are given out ...

... firstly to the congregation ...

... and finally to the members of the clergy

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Another Good Friday tradition takes place in a pub in a part of East London known as Bow.

In the early part of the 19th century there used to be a cottage here where a widow lived with her only son. He went out to sea, promising his mother that he would return for Easter. So on Good Friday the mother baked a hot cross bun and waited for her son to arrive. He didn't come. At the same time the next year she made another bun, still hoping that he would come back. She kept on doing this each year until she died, but he never returned. In the 1840s a pub was built where the cottage used to stand, and it was decided to call it the Widow's Son, so that he would recognise it if he ever came back . Every year a hot cross bun is baked specially and a member of the Royal Navy is invited here to place it in a net above the bar, where buns from previous years are kept.

The Widow's Son is in Devons Road, London E3 (next to the DLR station called Devons Road; map). The bun ceremony takes place in the middle of the afternoon, usually at some time between 2pm and 3:30pm.

The Widow's Son pub,
in Devons Road

Previous buns are kept in a net
(hanging over the bar)

Each year a different sailor is chosen
to take part in the ceremony

A special bun is baked each year:
this is the one made in 2008

The sailor is lifted up and places
the new bun in the net

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Methodist Central Hall, Westminster:
Westminster Cathedral:
Westminster Abbey:
St Bartholomew the Great:

Information about Christian events during Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter):
(this includes Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday)

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Easter Sunday traditions: Ideas/Album/Easter-Sunday
Pancake races on Shrove Tuesday: Ideas/Album/PancakeRace
Christmas traditions: Ideas/Album/Christmas
Ideas for Easter presents: Ideas/Gifts/Easter
Monthly guide to events in the UK: Ideas/Events
Religions in the UK: Personal/Religion

Home page: Home

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