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The Burning of Judas

The event happens during Holy Week, especially on Holy Saturday. Straw or cloth dolls suspended from lampposts, tree branches, doorways or corrals are ripped apart and burned.

The Burning of Judas

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Last update: 30/03/2020

By: Lúcia Gaspar - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

A custom brought by the Portuguese and Spanish to all of Latin America, from the first centuries of European colonisation, the ‘malhação’ (hanging) or ‘queimação do Judas’ (burning of Judas) for some researchers is a folkloric residue transformed from the persecution of the Jews unleashed in the Middle Ages during the time of the Inquisition.

For others, the burned Judas is a personification of the forces of evil, vestiges of ceremonies to obtain good results at the beginning and end of harvest, carried out in various parts of the world. There are still some historians that assert it is a residual custom of Roman pagan festivals.

In Uruguai, the burning of Judas is similar to that of Brazil, though it takes place at Christmas instead of during Holy Week.

Hanging Judas is still a common practice in Brazil, despite the custom disappearing from the larger cities, mainly due to the lack of an adequate location or for the dangers involved.  Nowadays, the event is practically restricted to some countryside towns in Brazil that continue to preserve our popular culture and traditions.

The event happens during Holy Week, especially on Holy Saturday. Straw or cloth dolls suspended from lampposts, tree branches, doorways or corrals are ripped apart and burned.

In Northeast Brazil, it is also known as the hanging of Judas (enforcamento do Judas). The city awakes to posts decorated with various Judases: dolls made with an old suit, shirt, pants, socks, shoes, socks put over the hands and a tie, whose body is filled with rags, old cloth, sawdust and newspaper.

The Judas represents the biblical character, Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus Christ with a kiss for 30 coins. Consumed by his betrayal, he repented, trying to give the money back, but was rejected by the holy men and hung himself with a rope. The event is a way for Catholics to take revenge for the betrayal of Judas. Before the doll dies by hanging like a traitor, however, it has to be beaten and cursed.

In Rio de Janeiro during the 19th century, Judases had fireworks placed in their chests and appeared together with demons, both glowing colourfully and divinely and being applauded by the people.

Nowadays, the doll is made with the physiognomy of a personality from the political, social, economic, artistic or sporting world that is not liked by the people and therefore deserving of ridicule, cursing and condemnation.

In Brazil, the trial of Judas is also performed before the condemnation and execution. The “testament” is adapted to the folklore of each region. Someone usually takes it from the doll’s pocket and reads it. It is treated as a satire of local people and things. The “inheritance” is only funny to the people of the town who live there day-to-day and know the characters to whom Judas is referring. Here are some examples:

Deixo para o Mestre Isaías
Como o Antônio Nel uma questão:
A Antônio Nel diz que sim!
Mas o Mestre diz que não!
Diz que é mentira pura,
Que não como RAPADURA
Acompanhando a procissão

I leave to Master Isaiah
As to Anthony Nel a question:
Anthony Nel says yes!
But the Master says no!
I say it’s pure lies,
That not like RAPADURA
Acompanying the procession

Deixo para o “João da Bela”
O meu canário “parteiro”
Que ele cria como bem
Mas é um “buga” verdadeiro
Vive em casa esvoaçando
Com o João “Curruxiando”
Na tenda de sapateiro

I leave to “Handsome John”
My canary “parteiro”
that he raises like it’s true
But it’s a true “lie”
Lives at home fluttering
With “Fluttering” John
In the shoemaker’s stall

Aqui vai este sapato para o Sr. Antônio
O chapéu para o Sr. José
A gravata para o Sr. Willian
O paletó para o Sr. Aílton
O cinturão para a Sra. Maria
A camisa para o Sr. Geraldo
A calça para o Sr. Cristiano

Here goes this shoe to Mr Anthony
The hat to Mr Joseph
The tie to Mr William
The jacket to Mr Elton
The belt to Mrs Maria
The shirt to Mr Geraldo
The pants to Mr Christian

In the villages of the Brazilian interior, especially in the Northeast, the “testament” is a manuscript written on sheets of foolscap paper and distributed amongst friends. When there are local printers, it is printed and put under the doors of houses in the early hours and, sometimes, sold in the street.

Recife, 31 August 2005.
(Updated on 16 September 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2011.

sources consulted

MALHAÇÃO do Judas. Quem lembra?  Disponível em: <> Acesso em: 26 ago. 2005.

MOTA, Ático Vilas-Boas da. Queimação de Judas: catarismo, Inquisição e judeus no folclore brasileiro. Rio de Janeiro: MEC,SEC,FUNARTE; Instituto Nacional do Folclore, 1981.

ROSSATO, José Carlos. Nosso folclore. São Paulo: Soma, 1987.

how to quote this text

Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. The burning of Judas. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at:  <>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.