The bay area's Christian community gathered in churches across the area Wednesday morning in observance of Ash Wednesday, marking the first day of the season of Lent.
According to the biblical gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus Christ spent 40 days fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation by Satan. Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of this period of prayer and fasting, takes place 46 days before Easter. It can fall as early as Feb. 4 and as late as March 10.
The day takes its name from the practice of using ashes to draw a cross on the foreheads of congregation members as a reminder of human mortality and a sign of mourning. The ashes are typically created by burning palm fronds from the previous year's Palm Sunday.
The Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist and some Baptist denominations follow the practice.