All Rise Before His Hollines Presiding: The Sacred Bread
We have used symbols for a wide variety of subjects throughout history, especially regarding beliefs. These symbols included sacred shapes, and tangible materials like Sacred Breads.
Structures called “ziggurat” were built in the middle of the city-states established in Mesopotamia. With these temples, an effort was made to keep the mutual peace between the realm of gods and that of humans. People made offerings to the gods ensure these immortal beings gave them comfort and protection both in the mortal world and the afterlife. The most precious foods were offered, which especially included BREAD.
For example, Sumerians, who invented writing, recorded the name of bread as Ninda for the first time and put it inside the grave of Queen Puabi to protect her soul in the afterlife. Of course, they didn’t forget to put her golds and precious jewellery as well!
Ninda-an azzateni watar-a ekutteni means ‘’And eat the bread, drink the water!” This sentence helped to decipher one of the oldest written languages, the Hittite language, by assuming that “Ninda” means bread.
Bread was also used in sacred ceremonies in shamanism. Ancient Turks held “saçı” ceremonies were held. Most precious goods were offered to tengri, the sky god, which predominantly featured bread. Seven spoons of flour were taken from seven houses and three different people made the dough, which was then mixed to make a single bun. This bun was buried in embers, cooked well then crumbled and scattered.
Pagan beliefs were commonplace in the ancient Greek period and the pagan goddess was considered believed to be a grain of wheat who offered her body to her worshippers to eat. They thought they would become one with the goddess when they drank her blood, which was wine, and became immortal.
The practice of sacrificing or offering bread to gods ended with Judaism but bread remained as a sacred element. Passover, also called Pesach, is celebrated in order not to forget the time they were forced out of Egypt and ended up having to live in deserts for 40 years. The main actor in this religious holiday is again a type of bread called MATZAH.
The matzah bread is made without yeast to remember the times when Jewish people couldn’t find time to leaven breads during the great exodus. This bread has mostly become an industrial product now but shmura matza is a handmade version that is used by the Orthodox Jews in rituals.
The preparations to make this bread started weeks in advance. I noticed something particular in every source I accessed; how to make this bread was not taught by explaining the methods but by showing and ensuring that their children watch and learn in order not to forget. Three matzas were put on top of each other on the table in this ritual to represent the three groups within the Jewish society.
Not only bread, but every product on the table they set up during Passover has a meaning. All of them were made to emphasise with and remember the pains suffered by their ancestors… For thousands of years…
This was such a meticulous process that all yeasted products were removed down to their crumbs using candles and feathers the day before Passover. . Those who didn’t they could purify their houses chose to spend this 8-day period elsewhere. Today, the eldest member of the family says a prayer at the dining table on Friday evenings (Sabbath) then break the bread, paying attention to starting the meal by taking a piece of salt and bread first.
On the other hand, Christianity says that Jesus’s last supper was during Pesach and the table was specially set up for this day. In the bible, Mat. 26:26 reads ‘And as they were eating, Jesus took the bread, blessed and broke it, and then gave it to the disciples, saying, Take, eat; this is my body’. That’s why Christians hold ceremonies called Eucharist/Communion, which means to be thankful, and the most sacred elements of this ceremony are of course bread and wine.
This bread must be strictly unleavened according to the Catholic belief. These bite-sized breads are then blessed by the priest when brought to the church and given to the members of the congregation one by one by him. Nuns mixed the flour, water and salt to produce the dough for these breads which resembles the consistency of boza. They were then cooked leaf by leaf in a toast machine or a crepe pan.
It’s similar to the Turkish güllaç dough but it is more elastic due to the use of flour. That’s why it might be more accurate to call it a wafer. The breads were cut in a circular shape and packed to send to churches for their ceremonies.
Protestantism doesn’t require the bread to be blessed by a priest or how it is made. Instead, they focus on the importance of being together and sharing the experience of the ceremony as a group. However, the Orthodox Christianity has the most unique interpretation. They give much more importance to both the spiritual and symbolic meanings
They first made impressions on their bread with a wooden stamp and then cut it while making the sign of the cross. Then, as you can see in front of the priest, they put smaller pieces that represent angels, Virgin Mary, prophets, saints, elders and the congregation in need of prayer around the bigger piece of bread and perform their ceremony.
One of the places that produces these breads is the Sihastria monastery, where I have always wanted to go and make bread. I wonder whether they would accept me. Doughs made by the priests in the monastery are prepared by stamping them and holes are made in them to prevent puffing up before and after the baking process. Then these leavened breads are baked. This monastery produces many kind of daily breads in addition to the one we mentioned above.
The leavened nature of the bread represents how faith grows under the influence of the Holy Spirit, just like the dough does with yeast. In orthodoxy, the reason for communion bread is leavened was the thought that dough grew up with yeast represents the faith that grows under the influence of the holy spirit. The stamp on the bread depicts figures that describe the crucifixion of Jesus, the beginning, and the end.
By the way, the Orthodox communities from İstanbul to Cyprus to Greece make their breads in the same way using exact same stamp in everywhere! There is a museum in Greece which exhibits the bread stamps and grains. You must check them out and then lament like me… Why don’t we have a museum like that; about bread and wheat… why?
Bread isn’t considered sacred or used in ceremonies in Islam. It is regarded as precious as everything else that is halal in the God’s eyes.
In Buddhism, monks don’t eat anything except rice and seasonings, because many other kinds of foods are considered luxury and therefore are forbidden, even medications. I couldn’t figure out if this means the bread is valuable or not from this!
Reincarnation is a major belief in Hinduism. There is an incredible building called Karni Mata temple in India. This temple was built with incredible marble workmanship and around fifteen, twenty thousand rats live in there. Thousands of rats that are believed to be humans in their past lives live there. They are treated with respect because it is believed that they will come back as human babies once they die.
These rats are free to roam anywhere they please in the temple and killing them, even by accident, is considered a crime. There are rules such as not walking with shoes inside. There is a designated space for breadmaking for both themselves and people who come to the temple, and they believe that the leftovers from the rats could help their illnesses or souls. It was particularly believed that all the problems of children will go away this way. There were also those who believed that these rats were the souls of young soldiers who sacrificed themselves in the war, and command respect and offerings for their bravery.
In Yazidis Lalish valley, which is considered as holy grounds by the Yazidis, is thought to be the place where the first soil and water met after the God’s creation. That’s why they believe Lalish is the yeast of this life. I think only the Yazidis have a place called The Room of Sacred Bread. . In Yezidism, it is not acceptable to leave the people who are passing by during hajj period hungry.
We usually end our articles with a recipe for the breads in question. However, we don’t want to offend or disrespect people’s beliefs since our subject is sacred breads and we won’t be giving recipes for any of the breads we mentioned. Instead, I wanted to make a Seljuk bread because of my curiosity for bread stamps.
Wheat and lamb are main star ingredients when the Seljuks are involved. They used melted animal fat in their cooking. We are using tail fat in this recipe and start melting it on very low heat.
These lovely crispy bites come out when we filter that oil. These bits are still added to the dough or consumed with salt in many regions of Turkey. Here, we will be using it in our bread By the way, they are called “kakırdak” or politely: “kıkırdak” (cartilage).
100 g sourdough yeast
100 g kakırdak (cartilage)
500 g organic flour
350 ml water
10 g salt
You must knead the dough made with this flour very well. Add water slowly. You can use a kneading machine or you can take out all your anger on the dough!
After kneading the dough well, you can add kakırdak (cartilage) at the end, so it crumbles more and elasticity of the dough does not break down. Don’t knead the dough too much, just enough to spread the cartilage evenly. Then cover it with a bit of flour. Cover with a cloth and let it rise.
300 g flour
60 g single cream
100 ml water
8 g salt
A warning: This is going to be a hard dough. Put all the ingredients in a bowl and knead well. The dough might not come together right away in the beginning, but it will eventually form a ball. You can prepare this decoration dough first, and then prepare the sourdough if you wish. It will be better the longer it rests. Hard dough becomes more elastic and softer as it waits since it has no yeast.
Roll the dough and let it rest. It will rise nicely as it rests.
Once the dough has risen, we divide it into two and roll out into two balls and let it rest for approximately 1 hour.
After resting, roll the dough out with the rolling pin and put it on a greased tray. Using a rolling pin is important at this point as we want the dough to rise evenly.
This dough is quite important, since it will be hard You must roll out the dough very carefully and strongly because it will be very hard in texture. We use the wooden stamp and press in on the dough very hard.
And our shape is ready!
One of the doughs is sourdough and the other one is unleavened. Wet the sourdough with a water spray to combine both doughs. At this point, it will look delicious! There is no need to let it rest at this point.
Make some small holes on the dough using a toothpick to prevent excessive puffing and in the oven, they go! After a short wait, you have your Seljuk Bread ready to enjoy. I wanted to make a stamped bread for this article about the sacred breads. Cumhur Aygün found a stamp suitable for Seljuk and Anatolian motifs and arranged it. We made a wooden mold for it and got our wheat and lamb. It was a great decision to add the cartilage. Sacred breads have been done either using yeast or without—we combined both and made a bread with two layers. Have you ever felt inspired to create such breads with some guesswork? Please share your opinion with us!