Ashes on the forehead. In Ancient times, many people used ashes for religious, magical and medical purposes. In the Old Testament, ashes were sprinkled on the head or over the whole body as a sign of mourning and penance.
Receiving ashes on the first day of Lent is a practice that dates back to the fifth century, and by the 11th century was a universal Christian practice. During the Reformation, most Protestant Churches eliminated the use of ashes. In recent years, however, many of these Churches have resumed the practice.