Millions of people worldwide attended Ash Wednesday services, including thousands in Merced County.
The day marked the first day of Lent, the 40-day period not including Sundays of fasting, prayer and repentance leading up to Easter, which this year is March 31.
The tradition is most often observed by Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians, although other denominations sometimes hold services.
The ashes are placed on the forehead in the sign of a cross as a mark of repentance and a reminder of mortality, as the clergy quotes the biblical phrase from Genesis, "Remember, man is dust, and unto dust you shall return."
The 40-day period comes from the biblical account when Jesus fasted for 40 days to resist Satan's temptations in the wilderness.
In Merced on Wednesday, places of worship such as Sacred Heart Church attracted large crowds throughout the day.
People came to pray and receive the traditional sign of the cross in ashes on their foreheads. The pews at Sacred Heart were filled with individuals and families, many with young children.