Fact Check

Do Photos Show Biden with a Bruised Forehead from Falling?

Keep in mind, it was Ash Wednesday.

Published Feb 24, 2023

 (Twitter screenshot)
Image Via Twitter screenshot
During his February 2023 visit to Poland, photos showed U.S. President Joe Biden with a bruised forehead from falling.

The mark misidentified as a "bruise" on Biden's forehead by some social media users was the remnant of a cross of ashes for Ash Wednesday.

In February 2023, as U.S. President Joe Biden visited Warsaw, Poland, and made a surprise visit to Ukraine, a corner of social media fixated on certain photos of him on the trip, saying the images showed him with a bruise on his forehead after stumbling and falling.

The rumor relied on photographs of Biden meeting leaders at the Extraordinary Summit of the NATO Bucharest Nine (B9) at the Presidential Palace in Warsaw on Feb. 22, 2023, in which he appeared to have a mark on his forehead.

Several tweets claimed the marking was a bruise after Biden fell while exiting, or boarding, Air Force One in Poland.

For instance, in the above-displayed tweet, the author claimed the "bruise" was from Biden falling down the stairs when he first arrived to the country on Feb. 20. The tweet shared footage, which we previously debunked, showing someone — not Biden — falling down the stairs while exiting Air Force One.

Other accounts connected the alleged bruise to an actual incident of Biden falling: when he stumbled while climbing up the stairs to Air Force One on Feb. 22.

While Biden did indeed stumble while climbing up the stairs to Air Force One on Feb. 22, the photographs at the center of the "bruise" rumor were taken during his stay in Poland. His fall on the stairs occurred after the event depicted in the photos, as he was leaving the country.

With that in mind, what was the darkened spot on his forehead? Getty Images' photographs from the summit, taken from a variety of angles, showed Biden with the forehead marking, proving the images were not digitally altered.

Instead of a bruise, the marking was a faded cross of ashes for Ash Wednesday. Earlier in the day, on Feb. 22, Biden, a lifelong Catholic, marked the religious observance with a private mass in the Marriott Hotel with a Polish priest.

According to the White House's foreign pool report, a faded ash cross remained on his forehead later, during the meeting of the Bucharest Nine.

Rev. Wieslaw Dawidowski, the priest who conducted the mass, posted on Facebook about how he had "the honor to put ashes on the head of the President of the United States himself." He also shared photographs with Biden.

Biden is the second Catholic president in U.S. history. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, which is a 40-day period of penance and reflection leading up to Easter. Of the forehead-cross tradition, National Geographic writes:

The ash cross marking observers' foreheads is meant to represent mortality and penance for their sins. It is applied by a priest during a morning mass, often along with a small blessing: 'Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.' Many choose to keep it on all day.

The ash itself is derived from burned palm leaves used during last year's Palm Sunday services, which, under Christian doctrine, mark Jesus's arrival to Jerusalem a week before his crucifixion and resurrection. Many people believe residents welcomed Jesus by waving palm fronds.

The February 2023 rumor was not the first time the ash marking on Biden's forehead was mistaken for a bruise. In 2010, a British television presenter asked, "What's happened to his head?" She later apologized for not realizing it was Ash Wednesday. 

Given that photos show Biden in Poland with a mark on his forehead that was a remnant of an ash cross applied by a priest in a mass — and it was not a bruise from falling — we rated this claim as "Miscaptioned."


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"What Is Ash Wednesday?" History, 21 Feb. 2023, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/meaning-cross-ashes-ash-wednesday. Accessed 24 Feb. 2023.

Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.