The Royal Maundy service, taking place at Sheffield Cathedral on 2nd April 2015, has been a key date in the Royal and Christian calendar in the UK for over 800 years.
In that time, the service has changed enormously to become the ceremony it is today. Here are 10 things you probably did not know about Royal Maundy.
Top 10 Royal Maundy Facts
- In the Middle Ages, English monarchs washed the feet of beggars, in imitation of Christ. However, the beggars’ feet were washed three times, once by a menial and twice by Court officials, before the King or Queen touched them. This feet-washing tradition was abolished in Victorian times.
- Edward I was the first monarch to keep the Maundy only on Maundy Thursday. Before Edward, additional services were sometimes made during the year.
- In years of the Black Plague, the monarch did not attend the Maundy service as it was deemed too risky. An official (usually the Lord High Almoner) was sent in His place.
- Traditionally, gifts of clothing were given out to the poor. This was replaced with a monetary equivalent in 1724, when the recipients immediately began to try on the clothes in church and exchange them for ones that fit better.
- Maundy money is struck in denominations of one penny, two pence, three pence, and four pence. These are all legal tender.
- The purses that Maundy money are distributed in are carried into the church by Yeomen on silver dishes, held above their heads. This tradition dates back to the times when provisions were distributed to the poor. Some experts believe the dishes are carried high to stop the poor from grabbing at the food, others believe that it was to disguise the smell of the fish.
- The distribution always concludes with the Chapel Royal choir and the local choir singing George Frideric Handel’s coronation anthem, Zadok the Priest.
- The original Maundy Children were not children, but four old men, charity recipients, whose sole duty was to attend at the Royal Maundy service wearing linen scarves. Today they are children chosen from local religious and state schools, and they too receive a set of Maundy coins.
- King William’s death at the age of 71, and the accession of 18-year-old Queen Victoria to the throne in the same year, resulted in a dramatic drop in the number of Maundy recipients. At that time, a Maundy recipient continued in that status for life, the surplus recipients were placed on a waiting list.
- One vacancy from this waiting list opened only a week before the 1838 Royal Maundy, when the recipient Elizabeth Love died at the age of 110.