Maundy Money - the Sovereign's Easter gift to the poor

Living History

Maundy Money - the Sovereign's Easter gift to the poor

Maundy Thursday is the traditional British designation of the Christian holy day falling on the Thursday before Easter. It commemorates the Washing of the Feet and the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles, and is marked in Britain by the distribution of maundy money by the monarch to the deserving poor.

The derivation of the word 'maundy' is disputed, with some sources believing it derives from an old English word 'maund', meaning 'to beg'. Since the reign of Edward I, English kings and queens distributed purses of alms to some of the poor at Whitehall before attending Mass on Maundy Thursday, and this became known as maundy money. Other sources claim the word is linked to the Latin 'mandatum' which means 'commandment.' It refers to when Jesus, during the Last Supper, told his disciples to love one another. He then washed their feet as an example of love, service and humility.

The current Queen still continues the tradition of distributing alms on this day, taking part in the Ceremony of the Royal Maundy where she gives coins called Maundy money to a selected number of senior citizens - one man and one woman for each year of the sovereign's age, presented in red and white purses.

The red purse contains regular currency and is given in place of food and clothing; the white purse has money in the amount of one penny for each year of the Sovereign's age. Since 1822, rather than ordinary money, this has been specially minted 1, 2, 3 and 4 penny pieces, and although legal tender, have become highly collectable items. The service at which this takes place rotates around English and Welsh churches, though in 2008 it took place for the first time in Northern Ireland at Armagh Cathedral. Until the death of King James II, the Monarch and the consort would also wash the feet of the selected poor people.

Further reading

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