Dear Mr Postman .. thank you for bringing another letter to us on Maunday Thursday .. my mother and I were discussing watching the Queen distribute the Maundy money some years ago and were wondering how the ceremony came about .. so your letter will be interesting ...
Maundy Thursday is the day before Good Friday and is the day the Roman Catholics still hold a ceremony for the washing of feet. England adhered to the Catholic Church for over 1,000 years until Henry VIII in 1535, so the Maundy traditions originate back to these times. The fundamental aspect of the original Maundy service was the washing of the feet of the poor, which has its origins in Jesus' washing of the feet of the Disciples at the Last Supper.
It is recorded that in 1210 that King John distributed alms at a Maundy service .. these were garments, forks, food and other gifts to the poor of Knaresborough, Yorkshire; King Edward III in the 1300s is said to have washed feet and given gifts including money to the poor; and so the practice has continued ever since.
Even when Henry VIII broke from Rome and the Church of England was formed in 1535 - the Maundy ceremony continued. The monarch participated until 1698; the washing of feet ended after the 1736 ceremony until it was reinstated in the 2003 ceremony by the present Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.
The introduction of Maundy money consisted of silver pennies totalling the current age of the monarch being distributed to a selection of people. In 1932, King George V agreed to take part personally in the distribution of the Maundy money and by 1952, the year Queen Elizabeth II acceeded to the throne, it had become normal practice for her to distribute the Maundy money in red and white purses to senior citizens - this year it will be to 83 men and 83 women.
Until 1820 ordinary silver coinage was used for the Maundy money, but from 1822 under George IV special coins were minted in values of 1, 2, 3 and 4 pence - the 4d (four pence) coin was known as a groat.
Sets of coins are issued - and as each set of Maundy money contains 10 pence, the recipients are given an appropriate number of complete sets, plus a part set if necessary to equal the sovereign's present age. This year the Queen is 83 so 8 sets and a threepence (or thruppeny) will be distributed in those red and white purses during the Maundy ceremony.
Thank you Mr Postman - that was a really interesting letter .. it is always good to be reminded of our traditions and where they emanated from ..