This ceremony is traditionally held on the Thursday before Easter (‘Maundy Thursday’), the name possibly deriving from commemoration of Christ washing his disciples' feet and his injunction to them ‘Mandatum novum do vobis’ (‘A new commandment I give you’). Following episcopal example, the practice was adopted by English kings before the Norman conquest, and foot-washing of the poor continued until 1754, though with occasional delegation to the royal almoner or similar deputy. In its abridged survival (the gift of Maundy Pennies), four officials still wear symbolic linen towels during the service, and the monarch carries a nosegay traditionally regarded as protection against disease.
The medieval tradition of giving alms to thirteen poor people, the number representing Christ and the twelve apostles, was modified in 1363 when the fifty-year-old Edward III presented his maundy to fifty men, and the number of recipients subsequently reflected the monarch's age. George I increased these to equal numbers of men and women. Since 1952 the ceremony has no longer been confined to the Chapel Royal or Westminster abbey in London, but has taken place in various provincial cathedrals. The silver coins, legal tender in 1p, 2p, 3p, and 4p denominations, are given to those with a lifetime of service to church and community.
Subjects: British History.