Maundy Money ceremony cancelled for second year in a row due to the coronavirus pandemic!
In 2020, perhaps for the first time ever, the ancient tradition of the Royal Maundy ceremony was cancelled.
Centuries of tradition have been overturned as one of the Church of England’s most archaic ceremonies is unable to take place due to the Queen being in isolation at Windsor Castle.
No-one knows for sure when, or if, Royal Maundy has been cancelled before. Even during wartime, King George VI and the Archbishop of Canterbury were able to uphold the tradition.
However, the unprecedented circumstances the world is facing right now means there is simply no other option than to break tradition…
Today’s ceremony was due to take place in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle with a choral accompaniment.
Now, rather than handing out the Maundy money consignments individually, the Queen has written personally to the 188 recipients saying, “The traditional Maundy money, which had been blessed in the Chapel Royal, was enclosed”, and the ceremonial red and white leather purses containing Maundy money have been delivered remotely by Royal Mail, for the first time since the tradition began.
So where does this tradition come from and what is the history behind Maundy money?
The History of Royal Maundy
Maundy Thursday is a key day during the Easter week which commemorates Jesus Christ’s last supper on the day before his crucifixion.
The Royal Maundy Church service takes place each year on this day, and is inspired by the generosity shown by Jesus in washing the feet of his disciples shortly before his death.
Its origins can be traced back to the Middle Ages, when English monarchs would wash the feet of beggars and offer gifts of food and clothing in imitation of Jesus.
However it was King John who was the first to give to the poor on Maundy Thursday and by the early 14th century, it had become customary for the sovereign to provide a meal, together with gifts of food and clothing.
Sharing the Wealth
For numismatists, the day has added significance in the form of Maundy money which is given out by the reigning monarch each year at the service.
The tradition of giving out money began with Charles II, with the first set of Maundy coins consisting of a four penny, three penny, two penny and a penny. The coins have remained in much the same form since then, and are traditionally struck in sterling silver.
At the Royal Maundy ceremony, the reigning monarch hands each recipient two small leather string purses – one white, one red. The red purse contains ordinary coinage as money (in lieu of the food and clothing which was offered years ago) and the white contains silver Maundy coins.
The Maundy coins total the age of the King or Queen in pence, so this year, as the Queen approaches her 94th birthday, each white purse will contain 94 pence.
Recognition of Service
Nowadays it is not the poor who are the recipients of this gift, but specially chosen members of the public in recognition of the service they have given to the Church and local community.
The number of men and women receiving Maundy Money also equals the age of the sovereign during the year, and since the reign of George I, the recipients have been an equal number of men and women. For example, this year 188 recipients will receive the Maundy coins – 94 men and 94 women.
The tradition and heritage behind Maundy money makes them among the most sought-after coins in British numismatic history. Their owners are part of an exclusive club which dates back centuries, and they still exemplify the generosity and selfless work of the Church during this week – the most important in the Christian calendar.
Sadly, this year, tradition has been broken and the Royal Maundy ceremony will not take place. Whilst the overturning of this ancient ceremony reflects the difficult and truly unprecedented times we are currently facing, it does not detract from the hard work and dedication of the well-deserving receivers of the Maundy money this year.
Her Majesty’s personalised letters to each receipiant demonstrate that even in the toughest of times, its important to honour those who give to our community.
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