For the first time in almost 400 years, Britain’s annual Royal Maundy service was held in Oxford.
During the centuries-old annual ceremony, held on Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday (this year March 28), the reigning British monarch distributes purses of special coins to selected members of the public.
An equal number of sets, matching the monarch’s age at the next birthday, is presented to men and to women.
The venue for the 2013 ceremony was Christ Church Cathedral, a unique institution that combines an Anglican cathedral with a college of the University of Oxford. The 12th century cathedral last hosted a Maundy service in 1643, when Charles I was based in the city during the English Civil War.
The Maundy ceremony has religious roots back to the time of Jesus Christ, when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples during the Last Supper. The English foot-washing ceremony dates back at least to the fifth century (but royal foot-washing has not been part of the ceremony since 1698).
The earliest known English Maundy ceremony at which the monarch distributed money is 1210; the monarchs had no direct involvement in the Maundy ceremony for 233 years, from 1699 to 1932.
Since ascending the throne in 1952, Queen Elizabeth II has distributed the Royal Maundy on 58 occasions, missing several events due to overseas tours and because of the births of Princes Andrew and Edward. The 2013 Maundy ceremony was the second public appearance for the queen after a brief illness.
Queen Elizabeth II is in her 87th year and therefore the number of male recipients numbered 87, with the same number of female recipients. Each received two purses.
The first purse is red in color and contains a £5 coin and a 50-pence coin, being the traditional payment in lieu of clothing and food. The amount has not been adjusted for inflation over time. This year the coins composing the £5.50 include the commemorative £5 issued to mark the 60th anniversary of the queen’s coronation.
The second purse is white in color and this year contains 87 pence in silver Maundy money, meaning each recipient received eight complete sets of Maundy money (comprising the fourpence, threepence, twopence and penny), and an additional fourpence and threepence.
Yeomen of the guard carried the Maundy money on silver trays. Today, the recipients are chosen for their service to others, unlike the traditional practice of giving Maundy money to the poor. ■