The dedication of Queen Elizabeth II to her duties is well-known. She is the most widely traveled head of state in history and was the first monarch to circumnavigate the globe.
Despite celebrating her 89th birthday on April 26, she has amazing stamina, as indeed does her husband Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who celebrates his 94th birthday on June 10.
The queen attended her first Maundy service at Westminster Abbey as Princess Elizabeth in 1935, aged 8 years. During the 64 services held during her reign, this year’s is the 60th at which she has presided.
The royal couple had a busy day April 2, known as Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday. They left Buckingham Palace by car, traveling to a railway terminus in north London. From there, they rode the Royal Train to Sheffield in South Yorkshire to attend the Maundy Service at the city’s Church of England cathedral. With the usual immaculate precision, the train arrived at Sheffield station where the queen’s claret and black Bentley state limousine awaited to transport Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip to the cathedral, to join the Maundy Procession as it entered the cathedral at exactly 11 o’clock.
What is the Maundy service?
So, what is the Maundy service? It is a long-standing tradition in Britain for the reigning monarch to distribute coins to a select group of citizens, in a ceremony held just before Easter.
The word “Maundy” derives from the Latin “Mandatum,” meaning “commandment.” Immediately after the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, and as recorded in John 13:15, he said to them, “I have set you an example: you are to do as I have done for you.”
Afterwards he delivered his commandment, “Love one another; as I have loved you, you are to love one another” (John 13:34). This act of humility by Jesus is still recalled by churches in many lands.
In England, the Maundy service can be traced back to the fifth century A.D. The pedilavium — or washing of the feet — followed Holy Communion on the Thursday before Easter. The earliest known ceremony at which the monarch distributed money is 1210. In this year King John (1199 to 1216) presented 13 silver pennies to each of 13 “paupers” at Knaresborough in Yorkshire, as well as clothes, a belt, and a knife. The king’s generosity did not stop there.
We learn from a document, the Rotulus Misae, which is an account of the daily expenses at the Court, that there was “on Good Friday at the same place, [a meal] for one thousand poor people.”