The Royal Maundy Service
The Royal Maundy is held on Maundy Thursday each year. At the service, the British monarch ceremonially distributes small silver coins known as “Maundy money” as symbolic alms to elderly recipients. The coins are legal tender but do not circulate because of their value. A small sum of ordinary money is also given in lieu of gifts of clothing and food that the sovereign once bestowed on Maundy recipients.
The name “Maundy” as well as the ceremony itself derive from an instruction, or mandatum, of Jesus Christ at the Last Supper that his followers should love one another. In the Middle Ages, English monarchs washed the feet of beggars in imitation of Jesus, and presented gifts and money to the poor. Over time, additional money was substituted for the clothing and other items that had once been distributed. The service has been held in every English Cathedral. Bradford’s turn was in 1997, when 71 male and 71 female pensioners received the red and white purses. Why 71? That’s because, in 1997, the Queen was in her 71st year. The 2020 distribution contained 94 Maundy Pence in the white purse and was distributed to 94 men and 94 women.
That’s all fascinating stuff – but what’s the relevance?
It is not often that one of “our own” folk get singled out for great honour, but that is just what has happened for Janet Wade. Janet has worked, mainly with the Mothers’ Union of which she has been president, for many years. She was singled out for an MBE in 2003 and her work has been recognised again in this singular honour. Let her take up the tale:
“I received a letter on the 18th November from the Royal Almonry Office to let me know that my name had been submitted to be one of the Maundy Recipients. Humbled and pleased, I accepted the honour and waited. I knew I could take one companion with me who would sit beside me in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
Lots of details arrived in the New Year. We would be greeted at St. George’s Chapel by the Wandsmen and we heard all about the Service and the reception afterwards. We also could invite 4 guests who could stand in the Castle precincts to listen to the service and see the Queen depart at the end of the service. All exciting stuff! More details would come with our tickets on 19th March.
Then the coronavirus – and all Church services cancelled. The Lord High Almoner, Dr. John Inge, wrote on the 18th March to say that with much regret the service had to be cancelled and more information would follow.
On the Tuesday of Holy Week a letter from Dr. Inge arrived, enclosing the Maundy purses from the Queen with an accompanying letter from Her Majesty. He said, “The Queen takes a great interest in the Maundy Recipients and greatly values their exemplary Christian service to the nation”. Two purses – a red purse containing the traditional sum of £5.50 – in the past an allowance for clothing and provisions formerly given in kind and a payment for the redemption pf the Sovereign’s gown. This year the £5 coin commemorates the 250th Anniversary of the birth of William Wordsworth and the 50 pence coin portrays Team Great Britain in the 2020 Olympics. The white purse contains Maundy Coins: silver pennies, twopences, threepences and fourpences, totalling 94 pence, corresponding to the sovereign’s age. All coins were newly minted this year. He then finishes with “May God bless you richly in your continuing Christian service“.
In the letter from her Majesty, she says that the service reflects Jesus’s instruction to his disciples to love one another, a call to the service of others. She believes that this is a call to service for all of us. She goes on to say that it is one of her most rewarding duties as Sovereign – to observe this highly significant ceremony at such an important point in the Christian calendar.
She wrote: “It is deeply disappointing that the service can’t go ahead whilst I understand the necessary decision in the present circumstances. However this should not mean your invaluable contribution within the community goes unnoticed, and I am sending this Maundy gift to thank you for your Christian service.”
The Queen ends by saying that her thoughts and prayers are with us and our families at this difficult time.”
We’re proud for you, Janet! I can’t think of anyone more deserving of such an honour – and we’re so sorry that the Corona virus has robbed you of what would have been a very splendid day.
See here to read all about the Royal Maundy