Why Is the Maundy Money so Called?
Maundy Money is the name given to the silver coins distributed to the poor by the sovereign of England on what is called Maundy Thursday—that is, the Thursday before Easter. The name Maundy is derived from the Latin mandatum or commandment, the first word of an anthem sung on this day in Roman Catholic Churches. At mass the priest ceremonially washes the feet of 12 men in memory of the action Christ took in washing the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper.
The Maundy ceremony, the giving of Maundy money, usually held in London’s Westminster Abbey, is the relic of the former practice whereby the monarchs of England used to wash the feet of the poor on this day. If the sovereign is not in the country on Maundy Thursday, the ceremony is carried out by the High Almoner and his assistants. His office dates from the 12th Century and is always held by an important church dignitary. Maundy Money is often known as the Royal Maundy.
“Maundy money as such started in the reign of Charles II with an undated issue of hammered coins in 1662. The coins were a four penny, three penny, two penny and one penny piece but it was not until 1670 that a dated set of all four coins appeared. Prior to this, ordinary coinage was used for Maundy gifts, silver pennies alone being used by the Tudors and Stuarts for the ceremony.”
Each year the Queen visits a different cathedral to hand out Maundy Money. Accompanied by Prince, the Queen will give the money to 91 men and 91 women during a service for Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday. The number of recipients reflects the monarch’s age, as the Queen will be 91 this year. This is money ceremonially given to pensioners by the Queen.
A red purse is given containing money in lieu of food and clothing, while a white purse is given containing the ceremonial Maundy coins, which consist of the same number of pence as the years of the sovereign’s age. The Maundy coin are legal tender but rarely spent because of their symbolic value.