Images of Maundy Money from Woodlands Junior School (UK) website by permission of Mandy Barrow.
For Christians, Maundy Thursday is the start of the Paschal Triduum (the three-day celebration of Easter). The name Maundy comes from mandatum, a Latin word that means commandment. According to the New Testament (John 3:34), Jesus Christ gave His disciples a new commandment during the Last Supper. The commandment was to love another. (“As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”)
At the Last Supper, Jesus also washed the feet of his disciples, a custom many churches still follow on Maundy Thursday, with parishioners attending an evening Maundy service and washing each other’s feet. Some then remain for an all-night vigil in remembrance of Jesus’s vigil in the Garden of Gethsemane.
From the fourth century, priests washed the feet of beggars on Maundy Thursday, and gave them food and clothing. In the thirteenth century, English monarchs took to going to Westminster Abbey to do the same, even the washing of feet bit, which was supposed to symbolize how they humbly served their subjects. (The rest of the year, they weren’t quite so humble, being more interested in oppressing them and collecting taxes.) Henry IV (1366-1413) brought in the practice of having the number of paupers match the age of sovereign, which must have resulted in a lean year for the poor when his grandson, Henry VI, came to the throne at age one. Who that lucky soul was has not been recorded for posterity.
The royal washing of feet stopped in 1689, but the distribution of food and clothing went on until the nineteenth century, when they were replaced with Maundy money. Maundy money itself started in 1662, during the reign of Charles II. The first coins were issued in ordinary coinage, but in 1670, a specific set of four silver coins (a one-penny piece, a two-penny piece, a three-penny piece, and a four-penny piece) were issued. These are still the denominations of coins used for Maundy money, and nowadays, the recipients (pensioners who have rendered valuable Church and community service) receive two leather purses, a red one containing regular coins, and a white one containing Maundy coins equal in pence value to the age of Queen Elizabeth II, who is now eighty-eight. The queen attends a Royal Maundy service in a different cathedral each year, and this year will be at Blackburn Cathedral in Lancashire.