Royal Maundy Service

Commanded by Jesus

Maundy Thursday is the Thursday in Holy Week, the annual period when Christians remember the events that led to the crucifixion of Jesus. On Maundy Thursday Jesus washed the feet of the disciples after he had celebrated the Passover meal. He gave the commandment, or mandatum, 'that ye love one another' (John XIII 34) and washed the feet of his disciples. This is still recalled regularly by Christian churches throughout the world and the ceremony of washing the feet of believers continues today.

Royal Maundy

The Distribution of Alms and the washing of the feet on the Thursday of Holy Week have a long history. The Maundy can be traced back in England to the 12th century, and there are continuous records of the Monarch distributing gifts on Maundy Thursday from the reign of King Edward I.

It seems to have been the custom as early as the thirteenth century for members of the royal family to take part in Maundy ceremonies, to distribute money and gifts, and to recall Christ's simple act of humility by washing the feet of the poor.

Henry IV began the practice of relating the number of recipients of gifts to the sovereign's age, and as it became the custom of the sovereign to perform the ceremony, the event became known as the Royal Maundy.

A Spiritual Act by the Sovereign

Today, The Queen views her role in the service as an important part of her devotional life. Normally people visit her to receive honours, so it is symbolic that this is the only occasion that the Queen travels to make an award. Often those receiving the Maundy money are moved to tears as the Queen walks around the Cathedral, moves to them, greets them, and gives them the purses.

During the Service, officers of the Royal Almonry escort the Queen to those who are to receive the Royal Maundy gifts. The Lord High Almoner wears a linen towel round his waist symbolizing the foundations of the ritual by Jesus who chose to wash the feet of his disciples as an act of humility.

The Royal Maundy service used to take place in London, but early in her reign The Queen decided that the service should take place at a different cathedral every year. The Queen has distributed Maundy on all but four occasions since coming to the throne in 1952. You can see previous locations for the Royal Maundy Service here.

The Recipients and the Gifts

Today's recipients of Royal Maundy, as many elderly men and women as there are years in the sovereign's age, are chosen because of the Christian service they have given to the Church and community.

          Yeoman of the Guard

The Yeomen play a crucial role in the service by not only providing a guard of honour for The Queen, but by carrying the Maundy Money on six Alms dishes.

The Six Alms Dishes, used for the distribution of the coins, date from the reign of King Charles II. The traditional Maundy Dish is part of the Regalia, and bears the cypher of William and Mary. A pair of Dishes known as the Fish Dishes, one seawater the other freshwater, were once part of the Chapel Royal Plate. The Fish Dishes were first used in a Maundy service at Tewkesbury in 1971. The fourth dish was first used at Bristol in 1999 and has a crowned rose in the centre and a wide border within a flower and leafage motif, a horse, a bull, a boar and a stag. The fifth dish, used for the first time at Canterbury Cathedral in 2002, has a central sun motif, engraved with the Royal Stuart Arms in garter motto with Prince's coronet at the top. The sixth dish, used for the first time at Guildford in 2006, comes from The Royal Collection and is by John Bodington and engraved I.H.S.


You can read more about them and the Royal Maundy service here.

A description of a Royal Maundy Service

In 2007, Manchester Cathedral hosted the Royal Maundy service for the first time in its history. Below is a description of the day and links to a photo archive.

Maundy Honours at the Cathedral (17/04/2007)

Thousands of people turned out to welcome the Queen, and 81 men and 81 women who have served their church and community had the honour of receiving Maundy money at the ceremony that dates back to the 12th century.

The Queen brought all the pomp and ceremony of this ancient tradition to Manchester. She was welcomed to the cathedral by the Dean, Rogers Govender, and escorted by 30 Yeoman of the Guard, who looked splendid in their traditional red and gold tunics.

They marched in the cathedral carrying the Maundy money on six gold alms dishes above their heads. For one Yeoman, Robert Collister, it was a homecoming. He was brought up in Davyhulme and said he was privileged to be serving the Queen in his home town.

During the service, the Queen distributed the Maundy money to each pensioner in turn. She was assisted by the Bishop of Manchester who wore a linen towel round his waist as he took on the role of Lord High Almoner. The wearing of a towel symbolises Jesus washing his disciples’ feet on the night he was betrayed.

Lessons were read by The Duke of Edinburgh and by the sub-Dean, Canon Paul Denby. Prayers were led by Canon Robin Gamble and members of Greater Manchester Churches Together.

After the quiet and moving service the Queen chatted to the crowds lining the streets before attending a reception at Chetham’s School of Music and lunch at Manchester Town Hall.

Sybil Buck of St John‘s, Hey, one of the Maundy recipients, spoke for many when she said, “It was a wonderful day. It was amazing to be nominated and I feel very humble Lots of people have done so much good work, why was I chosen?”.

Sybil has been involved with Girl Guides for 60 years and a lay assistant for 25 years. She was particularly pleased that the Maundy money included a 50 pence coin marking the centenary of the Scouting movement.

Alice Latimer, featured in March’s CRUX 2007, spoke with tears in her eyes. She said “I’m going to keep selling my books to raise money for the new church building. I’ll write a new chapter now all about this lovely service.”

To view and purchase official photos of the Royal Maundy, visit here. Clcik and select Online Reprints.