It’s a tradition that dates back to the time of the Bible. During the Last Supper, Jesus famously washed the feet of his disciples as a sign of his humility, and it was this religious event that inspired an Easter tradition whichtakes place to this day.
Since the thirteenth century, members of the Royal Family have followed Jesus’ example, giving gifts to the poor and washing their feet on Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday. By washing the feet of the poor they were showing humility and compassion.When Henry IV became king, he introduced a new tradition, deciding to give the same number of gifts as his age. So, for instance, when the monarch was forty, he gave forty of his subjects Maundy gifts. It became the custom for the sovereign to perform the ceremony, and the event became known as the Royal Maundy.By the eighteenth century, the act of washing feet was discontinued and the accompanying gifts were replaced by a money allowance, known as Maundy money.
And it was this change that created one of the most interesting of all the historic Royal Mint releases.
The origins of this custom
The first Maundy money ceremony took place in the reign of Charles II, when the king gave people undated hammered coins in 1662. The coins were a four penny, three penny, two penny and one penny piece. By 1670 the king started giving out a dated set of all four coins.
The tradition of the king or queen washing the feet of the poor faded out in the eighteenth century, but the monarch still gave people food and clothing. By the nineteenth century the tradition had changed again, and the monarch simply gave people the Maundy money.
Maundy money has traditionally been made of sterling silver, apart from the brief interruptions of Henry VIII’s debasement of the coinage and the general change to 50% silver coins in 1020. The use of sterling silver resumed following the Coinage Act of 1971 and after decimalisation in 1971, the face values of the coins were increased from old to new pence.
During Her Majesty The Queen’s reign, her portrait on ordinary circulating coinage has been updated four times. However, Maundy money still bears the same portrait of Her Majesty created by Mary Gillick that appeared on the first coins of her reign in 1953.
Today’s recipients of Royal Maundy are elderly men and women, chosen because of the Christian service they have given to the Church and the community. The ceremony takes place every Maundy Thursday. There are as many recipients as there are years in the sovereign’s age.
At the ceremony, the monarch hands each recipient two small leather string purses. A red purse contains ordinary coins, while a white one contains silver Maundy coins, amounting to the same number of pence as the years of the sovereign’s age.
Its deeply historical roots are what makes Maundy Money a rare highlight in any classic coin collection. But because of their extremely limited mintage and the fact they have never been issued into general circulation, they now stand as a one of the most highly sought after Easter gifts in the world!