Queen Elizabeth's unique Easter tradition

The Easter Bunny isn’t the only one bringing gifts to Britons at this time of year, and chocolate eggs aren’t all that’s on offer.


Her Majesty has an extra royal duty (1) at Easter, and it’s something her predecessors have been doing for 800 years.

The 'Maundy Money' ceremony takes place on Maundy Thursday, the Thursday of Easter Week, and the day on which Christians celebrate Jesus' Last Supper. Its name derives from Christ’s command or mandatum  to his disciples to love one another.

On that day the monarch gives out special silver coins, known as 'Maundy Money', to local pensioners (2).

The number of recipients and the amount of money they receive both reflect the monarch's age, so now that she is in her 90s, the Queen is distributing rather a lot of happiness!

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She travels to a different cathedral or abbey each year for the ceremony. In the past, it was poor people who received the monarch’s gifts, but now they are made in recognition of services to the church or community. Each recipient receives two purses, one red and one white, containing commemorative coins. The white purse contains coins specially minted (3) for the Maundy ceremony. Though they could spend these, naturally the pensioners usually prefer to keep them as a souvenir (4).

According to the Royal Mint, members of the reigning family have taken part in Maundy services since the 13th century. Back then they gave out food and clothing and even took part in foot-washing ceremonies to symbolise Jesus’ display (5) of humility when he washed the feet of his disciples.

"Henry IV began the practice of relating the number of recipients to the sovereign's age," the Mint's website explains. "In the 18th century the act of washing the feet of the poor was discontinued and in the 19th century money allowances were substituted for the various gifts.

"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."

1. A duty = Something one is obliged to do. 
2. Pensioners = Older people who are past working age and receive a pension.
3. To mint = To make metal coins.
4. A souvenir = An object kept to remind one of a particular event or place. 
5. A display = A demonstration.

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