On the Thursday before Easter each year, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II distributes the Royal Maundy in a cathedral somewhere in England. Men and women to the number of her age each receive that number of pence in specially minted Maundy coins (pennies, twopences, threepences and fourpences), plus a sum in ordinary money.
The Queen spent her 85th birthday honouring pensioners at the Royal Maundy Service in Westminster Abbey yesterday. Each of the 85 men and 85 women who received the Maundy Money from the Queen ... was given a purse containing 85p in commemorative coins, a £5 coin celebrating the Duke of Edinburgh's 90th birthday in June, and a 50p coin marking the London 2012 Olympics.
Daily Telegraph, 22 Apr. 2011.
These days, the monarch no longer ceremonially washes the feet of the poor — the last one to do so was James II — but this, and not the giving of money, is the origin of the strange word Maundy, which never appears anywhere except in reference to the Thursday before Easter. This day commemorates the Last Supper, in which, after the ceremony of washing their feet, Jesus gave a new commandment to his disciples that they should love one another.
In Latin “new commandment” is mandatum novum (the first word is also the origin of mandate); on Maundy Thursday in Roman Catholic churches the anthem Mandatum novum do vobis (“a new commandment I give to you”, the start of verse 13:34 in St John’s gospel) would be sung, in particular following the royal ceremony of washing feet and giving alms. As a result, the ceremony became known as mandatum. The Old French version of that word is mandé and over time it became corrupted into maundy.
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