A break in centuries of tradition as Queen’s Maundy money goes by Royal Mail

It is one of the most ancient rituals to remain part of the Church of England’s calendar and no-one is sure when, if ever, it was last cancelled. Even during the war, either King George VI or the Archbishop of Canterbury did the honours.

Archbishop of York John Sentamu, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Beatrice attends a Maundy Thursday Service at York Minster on April 5, 2012 (Photo by Arthur Edwards/WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Archbishop of York John Sentamu, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Beatrice attends a Maundy Thursday Service at York Minster on April 5, 2012 (Photo by Arthur Edwards/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

But with the Queen in isolation at Windsor, the ceremonial red and white leather purses containing today’s consignments of Royal Maundy money have had to be delivered remotely.

Instead of handing them out personally, the Queen has sent them by Royal Mail, the Palace confirmed.

A spokesman said the Queen had written to all 188 recipients, adding: “The traditional Maundy money, which had been blessed in the Chapel Royal, was enclosed.”

Selby's memorable Maundy service

The gifts by tradition are bestowed on the day before Good Friday by the reigning monarch. The recipients are pensioners – a man and a woman for each year of the Sovereign’s life, chosen for their service to their churches and communities.

Today’s ceremony, with a choral accompaniment, was to have taken place in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, its location for three years in the last four.

The Queen, whose 94th birthday is in 12 days, had instructed early in her reign that the service should not be held in London more often than once every 10 years, and her visit to Leicester three years ago completed a circuit of every Anglican cathedral in England. It was last presented in Yorkshire in 2015, at Sheffield Cathedral.

However, several recipients from the county are thought to have been among those who would have travelled to Windsor today. Each was to have received a white purse containing specially minted Maundy coins up to the value of the Sovereign’s age, and a red purse containing about £5 in ordinary coins, to symbolise the Queen’s gift for food and clothing.

The Maundy coins, like Scottish banknotes, are legal tender in principle but seldom in practice, their rarity making them more valuable to collectors than to shopkeepers.

The service can be traced back to 600AD and the special coins have kept much the same form for the last three and a half centuries. They still bear the portrait of the Queen designed for her coronation in 1953, even though the image on ordinary coins has since changed four times since.

The Maundy ritual is said to derive from a Middle Age custom of washing the feet of beggars in imitation of Jesus, though the origins of Royal involvement are lost in time. The first recorded instance is in Knaresborough in 1210, where King John donated garments, forks, food, and other gifts to the poor of the town.

But it did not happen again in the North of England until 1967, when the Queen handed out the Maundy purses to the pensioners of Durham. Two years later, the ceremony finally came home to Yorkshire and to its oldest Abbey at Selby, as part of a celebration to mark its 900th anniversary.

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