Jill Cannings – a reader at St Peter and St Paul, Uppingham and branch leader of the town’s Mothers’ Union – was one of four people from the diocese to receive Maundy money from the Queen on 29th March. Here is her personal account of an unforgettable day at Windsor Castle.
On Maundy Thursday, I travelled to Windsor Castle to receive Maundy money from the Queen. All arrangements and the service are meticulously organised. One is invited to attend with a carer/companion, and my daughter Emma was delighted to take on that role! We stayed overnight in Windsor and arrived early at the appointed car park on the ‘long walk’ (the impressive entry into Windsor Castle). After politely-undertaken security checks, we were driven in a royal coach into the castle grounds. We took our places in St George’s Chapel and The Lord High Almoner (responsible for liturgical arrangements for the Royal Maundy Service) briefed us on what would happen. We were then treated to wonderful music, and the arrival of an array of people with amazing titles and costumes, including the Yeomen of the Guard, the Military Knights of Windsor, the Dean and Canons of Windsor, the Wandsmen and many more with roles of historical significance. Four children chosen from local schools also came in carrying nosegays (small bunches of flowers), which traditionally masked the smell of the recipients!
Precisely at 11.00am, the Queen – smartly dressed in a royal blue coat and hat – entered with her own procession. As a strong Christian, the Queen apparently loves the Maundy service, and has been handing out Maundy money since 1953. Sadly, Prince Philip was not able to be there. It was the first time he had missed a Maundy service.
The service derives its name from the Latin word ‘mandatum’ (meaning ‘a commandment’) and it starts with the words of Jesus – “I give you a new commandment: love one another; as I have loved you, so you are to love one another”. After the first reading from John 13:1–15 (Jesus washes the feet of the disciples), the Queen proceeded to personally hand two pouches of Maundy money to 92 recipients. After a brief sit down for a hymn, she was up again after a second reading (Matthew 25:31–46) to dispense to the remaining 92. She smiled warmly at each recipient, making it a very special moment.
The Royal Maundy can be traced back in England with certainty to the 13th century. The first recorded Royal Distribution was in Yorkshire by King John in 1210. The distribution is in two parts. A red purse contains a nominal allowance for clothing and provisions. A white purse contains the Maundy coins – silver pennies, twopences, threepences and fourpences according to the age of the Sovereign. The pouches are carried in six alms dishes dating from the reign of King Charles II. All this is legal tender, but I will not be using it at the local shops!
From the 15th century onwards, the number of recipients has equalled the years of the Sovereign’s life. At one time, recipients were required to be the same sex as the Sovereign, but since the 18th century, gender equality has been established – hence 92 men and 92 women received the money this year. The modern-day recipients are pensioners selected by Bishops because of the Christian service they have rendered to the Church and community.
After the service, we had a reception in some of the magnificent rooms of Windsor – St George’s Hall, the Waterloo Chamber, the Grand Reception Room and the Garter Throne Room. We certainly do history, pomp and circumstance very well in this country. However, it was also a very humbling experience. What a day to cherish!