Guest Author - Raymond F. Hanisco
As Easter Sunday approaches, one of the most important holidays in the Christian community, we are reminded of the altruistic acts of Christ. Our churches celebrate the Last Supper, Christ’s death on the cross, and His resurrection, but very few people, except our British readers, know about Maundy Thursday. Maundy Thursday is the day before Good Friday. Some of the more astute coin collectors know about Maundy Thursday because they collect some of the scarcest coinage in the world, Maundy Money.
The Bible tells us Christ washed the feet of His disciples before the Last Supper as a sign of His humility. He also commanded them to love one another. The Latin for commandment is “man datum.” These Latin words are the root of the word Maundy.
In Britain, a tradition was established of giving silver coins to the poor on the day before Good Friday. Legend tells us that it started with St. Augustine at Canterbury as far back as AD 597. The ceremonial washing of the feet and giving of silver coins on Maundy Thursday by the monarchs of England date back to the time of either King Edward I (1272-1307) or King Edward II (1307-1327), scholars seem to differ on this point.
Traditions on Maundy Thursday have evolved over the years. Samuel Pepys wrote in 1667, “…the King [Charles II] did not wash the poor people’s feet himself, but the Bishop of London did it for him.” The washing of the feet was totally abandoned in the 18th century. Eventually, even the Monarchs no longer attended the ceremony, but in 1932, King George V presided as Monarch over the ceremony, and it has become a tradition ever since.
The silver coins given to the poor were, initially, just a part of the normal circulating coinage of the time. The coins originally handed out were the penny (1 pence) and the groat (4 pence). In 1551, the threepence was added, and in 1667, the twopence. It is not clear exactly when silver coins were struck just for the Maundy Ceremony, but we do know there are complete sets of Maundy Money (1, 2, 3 and 4 pence) by 1822.
Victorian Maundy Sets are relatively easy to acquire because they could be ordered from the bank or mint by anyone who desired to do so. In 1908, with King Edward VII stepping to the throne, instructions were given that Maundy sets would only be available to the recipients involved in the ceremony, the number of recipients would be limited to the age of the monarch, and the recipients would be of the same sex as the Monarch. The number of Maundy set presented was revised again under Queen Elizabeth II to that of twice the age of the Monarch, with equal numbers of sets being give to both male and female recipients.
The composition of the Maundy coins was originally .925 fine silver. In 1921, the fineness was reduced to .500, but was later restored to .925 in 1947. With the British currency being decimalized in 1971, the entire Maundy series was revalued as 1, 2, 3 and 4 new pence.
The Maundy ceremony was originally held at the Chapel Royal in Whitehall, and later moved to Westminster Abbey. Starting in 1955, the ceremony was hosted at Southwark Cathedral, and then alternated between Westminster Abbey and other cathedrals. In 1972, the presentations rotate to different a church each year.
The Maundy Sets are no longer presented specifically to the poor. The church hierarchy chooses the recipients for selfless acts from those among the congregation.
Steeped in religion, tradition and history, the Maundy Sets are one of the most collectible and scarce numismatic treasures. Collecting Maundy Money is a reminder to all throughout the year to love one another.