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A Royal Maundy for the History Books

The Queen has distributed Maundy Money today in a tradition going back centuries. And today's ceremony, despite its ancient roots and the Queen's long rule, brought a new chapter in the historic reign of Elizabeth II.

For the first time in her reign, the Queen carried out the ancient ceremony at Leicester Cathedral. And her visit to this location means that Elizabeth II has now distributed Maundy Money at every Anglican Cathedral in England.

There was a big turnout for the Queen with crowds along the route she took and at the Cathedral with more gathering around the city's big screens which were showing the event. At the end of the day, Leicester City Council put the turnout at around 16,000. But then Leicester shows a lot of pride in royal events - the reburial of King Richard III two years ago was a major event in the city's history - and the chance to see the Queen on this historic day wasn't going to be missed.with pictures of crowds showing just how popular an event this was. There were giant screens  for the ceremony which traces its roots back over fourteen centuries.

As is traditional, Maundy Money was distributed to a group of men and a group of women - 91 of each, to match the birthday the Queen will celebrate this year. They received two purses - one white, containing special Maundy Money which is minted just for this occasion. There are 91 coins in each purse - again, matching the Queen's age. A red purse was also given to each recipient containing a five pound coin marking the centenary of the House of Windsor and a 50p celebrating Sir Isaac Newton. This second bag is symbolic, representing the alms that were previously given to poor people by royalty and church leaders on Maundy Thursday.

For this tradition has been going on for many years. The king who was famously laid to rest again in Leicester Cathedral, Richard III, would have taken part in a similar ceremony during his brief reign. King John was the first English monarch recorded giving money to the poor on Maundy Thursday 1213 but for six hundred years before then, charity was given by church leaders and state leaders at the time. They also used to wash feet, following the story of Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper which took place on Maundy Thursday, but that part of the tradition has long since gone. However, the Maundy Money remains and the Queen has made the custom her very own.

Because before the reign of Elizabeth II, it's unlikely the ceremony would have taken place in Leicester. The Queen developed the idea of moving the service from London, where it was usually held, to different parts of the United Kingdom. Royal Maundy is still marked in London once a decade but now it is a moveable event and its celebration in Leicester is another chapter in that.

The ceremony clearly means a lot to the Queen.  On the eve of this year's historic service, the Royal Family Instagram account shared a beautiful album of images from previous events (see it above) while the official Twitter account offered followers a link to footage of the Queen's first Maundy Thursday service in 1952, her first public engagement following the death of her father, George VI, on February 6th that year and her own accession as Queen (see that below).

The Queen has spoken many times of how important her faith is to her and this is a celebration of her beliefs. Those who now receive Maundy Money are chosen for their service to their church and their church communities and they were celebrated by the Royal Family Twitter account too in another innovation.

The happiness that was clear on the Queen's face at the end of the Royal Maundy ceremony is there every year. Maybe it's the sight of the Duke of Edinburgh holding a posy of flowers - another tradition - or maybe it's that link to the past, present and future and the celebration of faith that is reflected in the evident joy.

For as the Queen walked into Leicester Cathedral and past the place where Richard III now lies, she walked in the footsteps of all those who have worn the Crown they share and sat on the throne they have both occupied. This is a part of royal tradition, of royal ceremony, of royal faith. In 2017, in the actions of Elizabeth II, the longest reigning of them all, the story of Britain's monarchs and Royal Maundy added more history to its venerable past.


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