Impressions of last Maundy Thursday’s ceremony when the Queen visited Liverpool Cathedral.
'Maundy Money' Chris Price
For the best part of a thousand years English monarchs have been distributing gifts to their subjects on Maundy Thursday. Until about 1790, apparently, they also washed their feet, and to this day towels are part of the Maundy regalia and nosegays are carried (presumably to neutralise smelly feet). The present Queen keeps up this ancient tradition, visiting provincial cathedrals on alternate years, and this year it was Liverpool’s turn. This year, as always, men and women pensioners (one for each year of the monarch’s life) who have given Christian service to the Church and the community are selected to receive the symbolic gifts. Among them were Ken Bramwell from St Faith’s and Dora Whitehead from St Mary’s.
The whole thing was splendid and impressive. After entering the cathedral (we all had to be carefully police checked and our identities confirmed to get in) we were entertained during the long wait for the start not only by some superb organ music but by a series of colourful processions of the great and the good, religious and secular. By far the most memorable was that of the Queen’s Body Guard of the Yeomen of the Guard, immaculate in magnificent Tudor garb with fearsome pikes. They kept time to the rhythmic banging of their leader’s staff, which echoed menacingly on the cathedral floor as they processed. The effect was startling and produced a time-warp effect, so that it would have been nor surprise if they had rounded up any who dared to talk or take pictures and incarcerate them in the Tower. Their more peaceful role was to bear the glittering alms dishes, laden with the Maundy purses, at one stage balancing these on top of their splendid Tudor flat caps.
The service was fascinating and often moving. The Queen and her entourage, with her Lord High Almoner (none other than St Faith’s old boy Bishop Nigel McCulloch) processed quietly up down and around the vast space of the cathedral distributing the gifts (two purses each: one of ordinary money, the other the unique silver Maundy money), and so well was the routine planned that everyone had a good view of at least part of the proceedings. During the two separate Distributions, the Cathedral choir, augmented by the choir of the ancient Chapel Royal, sang a variety of lovely anthems and settings: their distant harmonies added a further quiet colour to the mood of the service. There were also fanfares, there was full-throated congregational singing, and there was, strikingly, a prevailing air of quiet devotion and even a lot of near silence. The Queen moved with composed dignity and was the centrepiece of an act of worship - for it certainly for me managed to be just that - which was fitting for the day and for the holiest of weeks of the Christian year. The themes were those of penitence, thanksgiving and dedication to service and they were embodied in a service that combined pageantry with Anglican piety and devotion.
It was a long time to go without relief, and the presence of the splendidly-named
Keeper of the Closet in one of the processions underlined its length. But,
human frailty apart, no fault could be found with the day, nor with its
manifestly Christian purpose and achievement. The people of Liverpool turned
out in force outside as well, and will have been witness to a unique event.
With its roots in ancient history, it was a timely reminder in times of
change and uncertainty, of the continuance of tradition, and for this writer
and, I would imagine, all those present, of the enduring values of Christian
service and commitment. When Church and State combine on such occasions
as these, they provide something incomparable, and I wouldn’t have missed
it for the world. All the same, it will be in every sense of the world
a real relief when the Cathedral’s new toilet block is up and running.
|Photos taken on Easter Sunday morning at Saint Faith's
Fr Neil Kelley congratulates Senior Server Ken Bramwell after the morning service. The congregation toasted Ken's health, with an added incentive as yesterday was his birthday!
The next two pictures show the Royal Maundy purses and money - the small packets contain the special silver coins minted for the occasion.
The final pictures show Ken, who was part of the team of serves at the Easter High Mass, posing with his royal gifts in front of ther Lady Altar in the church.
Ken Bramwell’s account of his special day
It was an honour and a privilege to be nominated to
receive the Royal Maundy
from the Queen at Liverpool Cathedral.
It was a wonderful day. The Yeomen of the Guard in
their Tudor red and gold
uniforms, the Queen’s procession led by the Beadle with his unusual mace,
the cathedral a blaze of colour with the ladies wearing their colourful
hats. The timing was perfect – like a military operation. I am told the
rehearsal on Wednesday took five hours.
The Maundy ceremony dates back to Edward II when goods
were given to the
poor by the Monarch, but it was not until 1800 that special sets of coins
were minted. The number of recipients of each sex, and the amount they
receive, is equal to the Monarch’s age.
Christ washed the feet of His disciples at the Last
Supper as a
demonstration of humility. He also gave them a new commandment, that they
should love one another. The Latin for commandment is mandatum, and it is
from this that the word Maundy is derived.
I would be pleased to show the coins and purses to
anyone who would be
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