Thursday, April 21, 2011

Maundy Thursday in 17th-Century England

Maundy Thursday is the common name for Holy Thursday and marks the beginning of the three day celebrating of Easter.

It commemorates the day of the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles and gets its name from the Latin word mandatum, which means "commandment."

Meister des Hausbuches (German painter active between 1470-1505)

Near the end of the Last Supper, after Judas had departed, Christ said to His disciples, "A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another."

During the Last Supper, Jesus washed his disciples' feet. This act has sometimes been followed literally in history as a good way of reminding rulers that they are here to serve their subjects.

In England, the custom of washing feet by the Monarch was carried out until 1689. Up until then the King or Queen would wash the feet of the poor on Maundy Thursday in Westminster Abbey.

Throughout the 17th century, and earlier, the King or Queen would wash the feet of the selected poor people as a gesture of humility, and in remembrance of Jesus' washing the feet of the disciples. The last monarch to do this was James 2. The ceremony of the monarch giving money to the poor on this day dates back to Edward 1.

The ceremony originated in the Roman Catholic Church inspired by the events that occurred during the night Jesus observed the Passover with his disciples. The washing of feet, which was began around the fourth century, and involved the bishop or cardinal within the church washing the feet of the priests and acolytes. The abbot of a monastery would wash the feet of all the monks. While in Rome, the Pope would wash the feet of selected Cardinals. This was seen as fulfilling the mandate that the greatest among the brethren will be the servant of all.

Today, some priests in particular churches or diocese might do ceremonial foot washing. Twelve men, who represent the twelve apostles, are chosen to be the participants.