Fact file: What is Maundy Thursday?


• What does it commemorate?
• What does Maundy mean?
• Why do Christians wash feet?
• What is Maundy Money?

Maundy Thursday is the day when Christians remember the Last Supper, when Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples before being betrayed and arrested.
Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper

During the meal, Jesus took and blessed bread and wine and shared them with his disciples, calling the bread and wine his body and blood.

He urged the disciples to do the same after his death in memory of him, and indeed Christians have done so ever since at Holy Communion – also known as the Eucharist, The Lord’s Supper or Mass.

Maundy Thursday takes its name from the Latin word ‘mandatum’ meaning commandment. During the supper Jesus told his disciples: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13 v 34 –NRSV).

He also got up from the table and poured a basin of water and washed the disciples' feet. This was the act of a servant. He also told them to do the same for others. 

Many churches recreate this act at special services on Maundy Thursday as a reminder of how Jesus served others and of how Christians should also serve others.

Clergy washing feet at Maundy Thursday service Ripon Cathedral

In medieval times it was common for kings and queens to take part in foot washing, as well as giving money and gifts, on Maundy Thursday. The practice was observed by Austro-Hungarian emperors right into the 20th Century.

In England it developed into what is called the Royal Maundy Service in which the monarch distributes special coins, known as Maundy Money, which have kept much the same form since 1670. This is usually held at a different cathedral each year. 

King Charles is marking the first Royal Maundy Service of his reign at York Minster where 74 men and 74 women (signifying his age) will receive the gift to thank them for outstanding Christian service and for making a difference to the lives of people in their local communities.

Bread and wine for communion.