Maundy Thursday

By Paolo Veronese, Christ Washing the Feet of the Disciples

Thursday before Easter

The first day of the Triduum, commemorating the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, is Maundy Thursday. It comes from the Latin word mandatum, which meant ‘commandment’ and was taken from John 13:34 which in Latin is: “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos.” In the King James Version, that reads: “A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

The maundy is the practice of washing feet to show humility, as Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. This would sometimes take place in churches, though notable figures would also become involved, with a medieval custom of the ruling sovereign washing the feet of the poor. Another royal tradition in Britain is for the serving monarch to offer alms to older citizens, donating money to a man and a woman for every year of the sovereign’s age. A red purse would contain money for food and clothing, and the white purse held a penny for each year of the monarch’s age, though since 1822 these have been specially minted Maundy coins.

Anciently people would that day shere theyr hedes and clypp theyr berdes, and so make them honest against Easter-day.

Festival, 1511

Church altars would be stripped of any decorations and would be covered in twigs and branches, showing the scrouging of Jesus after his arrest. This idea of stripping away extended beyond the church itself, as Maundy Thursday was customarily known as Shere Day. Tradition held that men would shave their heads and their beards so their heads would be naked before God on Easter. That way, no man could not hide their sins in their mind’s eye. Shere, or Sheer as it was sometimes spelled, also meant ‘clean’ or ‘bright’ and so would be used to describe the cleanliness of the shorn heads in church that day.

Maundy Thursday is still recognised and acknowledged, but primarily within churches. Some aspects of old traditions remain, and it is an important day within the British calendar.

Paolo Veronese, Christ Washing the Feet of the Disciples
Paolo Veronese, Christ Washing the Feet of the Disciples, Public Domain
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