Thursday, 21 April 2011

Royal traditions: ceremony and superstition

21 April is the Queen's birthday. This year it is also Maundy Thursday. On this day the sovereign traditionally attends a church service after which she gives out purses of money to elderly men and women. There are as many recipients of Maundy money of each gender as there are years in the sovereign's age - so this year, there will be 85 men and 85 women.

Members of the royal family are believed to have been involved in the Maundy Thursday ceremonies since at least the thirteenth century. In the past gifts of money and food were given to people in need. Now the specially minted coins are given to men and women who have served the church or their communities, as a way of honouring them.

Another tradition associated with the sovereign is the belief that the King's touch would cure scrofula, otherwise known as 'The King's Evil'.  In England this belief is thought to date from the reign of Edward the Confessor, who reigned from 1042 to 1066.

Charles II is said to have touched more than 90,000 sufferers during his reign (1660-1685). The tradition was last observed in the reign of Queen Anne, 1702-1714.

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