Category: religion

The Queen’s Maundy Money: Silver for the Poor on Maundy Thursday

By , April 2, 2010 2:22 am

The Day Before the Easter Holiday Starts

Every year, the Royal Mint makes special coins, of pure silver, with different values from normal coins.

The Queen then takes these coins, placed in specially-made leather purses, and gives her age in pence to a number of men and women equal to her age in a Cathedral ceremony, every Maundy Thursday.

Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday, is in many ways the start of the Easter holiday in England.

The Queen's Maundy Money, especially minted, comes in red and white leather purses

The Queen's Maundy Money, especially minted, comes in red and white leather purses


Although it’s a working day, it’s rather like Christmas Eve – lots of people will either take the day off, or make an early get-away for the 4-day Easter weekend. (There is a holiday on Good Friday and a bank holiday on Easter Monday, so it’s a nice break from the regular working routine).

There is a centuries-old tradition of a Maundy ceremony (from c.600 AD) and more recently (since the time of King John or so) a ceremony on Maundy Thursday involving the King or Queen, in which coins are given to the deserving poor.

This post is about the history and practice of the Queen’s Maundy Money.

Origin of the phrase “Maundy Thursday”

The Queen's Maundy Money ceremony in 1898, at Westminster Abbey

The Queen's Maundy Money ceremony in 1898, at Westminster Abbey

There is not a united view about the origin of the phrase.  The most popular idea is that it comes from the phrase Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos in the Latin Vulgate Bible, where Christ said to his apostles, A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another, as I have loved you. (Gospel according to St. John, 13.34). 

Mandatum, which is also the origin of the words “mandatory”, “mandamus” and “mandate”, is thought to be the origin of the “Maundy” part of the phrase, and the “Thursday” part is rather self-explanatory.

Early Maundy Ceremonies

An important part of early Maundy Thursday celebrations was the washing of poor people’s feet, in imitation of Christ, and to show essential humility and the equal-before-God idea (a concept that most medieval bishops honoured more in the breach than the observance, as a general rule).

Foot washing was done by bishops and other important clergymen, and also by the King or Queen, until the mid 17th century – King James II was the last monarch to wash feet personally. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, does it each Maundy Thursday now.

The washing of feet comes from the Last Supper, where Christ washed the feet of his disciples during the Passover celebrations.

Giving To the Poor

The Queen at the Maundy Money ceremony in 1952, her first public engagement as Queen

The Queen at the Maundy Money ceremony in 1952, her first public engagement as Queen

Anglo-Norman Kings certainly appear to have given alms to the poor on Maundy Thursday.

King John is recorded as having given alms to the poor in Knaresborough, in Yorkshire, when he happened to be there for Holy Week in 1210 AD. He gave knives, clothes and food. (There are lots of references to his giving forks, too. That strikes me as inherently unlikely, because people didn’t use forks for eating until several centuries later).

It is unlikely that King John was the first English King to give alms on this day.

Medieval Maundy Money

The first recorded giving of money to commemorate Maundy Thursday is during the reign of Edward I, who ruled from 1272 (and was King John’s grandson).

The process became more formalised, and more important after the Reformation, as the King or Queen was then not only the ruler of the secular country, but head of the Church of England, too.

Queen Elizabeth II’s Maundy Money

A 3d coin, or thruppeny bit, showing the "young" Queen's head which still appears on Maundy money today

A 3d coin, or thruppeny bit, showing the "young" Queen's head which still appears on Maundy money today

The process has been pretty similar for some decades, now.

Each Maundy Thursday, the Queen gives out Maundy purses at one of England’s Cathedrals. The only exception was in 2008, where the ceremony was held in St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland cathedral, in Armagh, Northern Ireland.

The red and white Maundy purses are given to a number of elderly men and women, chosen now from the local area for charitable and other good works. There is one man and one woman for each of the Queen’s years – so as she is now 84 years old, on 1st April 2010 she gave Maundy money to 84 men and 84 women, in Derby Cathedral.

The white purse contains a £5 coin and a 50p coin, and the red purse contains 1p, 2p, 3p and 4p coins, adding up to the Queen’s age again. So the 84 men and 84 women get 84 pence in coins in their red leather purses.

A 50 pence piece in general circulation, showing the Queen's most recent portrait

A 50 pence piece in general circulation, showing the Queen's most recent portrait

The coins are not normal coins. 1p, 2p and 50p coins are in general circulations, but 3p, 4p and £5 coins are not. These coins are all legal tender, for their face value, but are obviously worth a great deal more than 3p or whatever.

Unlike modern coins, which are struck from alloys, the Maundy Money coins are minted each year, from sterling silver, so the coins are 92.5% silver.

In addition, the specially-minted coins feature the first portrait of Elizabeth II, issued on her coins from 1953. This “young portrait” was replaced on normal coins in 1962, but remains on each year’s Maundy Money.

Until 1909, extra sets of Maundy coins were struck and could be purchased. Edward VIII decided to abolish this, and since 1909, the only sets of Maundy coins issued have been to the recipients at the annual ceremony.

Obviously, the number of coins increases each year as the Queen gets older, and the number of pennies issued rises by one, as does the number of men and women who receive them.

The BBC’s article about 2010′s ceremony in Derby can be read here, and the Monarchy’s official article about the ceremony is here.



Paedophiles, Paranoia, and Panic: Witchhunt at Shieldfield Nursery

By , March 30, 2010 2:29 am

An Introduction to the Sexual Abuse Scandal at Shieldfield

In 1994, two nursery workers at Shieldfield Nursery in Newcastle were acquitted, at the direction of a High Court Judge, of 11 counts of sexual abuse and rape against children in their care. Parents and others reacted furiously, shouting “hang them!” and parading with banners saying, “We believe the kids!”.

Newcastle City Council, who owned and ran Shieldfield Nursery, responded to pressure to set up an inquiry into what had happened, and established a 4-strong team of social workers and psychologists to investigate what had happened. Meanwhile, Christopher Lillie and Dawn Reed, the co-accused in the 1994 criminal trial, left the area, having been assaulted, vilified, and accused by many of having “got off on a technicality”.

Christopher Lillie and Dawn Reed outside the High Court in 2002

In November 1998 the Review Team’s Report was published. It found that Christopher Lillie and Dawn Reed had abused as many as 65 children at Shieldfield Nursery. Lillie and Reed had had some sort of perverted sexual relationship.

Horrific sexual abuse was detailed. The “powerful” video interview of a child supposedly raped by Lillie was discussed. References were made to a wide-spread paedophile ring, the video-taping and photographing of the sexual abuse, and the depravity of the abuse. Other people who were part of the paedophile ring were hinted at.

Newspaper articles in the national and local press referred to the difficult and troubled lives of those children affected by the abuse. Further articles asked the public to help find Christopher Lillie and Dawn Reed, the “fiends” who had once again gone in to hiding.

Anyone reading the Report would have been horrified at the scale and type of sexual abuse visited on 2-3 year old children by those supposedly caring for them. And the reader would also wonder why the detailed, rigorous findings of the Report, and the evidence seen by the Review team, had not resulted in the convictions of anyone for the horrific crimes.

Dr Camille San Lazaro who "threw objectivity to the winds"

Dr Camille San Lazaro who "threw objectivity to the winds"

In July 2002 came the answer. The criminal process had not failed the Shieldfield Children. Rather, it had got it right. The children at Shieldfield and their parents had indeed suffered greatly, but not at the hands of Lillie and Reed, who had done nothing wrong whatsoever.

Rather, a modern-day Salem-style witch-hunt, mass hysteria, unreliable and unscientific professionals, and a catalogue of disasters had lead to the Shieldfield tragedy, in which impossible and implausible allegations came to be believed, disseminated and acted upon. Christopher Lillie and Dawn Reed were victims of the Shieldfield affair, together with the children and their families.

Lillie and Reed had sued for libel. They sued the authors of the report, Newcastle City Council for publishing it, and various Newcastle newspapers for articles written about them. Mr. Justice Eady, after a 6 month trial, found that the 4 authors of the Report has not only got the facts wrong, they had acted with malice. The judge said, “I am entirely satisfied of Mr Lillie’s and Miss Reed’s innocence.”

Each of the Claimants, Lillie and Reed, were awarded the maximum £200,000 damages each for the libel, and cleared of any wrong-doing in relation to any sexual abuse, or any of the children at Shieldfield.

How did it all start?

In April 1993, Jason Dabbs pleaded guilty to the indecent assault of children at a Newcastle Nursery and was jailed for it. Days later, the mother of “Child 22″ told the police that her 2 year old son had told her that “Chris” had hurt him while changing his nappy. Lillie was suspended, and the child was interviewed on video by the police and social workers. During the interview, the boy was specifically asked if it hurt when his nappy was changed. He said it did. He was asked if Chris had hurt him, to which he replied, “no”.  He said he liked Chris changing his nappy. Child 22 had been on iron tablets for some time and was constipated, and had a long history of behavioural problems whcih had calmed down when he was in the care of Lillie and Reed.

Child 22′s mother was sure that he had been abused. She talked to other parents and told them about the “abuse” by Lillie, and made them concerned about their own children. She was told by the police in July 1993, “No bull shit. I don’t want you talking to anyone”, but by then, several other parents were looking for signs that their children had been abused. Mr. Justice Eady found that, “it has become clear with the benefit of hindsight that the mother of Child 22 is a completely unreliable “historian”. Her accounts changed radically over time” although he made it clear that he did not blame her.


The Developing Witchhunt

Declared innocent - Christopher Lillie and Dawn Reed

Declared innocent - Christopher Lillie and Dawn Reed

The investigation snow-balled. Meetings were held at the nursery. Children were anxiously quizzed about their time at the nursery by parents and other relatives. Police officers and social workers got more involved.

Many children were examined by Dr. Camille San Lazaro, who kept inadequate records, caused many parents to become alarmed, and whose records were often changed and exaggerated. the doctor accepted in the libel trial that her reports were sometimes exaggerated and over-stated. the judge found that her integrity and credibility were seriously damaged, and said “she was unbalanced, obsessive and lacking in judgment”, and that, “the truth is that, where physical findings were negative or equivocal, Dr San Lazaro was prepared to make up the deficiencies by throwing objectivity and scientific rigour to the winds in a highly emotional misrepresentation of the facts”.

Children were interviewed on video over a long period, often several times. An expert witness, whose evidence was accepted by the judge, said:

The interviews that I examined in the present case are among the worst that I have ever encountered. In this case, extremely young and bewildered children were brought in and interrogated (sometimes for over an hour) by one, by two and even by three interviewers. These interviewers used the full array of suggestive techniques to elicit allegations of abuse.

When the children denied that they had been abused, they were bombarded with more suggestions, they were scolded, they were threatened and they were bribed. And when some children whimpered, moaned or begged the interviewers to end the questioning, the interviewers continued. In sum, the interviews were abusive and the children were victims of the interviewers.

There were three aspects of these data that are incontrovertible: (1) these video-taped interviews provide the only opportunity for us to hear the children’s own words; (2) the children did not initially make statements that were indicative of abuse; (3) when they did make statements these were preceded by extremely suggestive techniques that render all subsequent statements unreliable

Mr. Justice Eady went through evidence in relation to the children one by one, carefully and thoroughly. He found that no child could said to have been sexually abused. Children often said that nothing had happened to them, or were coached, suggested answers, heard things from other children or their parents, or gave impossible accounts – involving children who weren’t at the nursery, or clothes the child was wearing when interviewed, or about places they could not have been to and people they could not have met.  Children were being asked to give accounts of things that had supposedly happened when they were 2 years old some years later.

What the Judge Said about the Report and its Writers

The judge made a finding of “malice”, which meant that the writers could not claim the protection against libel that they otherwise could in such as report. He said that the writers, “came to distort and misrepresent the evidence against them”, that they wrote things that they all knew were untrue, that they claimed to have had open minds, but that he did not believe them, that, “their procedures were quite unsuited to performing it with any semblance of fairness or natural justice. What they did was to assemble arguments, theories and selective bits of evidence and use them to justify the assumptions they had made from the outset”.

He concluded by saying:

The Review Team chose to promulgate to the Council and to the wider public what was recognised within days (by Mr Cosgrove and Mr Marron, in particular) to be a specious and disreputable document. They must have appreciated the harm they would do to the Claimants and indeed the physical risks to which they were choosing to subject them. But they were left to learn about these horrendous allegations for the first time through saturation media coverage. That lacked not only fairness but also humanity. Yet the Team even made the false claim that they had been given advance warning of the allegations and findings and a chance to respond.

Why call it a witch hunt?

It might seem different. After all, we know witches don’t exist, but that child abusers certainly do.

Not all that different - the Salem Witch Trials

Not all that different - the Salem Witch Trials

This is looking at it the wrong way. After all, in Salem they knew witches existed. They had to go and find them, that was all. In the present case, the members of the Review Team “knew” that Lillie and read were abusers. If there were awkward facts which pointed the other way, they missed them out of the report or claimed the opposite.

If a child said he had been abused, no matter how inaccurate or incredible or prompted his account was, they believed it. If a child said nice things about Lillie or Reed, the Team thought it was evidence that the children had been frightened into silence by their abusers.

The fact that not one child made any spontaneous contemporary complaint didn’t bother the writers. The leading questions in the interviews of the children was denied in the report – an outright lie.

It took 9 years for Christopher Lillie and Dawn Reed to establish their innocence. Children were treated in a way that turned out to be abusive, but by social workers and police officers.

So if you read about King James I’s witchfinder, don’t feel smug. It happened here (and in the USA, Germany, and many other countries) over the last 20 years, too.

You can read Mr Justice Eady’s full judgment here, and an article by the man who started helping Lillie and Reed after the report was published here.

Jewish Blood Libel: Persecution & Greed in Medieval England

By , February 2, 2010 1:29 am

The English origins of the blood libel

“Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln” was a popular medieval saint, supposed to have been the victim of a ritual, Jewish murder in the 12th century.

The terrible medieval blood libel against Jews, which started a wave of persecution, torture, death, and exile, got off to a less than glorious start in Norman England.

In later times a blot on Russia and Eastern Europe, and in modern times, also shame on the Muslim World, this long-lasting accusation, born from anti-semitism, started in Norwich and Lincoln, in the mid 12th century.

What is the Jewish Blood Libel?

A 16th century French woodcut, showing a Jew calling the devil forth from a vat of Christian blood

A 16th century French woodcut, showing a Jew calling the devil forth from a vat of Christian blood

The exact details varied from case to case, but there were many elements common to all or most of the blood libel allegations.

They involved the ritual human sacrifice, and slaughter for religious Jewish practice of a Christian, in sadistic ceremonies.

In general, a child, usually a pre-adolescent boy, was said to have been abducted or seduced and  coxed into a Jew’s house.

He was then tortured, often circumcised, sometimes with a parody of cruxifiction, and had his blood drained for, use in ritual religious foods.

The accusations were often followed by an orgy of violence against Jews who lived anywhere near the town where the death occurred.

It was a rather handy way for Kings and local power-brokers to get their sticky fingers on Jewish money and assets – either by taking over the estates of the “criminals”, or by demanding what was, in effect, protection money.

The fact that Jews are particularly careful to avoid eating even animal blood – draining it from animals as they are killed, and soaking meat cuts to remove it – appears to have passed the blood libel mobs by.

After the first blood libels circulated in England, the practice spread all over Europe, and to Russia and the Muslim world.

The First Accusation in England – William of Norwich

A 15th century painting depicting William of Norwich

A 15th century painting depicting William of Norwich

William of Norwich was born in about 1132AD. He lived in the town for his whole life, and died at the age of about 12, in 1144.

William was an apprentice tanner, and had business dealings with Norwich’s Jewish population. Shortly before he vanished, he was seen visiting the house of a Jewish family with whom he was acquainted. He was murdered, and his body later found and buried in a local graveyard.

There followed accusations against Norwich’s Jews, and Thomas of Monmouth, a Benedictine monk in Norwich, wrote a book called The Life and Miracles of St. William of Norwich in 1174.

He was encouraged in this by the Bishop of Norwich, William De Turbeville, who seems to have seen great potential in establishing William’s tomb as a pilgrimage site. Places which became popular with pilgrims could rake in substantial amount of cash, and other valuables, left as offerings to the saints.

It doesn’t appear that William was ever actually made a saint by the Church, although he was referred to locally, in Norwich and Norfolk, as Saint William.

Blood Libel leading to Sainthood – Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln

Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln being enticed in Copin's house

Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln being enticed in Copin's house

This blood libel was a grander and far more damaging affair. Hugh of Lincoln was an 8 or 9 year old boy, the son of a local woman called Beatrice.

Hugh vanished at the end of July, 1255. His body was found roughly a month later, in or near the property of a Lincoln Jewish man, called Copin, Kopin, Joscefin,or Jopin.

A local priest called John of Lexington saw an opportunity, and under threat of torture, Copin “confessed” that he and a group of other Jews from both Lincoln and other towns had gathered together for the ritual torture and sacrifice of a Christian boy.

Copin was promised a pardon for his confessing and implicating other Jews, but King Henry III arrived in Lincoln in October, and ordered that Copin be dragged around the city tied to a horse, and then executed.

The Kings of England “owned” all English Jews, and could tax them freely and more heavily than non-Jewish, Christian subjects.

Earlier in 1255, King Henry III had sold the English Jews to his brother, Richard Earl of Cornwall. But he realised that, as King, he was still entitled to the proceeds of the estates of those Jews convicted of serious crimes.

About 100 of Lincoln’s Jews were dragged off to the Tower of London.  At least 20 of them were executed, and their property forfeited to the Crown, before the rest were pardoned and allowed home.

Lincoln Cathedral (West Front) This photo is in the public domain

Lincoln Cathedral (West Front) This photo is in the public domain

Unlike William of Norwich, it appears that Hugh of Lincoln did actually become a Catholic Saint. His feast day was on 27th July each year.

Not long after his death, his body was translated to Lincoln Cathedral. Above the stone tomb, a shrine was put up to Little Saint Hugh. Miracles were attributed to the intercession of Little St Hugh, and he was a popular saint.

The coffin was opened during restoration work in 1790, and found to contain a boy’s skeleton, approximately 3.5 feet long.

St Hugh of Lincoln was also a popular saint, but a different man. He was an adult when he died, and was Bishop of Lincoln.

Unless I’ve missed it, Lincoln Cathedral’s otherwise interesting website doesn’t mention the whole Little Saint Hugh thing at all, but there are lots of references to the (adult) St Hugh.

Little Saint Hugh’s legacy

The shrine above Little Saint Hugh's tomb, in a 17th century illustration

The shrine above Little Saint Hugh's tomb, in a 17th century illustration

The story was widely-known and repeated. Geoffrey Chaucer wrote about Little St Hugh in The Prioress’ Tale, one of the Canterbury Tales. The passage reads:

O yonge Hugh of Lyncoln, slayn also

With cursed Jewes, as it is notable,

For it is but a litel while ago,

Preye eek for us, we synful folk unstable

A (rough) translation into modern English, by me and not to be relied upon as gospel:

Oh young Hugh of Lincoln, also slain

By accursed Jews, as is known well,

For it was but a little while ago

Pray also for us, we unstable, sinful folk

In 1955, the Lincoln Cathedral (since the Reformation, an Anglican foundation) put up a sign next to Little St Hugh’s tomb, which says:

Trumped up stories of “ritual murders” of Christian boys by Jewish communities were common throughout Europe during the Middle Ages and even much later. These fictions cost many innocent Jews their lives. Lincoln had its own legend and the alleged victim was buried in the Cathedral in the year 1255.

A medieval blood libel fresco in St Paul's Church in Sandomierz, Poland

A medieval blood libel fresco in St Paul's Church in Sandomierz, Poland



Such stories do not redound to the credit of Christendom, and so we pray:

Lord, forgive what we have been,
amend what we are,
and direct what we shall be.

Other Examples of Medieval English Blood Libels against the Jews

There were other, similar accusations in towns and cities across England:

  • Saint Harold of Gloucester – killed in a blood libel incident in Gloucester in 1168. His feast day was March 25th
  • Robert of Bury -the supposed victim of Jewish ritual sacrifice in Bury St. Edmunds, in 1181. On Palm Sunday in 1190, there was a mob attack on the town’s Jews. 57 were killed, and the rest banished from Bury.
  • Unknown boy – another blood libel accusation, in Devizes, Wiltshire, in 1892.

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