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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

Maundy Thursday observes the day that Jesus partook in the Last Supper with the 12 apostles before his crucifixion the following day, Good Friday. The location is believed to be in John Mark’s house, where the Pentecost took place. A basilica was erected there in the fourth century. Jesus shared bread and wine with his apostles at the meal and this act continues to be a Christian tradition at church services in the form of Holy Communion.

After the meal, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane and was betrayed by Judas, one of the apostles. Jesus was lashed and made to wear a crown of thorns, as the apostles slept, and was later taken to the priests who said he had committed blasphemy. He was further beaten and in the morning was taken to Pontius Pilate, governor of Judaea, who tried him and sentenced him to death.

The word “maundy” comes from the Middle English word “maunde”, which in turn comes from the Old French word “mande”, derived from the Latin word “mandatum”. The Latin word means a command or mandate. The word “maundy” has come to mean the washing of the feet of the poor, and especially Jesus washing the feet of his 12 disciples on Maundy Thursday. This act is symbolized at Catholic mass where a priest washes the feet of a dozen people from the parish. According to the Old Testament, the practice of feet washing has it origins before the time of Christ and was conducted prior to the marital embrace at weddings (II Kings 11:8-11 and Canticles 5:3).

Other sources say that “maundy” derives from “maundsor” baskets, which contained alms, or food and clothing and money, given to the poor by the English king from the time of Edward I in the 13th century until the end of the reign of James II in 1688. The word “maundsor” comes from the Old French word “mendier” and the Latin word “mendicare”, which mean to beg. Thus the “maunders”, or beggars, “maunded” for one of the small baskets. St Augustine started the practice of giving money to the poor on Maundy Thursday in 597 CE.

Maundy Thursday has been commemorated on the Thursday of Holy Week, or the week leading up to Easter, at least as far back as 393 CE, when the practice appears in North African Council of Hippo notes. The Eucharist or Holy Communion are the names usually given to the observance of the Last Supper. Maundy Thursday is known by various names in different churches, but usually either as Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday. It is known by the former name in the Anglican Church, and by the latter in the Catholic Church and in countries that are mainly Catholic. Other Christian churches tend to use both names. In some countries, such as Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the day is called Green Thursday.

In most churches, the custom of the washing of the feet is a main part of services on Maundy Thursday. In the Catholic Church, the Gloria, or hymn, is followed by bell ringing (after which the bells are not heard again until Easter Sunday, representing a message of mourning for Jesus). The feet washing ceremony might then take place, and finally, after the altar is stripped, the Blessed Sacrament, or Jesus’ body and blood, are taken in a procession to the altar.

Various traditions have developed around the word on Maundy Thursday. In the United Kingdom, it is now customary to offer alms in the form of Maundy money, which from 1822 have been coins minted especially for the occasion, to two elderly people each year. In Italy and Malta, it is customary to visit seven churches on this day, while some of the people in the Philippines go to 14 churches. In Sweden, children don witches garb and go door to door for sweets or coins.