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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 April, 2003, 21:10 GMT 22:10 UK
Archbishops wash church-goers' feet
Dr Rowan Williams
Dr Rowan Williams performed the ceremony during his sermon
The Archbishop of Canterbury has performed the ancient Maundy Thursday feet washing ceremony in Canterbury Cathedral for the first time in 400 years.

Dr Rowan Williams, assisted by chief clergymen, washed the feet of 12 members of the congregation during the sermon after a day of Maundy Thursday traditions throughout the UK.

The Queen handed out special Maundy Money to pensioners during a visit to the cathedral city of Gloucester.

The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, washed the feet of 12 Chelsea pensioners during evening mass at Westminster Cathedral in London.

The feet washing ceremony performed by the leader of the Church of England and the leader of Roman Catholics in England and Wales is a re-enactment of Jesus's washing of his disciples' feet at the Last Supper as a gesture of humility.

Dr Williams removed his outer robe - a yellow and orange chasuble - and wore his plain white alb to carry out the symbolic ablutions.

The chosen worshippers placed their feet in a patterned ceramic bowl, before lifting them to be dried with towels by the kneeling archbishop.

Nervous

The 12 in Canterbury, aged between nine and 72, were picked to represent the diversity of the regular members of the congregation.

One of the 12, William Pettit, 55 from Wingham, Kent, said it was exciting to be part of something which had not happened for 400 years.

You think about the significance of it all - no service is too small for the highest in the land
William Pettit
"You think about the significance of it all - no service is too small for the highest in the land," he said.

Annalisa Flood, 13, whose father David is cathedral organist, said she had washed her feet especially beforehand, adding: "It is exciting. I am a bit nervous."

Cathedral spokesman Christopher Robinson said reviving the feet washing ceremony at Canterbury Cathedral was the idea of the Dean, the Very Reverend Robert Willis.

He said there was a move away from symbolic ceremonies during the 16th Century Reformation, and more emphasis was placed on the written word.

Before the ceremony at Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said: "If we are in communion with Jesus, if we become more like him, then we too have to wash, as Jesus said, each other's feet, we have to serve, especially, those who are in need, so that the bread of life becomes the bread of life for the world."

Cardinal Cormac Murphy- Murphy-O'Connor
Twelve Chelsea pensioners had their feet washed by the Cardinal
Earlier on Thursday, hundreds gathered to greet the Queen in Gloucester for the distribution of Maundy Money to 77 men and 77 women.

The Queen has attended the ceremony every year since 1971, and on all but four occasions since she came to the throne in 1952.

Recipients of the specially minted Maundy coins are all senior citizens, recognised for their Christian service to the community.

The number of pensioners receiving Maundy Money this year reflects the Queen's age - she will be 77 on 21 April, Easter Monday.

Genuine

The oldest person to receive the coins was 99-year-old Dorothy Judd, and the average age of the recipients was 80.

After the service in front of 1,600 people, the Queen smiled as the crowd outside sang Happy Birthday and gave her three cheers.

Maundy Money recipient Mary Seabright, 79, from Bishops Cleeve, near Cheltenham, said she was pleased to receive the money and described the Queen as "very genuine".

"She was very relaxed. You see her so often on television that you feel familiar with her and she was very genuine."

The pensioners received a set of silver coins, consisting of one, two, three and fourpenny pieces with a total value equal to the Queen's age.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Robert Piggott
"An ancient ritual, carried out for the first time in 400 years"



SEE ALSO:
Archbishop makes Canterbury debut
02 Mar 03  |  England
Queen hands out Maundy money
28 Mar 02  |  England


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