Friday, March 11, 2011

Difference in How Catholic and Protestant Monarchs Washed the Feet of the Poor

Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria-Hungary, washes the feet of the poor on Holy Thursday

In 1850, Franz Joseph participated for the first time as emperor in the second of the traditional Habsburg expressions of dynastic piety: the Holy Thursday foot-washing ceremony, part of the four-day court observance of Easter. The master of the staff and the court prelates chose twelve poor elderly men, transported them to the Hofburg, and positioned them in the ceremonial hall on a raised dais.

There, before an invited audience observing the scene from tribunes, the emperor served the men a symbolic meal and archdukes cleared the dishes. As a priest read aloud in Latin the words of the New Testament (John 3:15), “And he began to wash the feet of the disciples,” Franz Joseph knelt and, without rising from his knees, washed the feet of the twelve old men in imitation of Christ. Finally, the emperor placed a bag of twenty silver coins around the necks of each before the men were led away and returned to their homes in imperial coaches.

The Emperor washing the feet of the poor on Holy Thursday

William Thomas Walsh in Philip II states that the kings of Spain and England would perform this as well. I imagine all the kings of Catholic Europe had the tradition. It is very interesting what he says about the tradition when Elizabeth I, a Protestant, who usurped the English throne: (pp. 295)

So Elizabeth continued, every Maundy Thursday, to wash the feet of the beggars, as her sister had done. It was symbolic of that shriveling of the Catholic spirit under the outer husk of the new political Church of England that she disdained to touch the feet of the poor wretches until they had first been scrubbed with hot water and soap and well sprinkled with sweet-smelling herbs.

No comments:

Post a Comment