QUEEN Elizabeth II celebrated her 85th birthday today by visiting London’s Westminster Abbey, in a useful rehearsal for the wedding of her grandson Prince William next week.
The monarch attended the Royal Maundy service, an Easter tradition whereby the sovereign gives out specially minted silver coins to the elderly.
It was the first time in 10 years that the service has been held at Westminster Abbey, and the event gave the historic church a run-out with eight days to go before the wedding of William and his fiancee Kate Middleton.
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip – who turns 90 in June – also tied the knot in Westminster Abbey in 1947.
The Easter ceremony was a useful royal wedding rehearsal for the choristers, the organist and the clergy, while broadcasters gave their cameras, lighting and technical equipment a welcome test run.
Crowds outside in the sunshine shouted “Happy Birthday” as the queen left the abbey, with children waving the Union flag and sitting on shoulders for a better view as well-wishers leaned forward to take photographs.
The freshly minted Maundy coins reflect a royal tradition dating back to at least the 12th century when English kings would give money to the needy at Easter time.
The coins add up to the sovereign’s age, worth 85 pence ($1.31) – but they are valuable souvenirs – and were distributed to 85 men and 85 women.
Each recipient got two purses – a white one containing the Maundy money in silver one, two, three and four penny pieces, and a red purse holding a five pound coin commemorating Prince Philip’s 90th birthday, as well as a 50-pence coin marking the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Among the recipients this year were people from the Isle of Man, a crown dependency in the Irish Sea, and the Church of England Diocese in Europe, which covers Gibraltar and congregations scattered across the continent.
Dorothy Boyde, 75, had never left the Isle of Man before she came to London to receive the privilege. “I wouldn’t go for anything else. It’s a big adventure,” she told the BBC.
The word “maundy” comes from the Latin word for commandment, “mandatum”, in memory of the instruction given by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper that humans should love one another.
The outing comes the day after Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip met Middleton’s parents for the first time.
Carole and Michael Middleton were invited to Windsor Castle, the queen’s residence west of London, for a private lunch.
Middleton, 29, met the queen for the first time at the marriage of the queen’s eldest grandson Peter Phillips to Autumn Kelly in May 2008.
The queen has two birthdays: her actual birthday, and her official birthday in June, when the fickle English weather is deemed more favourable for outdoor festivities.
At midday the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery provided a 41-gun salute in London’s Hyde Park, while the Honourable Artillery Company was to fire a 62-gun tribute from Gun Wharf at the Tower of London an hour later.