Queen takes part in Maundy Service
The Queen has honoured stalwart pensioners during the ancient Royal Maundy Service as she celebrated her 85th birthday.
In Westminster Abbey, where next Friday Prince William will wed fiancee Kate Middleton, the Queen presented the elderly with a token of gratitude - Maundy money.
The practice of distributing "alms" to the needy or worthy on the Thursday of Holy Week dates back centuries and is an important annual event in the Queen's calendar.
It had an added poignancy this year being held on the Queen's birthday - the first time the two events have coincided.
The recipients of the Maundy money - 85 women and 85 men, one for each of the sovereign's 85 years - were retired pensioners selected because of their tireless work for the Church and their communities.
The event had the air of a public rehearsal for the wedding as it was a chance for musicians and the choirs from the Abbey and the monarch's Chapel Royal to perform in public. BBC broadcaster Huw Edwards provided a live commentary for the televised event, as he will do for William and Kate's nuptials, and technicians had the chance to test cameras, lighting and other equipment.
The Maundy ceremony can be traced back to the 12th century and its origins relate to the Last Supper when, as St John recorded, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. The days when the monarch bathed the feet of the elderly during the service as a gesture of humility ended in the early 18th century but the royal couple were still presented with the traditional nosegays of sweet herbs as they walked inside.
Each Maundy money recipient received two purses - one red and one white - in the centuries-old tradition. The red purse contained a £5 coin commemorating the Duke of Edinburgh's 90th birthday in June, and a 50p coin marking the 2012 London Olympic Games. The white purse held uniquely minted Maundy money of silver one, two, three and four penny pieces, the sum of which equals the Queen's age.
One of the recipients was Henry Hely-Hutchinson, 85, nominated for his voluntary work as a guide at the Abbey. The 85-year-old, a former financial worker in the City of London, who lives in Chelsea, described receiving the money as an honour.
He said: "Like many people I was a little hazy about the details but it is an ancient ceremony that I am proud to be part of."