From the beginning of the nineteenth century there was a tradition at the Viennese court according to which the emperor and empress washed the feet of twelve men and twelve women each year on Holy Thursday, in remembrance of the act of humility performed by Christ in washing the feet of his disciples.
Early foot-washing ceremonies are documented from the reign of Charles V.
The ceremony was performed on elderly paupers – who were instructed to wash thoroughly before presenting themselves! After a meal consisting of traditional Lenten fare, the paupers received gifts of a lidded earthenware jug filled with white wine, a silver beaker marked with the double eagle and the year,
dishes of food and a pouch containing thirty silver coins, a reference to the thirty pieces of silver received by Judas for betraying Christ.
The two gold lavabo garnitures were made by the foremost Augsburg silversmiths of the eighteenth century. They were used for baptisms of the Habsburgs, for ceremonial ablutions at table and the footwashing ceremony at Easter.