Foot Washing

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The Washing of the Feet

I thank thee, silent stone on earth,
and gently lean to you below.
My life as plant I owe to you.

I thank you, grounds and meadows green
and bend down close to you below.
My life as animal depends on you.

I thank you animal, and plant and stone,
and bow down thankfully to you below.
You helped me to become all three.

And we thank you, you child of man,
And kneel in reverence before you:
only because you are, we are.

From all of God's creation, simple
or so manifold, rise thanks.
In thankfulness all being intertwines.

Christian Morgenstern[1]
Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337), Cappella Scrovegni in Padua, The Life of Christ, Foot Washing

Foot Washing, the Washing of the Feet is the first stage of Christian initiation. In the intensive mystical re-experiencing of the descriptions of the Gospel of John, the feeling can also occur as if the feet were dipped in water. In the Holy Week foot washing is celebrated on Maundy Thursday and therefore also called Maundy (from Old French: mandé, derived from Latinmandatum "command"[2]).

1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” 12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. 18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ 19 I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.

On the spiritual meaning of foot washing, Rudolf Steiner said:

„The washing of the feet is a preparatory exercise of a purely moral nature. Deep humility and absolute submission of the Master to his disciples and to his work. The Rosicrucians also see this in it (as does theology), but in a much deeper sense, involving the evolution of all beings in nature. It is an allusion to the law that the upper is the product of the lower. The disciple who has meditated on this subject for months and sometimes years experiences the vision of the washing of the feet on the astral plane during sleep.“ (Lit.:GA 94, p. 53f)

„Imagine a plant! This plant grows out of the mineral kingdom. If it could think and feel, it would have to say to the mineral kingdom: 'Out of you I grow, you are indeed a lower kingdom than I, but I could not possibly live without you. And gratefully it would have to lean towards the mineral kingdom and say: I thank you, stone! I owe my whole existence to you. - In the same way, the animal should speak to the plant. And man would have to bend down to the lower kingdoms of nature and feel the same. And every one who has risen higher on the social ladder should bend down to that which is below him and say: Without you I could not live.

The disciple has to practise for weeks and months to become completely absorbed in this. Then come two symptoms, the same for everyone. First, he experiences the outer as well as the inner symptom as a very specific fact. He sees himself as the thirteenth who washes the feet of the twelve. The Christ Jesus wanted to make this great truth clear to the Twelve in the washing of their feet. This wonderful experience of the soul comes over the person in the initiation. It goes as far as external symptoms. He experiences something that he feels as if he were dipping his feet in water. No one need be afraid of it, it soon passes away.“ (Lit.:GA 97, p. 231)

„The first stage is what is called "foot washing". There the disciple is told by the teacher: Look at the plant. It is rooted in the soil; the mineral soil is a lower being than the plant. If the plant could hold up its being to itself, it would have to say to the soil: I am the higher being, but without you I could not exist; for from you, the soil, I draw most of my nourishment. And if the plant could translate this into feelings, it would have to bend down to the stone and say: To you I bend, you lower being, stone, for to you I owe my existence. - And if we ascend to the animal, the animal would have to behave in a similar way towards the plant and say: I am higher than the plant, but I owe my existence to the lower realm. - And if we ascend further in this way and come to man, every one who is a little higher on the social ladder would have to lean down to the lower level and say: I owe my existence to the lower level! - And so it goes up to the Christ Jesus. The twelve who surround him are one step lower than he; but as the plant grows out of the stone, so the Christ Jesus grows out of the twelve. He bends down to the Twelve and says: To you I owe my existence.

When the teacher had explained this to the disciple, he said to him: For weeks you must give yourself over to this cosmic feeling, just as the higher must incline to the lower; and when you have thoroughly developed this in yourself, then you will experience an inner and an outer symptom. - These, however, are not the essential thing, but only indicate that the person concerned had practised sufficiently. When the physical body had been sufficiently influenced by the soul, this was shown to him in the outer symptom that he had a feeling as if water washed over his feet. That is a very real feeling. And another real feeling is that in a mighty vision in the astral he has before him the washing of the feet, the lowering of the higher self to the lower self. There man experiences in the astral that which is described as a historical fact in the Gospel of John.“ (Lit.:GA 103, p. 190f)


References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
Email: URL:
Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English.
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.


  1. Christian Morgenstern: Wir fanden einen Pfad, R. Piper & Co. Verlag, Munich 1920
  2. Peter C. Bower (January 2003). The Companion to the Book of Common Worship. Geneva Press. ISBN 9780664502324. Retrieved 5 June 2021. "Maundy Thursday (or le mandé; Thursday of the Mandatum, Latin, commandment). The name is taken from the first few words sung at the ceremony of the washing of the feet, "I give you a new commandment" (John 13:34); also from the commandment of Christ that we should imitate His loving humility in the washing of the feet (John 13:14–17). The term mandatum (maundy), therefore, was applied to the rite of foot-washing on this day."