Parish Magazine Article - December 2018
The ceremony of the Boy Bishop
Have you ever attend this traditional ceremony at our cathedral? It’s a medieval custom with much relevance today.
The tradition stems from a wish to model the humility of Christ in those who hold high office. By this, the cathedral choristers would elect one of their number to act as ‘Boy Bishop’ He would hold office from the Feast of St Nicholas (6 December) until Holy Innocents Day (28 December) and would undertake certain duties usually reserved to the bishop himself, thus reminding the bishop that he, like all, need to ‘become like children in order to enter the kingdom of Heaven’.
The tradition lapsed for centuries but was revived at Hereford in 1982. This year, it takes place on Sunday 9 December at 3.30pm, during Evensong and all are welcome.
What will happen?
The Boy Bishop, now appointed by the Precentor and Director of Music (and generally a ‘retired’ chorister’) will enter at the beginning of the service, accompanied by the other choristers and two attendants. He is dressed in full episcopal attire – with mitre, cope and ring. He is greeted by Bishop Richard, affirmed in his office and given the bishop’s crozier, or pastoral staff, to hold for much of the service. Then, accompanied by his attendants, he approaches the altar, and during the singing of the Magnificat, at the words ‘He hath put down the mighty from their seat’, he ascends the Bishop’s Throne in the Quire of the Cathedral, while Bishop Richard, himself, will remain on the lower level! From the Bishop’s Throne, the Boy Bishop blesses the congregation.
Later, he comes to King Stephen’s chair at the Nave altar and there delivers a sermon, which he will have composed himself. All the sermons of past Boy Bishops (and I have heard 16 now!) have been excellent and each focuses on a particular aspect of the Christian faith, cathedral music and life. As you can imagine, it can be quite a challenge for a 12/13 year old to compose and deliver a sermon in front of his parents, relatives, friends and peers, not to mention the bishop and dean…!
At the conclusion of the sermon, the Boy Bishop returns the crozier, or pastoral staff to Bishop Richard and assists the bishop in final prayers. He is then given a traditional offering (now a few Queen Victoria pennies!), representing the costs of his period of office and the costs of candles to be burned during the same period. The Boy Bishop officiates several times during the season of Advent – at the Cathedral School carol service and at the two cathedral carol services.
Is it an outmoded custom? I think not! It says such important things about the vital role children can play in teaching we adults about what is important in life, about the real need to humility in leaders.
And, mark my words, one day there will, rightly, be a ‘Girl Bishop’ and we look forward to that extension of the tradition in time!
So, do join us, and experience this special part of Hereford’s observance of Advent.
Sunday 9 December. 3.30pm. All welcome. No tickets required.