Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Festival of the Boy Bishop - 6 December

Photo Credit

From the Medieval Saints Yahoo Group:
Festival of the Boy Bishop
Celebrated on St. Nicholas' Day, December 6


The custom of electing a boy-bishop on the feast of St. Nicholas dates from very early times, and was in vogue in most Catholic countries, but chiefly in England, where it prevailed certainly in all the larger monastic and scholastic establishments, and also in many country parishes besides, with the full approbation of authority, ecclesiastical and civil. The boy-bishop was chosen from among the children of the monastery school, the cathedral choir, or pupils of the grammar-school. Elected on St. Nicholas's day (6 December), he was dressed in pontifical vestments and, followed by his companions in priest's robes, went in procession round the parish, blessing the people. He then took possession of the church, where he presided at all the ceremonies and offices until Holy Innocents' day (28 December).

At Salisbury he is said to have had the power of disposing of any benefices that fell vacant during his reign, and if he died in office the funeral honours of a bishop were granted to him. A monument to such a boy-prelate still exists there, though its genuineness has been questioned, and at Lulworth Castle another is preserved, which came from Bindon Abbey. The custom was abolished by Henry VIII in 1512, restored by Queen Mary and again abolished by Elizabeth, though here and there it lingered on for some time longer. On the Continent it was suppressed by the Council of Basle in 1431, but was revived in some places from time to time, even as late as the eighteenth century.


The Boy Bishop Ceremony

The ancient monastic ceremony of the Boy-Bishop was restored at Wymondham Abbey on Sunday 8th December 2002 after a break of several hundred years. Thomas Nichols was chosen from the Abbey Choir to be the Boy-Bishop. He was dressed in bishop's robes and took most of the 6.30pm Evensong service including preaching the Sermon. After the service he gave presents to children at the service and welcomed everyone to the refreshments provided.

Historically, near the feast of Saint Nicholas on 6th December, a boy would be chosen from the Abbey choir to be Bishop or Abbot for a season. He would have authority over all the monastery and would lead some parts of the services. There would be presents for children and a feast for everyone. The ceremony was designed to show that we must all be as children before God, we are all equal, God has no favourites. The ceremony was held on or near Saint Nicholas' Day because he is the Patron Saint of children, especially those who sing in a choir.

The custom was abolished by King Henry VIII in 1512, restored by Queen Mary and again abolished by Queen Elizabeth I. In more recent years it has been revived in Hereford Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral and at some churches dedicated to Saint Nicholas.

Photo Credit

See also Tom Fitzpatrick's post on Boy Bishops at Recta Ratio.

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