Bishop Stephen celebrates his ‘stunt double’ as chorister becomes ‘bishop’ for 45 minutes
During Evensong at Salisbury Cathedral yesterday (Sunday 10 December) two ‘rival’ bishops came face to face in a ceremony that harks back to the Middle Ages. This special service takes place in early December every year.
In keeping with tradition, as the service unfolded The Right Rev Stephen Lake, Bishop of Salisbury, ‘handed over’ his diocese and throne to 13-year-old Harry, symbolically relinquished his staff, mitre and cope. Then ‘Bishop’ Harry assumed the symbols of the bishop’s office (the Chorister Bishop’s robe, mitre, staff and ring) and took his place in the Cathedra (or bishop’s throne). The Chorister Bishop Harry was supported by his canons, or attendants – a group of friends from the Cathedral School – as he delivered the sermon and led the choir and congregation in prayer.
In his address at the start of the service The Right Revd Stephen Lake, Bishop of Salisbury said:
“I am delighted to have a ‘stunt double’ in Harry and happy to be handing responsibility for the 613 churches that make up Salisbury Diocese to him. For the duration of this service, he will be in charge of 461 parishes stretching across Wiltshire, Dorset, the Channel Islands and parts of Hampshire. I hope he enjoys his brief tenure.”
In his address, Chorister Bishop Harry acknowledged the Bishop and fellow choristers:
“Thank you to my fellow choristers for their friendship and sharing jokes with me all the way, my attendants for helping me through the service and last but not least Bishop Stephen for lending me his throne, mitre, his crook, his ring and his robes for me to experience what it is like to be the Bishop of Salisbury.”
At Salisbury Cathedral the Chorister Bishop is an elected role and the candidate is chosen by his fellow choristers. Harry’s appointment marks the contribution he has made personally and as a singer to the Cathedral Choir.
David Halls, Director of Music at Salisbury Cathedral said:
“Harry is an excellent choice of Chorister Bishop. As well as being an excellent musician, he is liked and respected by his peers and provides quiet, thoughtful and confident leadership as a senior chorister. This is a fitting reward for all the hard work he has put in over the six years he has been singing with the choir.”
The Chorister Bishop or Boy Bishop tradition goes back to medieval times, when a boy chorister held the office of bishop from the Feast of St Nicholas (the patron saint of children) on 6 December until the Feast of the Holy Innocents on 28 December. Once enthroned, medieval child bishops could appoint clergy and distribute the Church’s money as they saw fit.
This ‘topsy-turvy’ ceremony echoes the wider medieval practice of holding festivals in which the ‘high’ became ‘low’ and vice versa. The Boy Bishop tradition continued right up until the reign of Henry VIII, who put stop to the practice in 1541, declaring it a distraction from proper church business. It was revived in its present form in Salisbury Cathedral during the 1980s and today the position is open to both girls and boys in the choir, hence the name change from ‘boy bishop’ to ‘chorister bishop’.