At Evensong on Sunday 9 December, 13-year-old Annenora Benians stepped up into the Cathedra or Bishop’s throne to deliver her sermon and lead the prayers as the latest Chorister Bishop, displacing the Bishop of Salisbury, the Right Reverend Nicholas Holtam.
The exchange of power took place during the Magnificat. As the Choir sang the words “he hath put the mighty down from their seat”, Bishop Nicholas relinquished his throne, with Annenora taking over when the words “and hath exalted the humble and meek" were sung.
Annenora is only the third girl to take up this role since 2015, when the Cathedral changed the title from ‘Boy Bishop’ to ‘Chorister Bishop’ and allowed girls to take up the role. The ceremony is held annually during Evensong on the nearest Sunday to the Feast of St. Nicholas (6 December), the patron saint of children.
Historical documentation shows that the role of Chorister Bishop or Boy Bishop dates back to medieval times, when a chorister took up the office of Bishop temporarily, holding sway from the Feast of St Nicholas until the Feast of the Holy Innocents on 28 December. During that time the Boy Bishop could appoint clergy and distribute the Church’s money as he saw fit. The practice of appointing Boy Bishops in English cathedrals continued right up until the reign of Henry VIII. Henry put a stop to the practice in 1541, declaring it a distraction from proper church business. It was revived nearly 40 years ago in Salisbury Cathedral, in the 1980s.
David Halls, Director of Music at Salisbury Cathedral said:
“Annenora is an exceptional member of the choir, who manages to combine a charming personality with a great sense of fun as well as bags of dedication and hard work. The role of Chorister Bishop provides a useful reminder to the adults in the Cathedral of the daily contribution made by children to the spiritual life of this place and its work."
Before joining the choir in 2015, Annenora sang with her local church choir in Mayfield, East Sussex. The choral tradition runs deep in the Benians family. Annenora’s father, Andrew, was a chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral in London and subsequently held posts as a countertenor and Lay Clerk in Norwich Cathedral Choir and Lay Vicar in Chichester Cathedral Choir. He was appointed Director of Music at St Dunstan’s Church, Mayfield in 2004. Annenora’s younger brother is also a chorister at Salisbury Cathedral and both parents are church organists.