England (UK)

St Nicholas in horse-drawn cart
Saint Nicholas Procession, Canterbury, England, 2002
Photo: courtesy of J M Rosenthal

England has more than 500 churches named for St. Nicholas. These parishes and cathedrals mark their patron saint’s feast day with a special Patronal Feast. As St. Nicholas Day is in early Advent and he is associated with children and gifts, many churches invite the saint to visit during, or after, the Sunday service, to explain who he is and what it means to celebrate his memory today. (Some churches do observe the day properly on the 6th rather than on the closest Sunday because each Advent Sunday has its own important theme.) On this day the homily reflects St Nicholas’ true identity, as opposed to the more commercial Father Christmas or Santa. This is also a time for collecting food, gifts, and money for the less financially privileged.

St Nicholas with choristers at Canterbury Cathedral
St Nicholas with choristers at Canterbury Cathedral
Photo: St Nicholas Society
Arhbishop Williams with Saint Nicholas
Archbishop Williams with St Nicholas
Photo: N Pritchard
Used by permission

Canterbury hosts an impressive St Nicholas Fest, begun in 2000. City and Cathedral together sponsor the event that begins with a parade through the city and ends inside the Cathedral itself. Saint Nicholas and Archbishop Rowan Williams lead the parade into the Cathedral precincts where over 2500 children and adults pack the cathedral to welcome the Saint and Archbishop. Music and dance, hymns and prayers, the Cathedral Boys Choir and more create a festive scene. As the festival has grown, more and more places are also beginning to host annual St Nicholas events. London’s Holy Trinity Sloane Square , for example, sponsors a special event along with the surrounding shopping district. In addition, churches other than those dedicated to St. Nicholas, are also including the good saint as part of their Advent activities.

Boy Bishop at Hereford Cathedral
2004 Boy Bishop Frazer Haviz seated in the medieval Bishop’s Throne at Hereford Cathedral
Photo: Hereford Cathedral
Used by permission
St Nicholas with school children at Newcastle Cathedral
St Nicholas leads school children at St Nicholas Cathedral, Newcastle
Photo: St Nicholas Cathedral, Newcastle
Used by permission

Before the English Reformation, when Henry the VIII led the Church of England away from the Roman Catholic Church, Nicholas was one of the most popular saints in England. Besides churches under St. Nicholas’ patronage, “Nicholas” was one of the most common names for boys, as shown by baptismal records of the time. The medieval Boy Bishop custom, though practiced on the Continent, was most enthusiastically embraced in England.

Some English parishes and cathedrals have recovered the Boy Bishop custom which dropped out of favor in the 16th century. One of the choristers is selected to serve as the Boy or Nicholas Bishop. He wears full episcopal robes and carries the Lord Bishop’s pastoral staff. At the words from the Magnificat, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly,” the Boy Bishop, illustrating such an inversion, processes through the Quire and takes the Bishop’s seat. For example, in Hereford Cathedral, the commissioned Boy Bishop preaches a sermon, leads the prayers, and asks for God’s blessing on the people. In some places the custom has been updated with either a boy or a girl serving as the youthful bishop.

St. Nicholas is commemorated at these English Anglican cathedrals: Canterbury, Chester, Chichester, Durham, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Portsmouth, Truro, and York.

St Nicholas Turned away from Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre
St Nicholas at Sloane Square, London
Airplanes, not by Steamboat
The RAF supports Sinterklaas
St. Nicholas in York Minster Stained Glass 
St Nicholas Society Visits
Henry III and St Nicholas
Find St Nicholas Churches in England—map
St. Nicholas Galley, a legend from Brighton 
Saint Nicholas in Moretto’s Madonna & Child with Saints

In other sections

More about Boy/Youth Bishops
St. Nicholas Events in England
St Nicholas Images in England
St. Nicholas Liturgical Material
Father Christmas
Video Saint Nicholas in Canterbury with the Archbishop of Canterbury, 2007, Lambeth Palace on YouTube
Video from the Diocese of Canterbury
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