Boy Bishop Ceremony

Salisbury Cathedral

Evensong with the Boy Bishop Ceremony

The Bishop of Salisbury with 2004 Boy Bishop Thomas Isaac
Salisbury Cathedral, England
Used by permission

The Tradition Behind Today's Ceremony

St Matthew's Gospel records how Jesus "calling to him a child, put him in the midst of the disciples". Thus he taught them an unforgettable lesson about humility and belonging to the kingdom of God. The symbolism of Jesus' action remains more powerful than many words. At the heart of the Boy Bishop ceremony is the same profound gospel truth. Traditionally, the chorister bishop was elected on 6 December, the Feast of St Nicolas, and the ceremonies began with a Procession at Vespers on 27 December, the Eve of Holy Innocents Day, and continued the next day. The procession at Vespers was led by the boy bishop and the choristers. It went to one of the chapels in the Cathedral, where prayers were said. At the return of the procession to the quire, the choristers went to "the top step" and the senior members of the church went to "the lowest step". The bishop descended from his seat, before the Magnificat, and gave the boy bishop his blessing. During the Magnificat at the verse "he hath put down the mighty from their seat", the boy bishop entered the bishop's throne, and afterwards blessed the people, using the bishop's pastoral staff. The "Blessing of the People" was the principal spiritual duty he undertook. From then on until the end of the service he sat in the bishop's throne and the bishop took a lower seat in the sanctuary. At the end of the service, the precentor gave the boy bishop two pence (for the candles used by the choristers). The boy bishop preached a sermon at Mass the day after and received the offerings. Usually he was allowed to use them as he wished, although from time to time the Cathedral Chapter exercised considerable skill to direct the money towards what they believed to be more worthy causes (for example the education of the choristers). Later in the day, the boy bishop was entertained to dinner by a member of Chapter.

The order of service being used today is based on these ancient traditions. Each year, the current bishop's chorister is chosen to become boy bishop.


At the beginning of Evensong, the lay vicars, the clergy and the bishop enter the quire. The congregation stands. When all are in their places, the choristers, followed by the boy bishop and his attendant canons, enter from the vestry, preceded by the thurifer, crucifer and taperers.

During the boy bishop's procession, this carol is sung:


This is the truth sent from above,
The truth of God, the God of love,
Therefore don't turn me from your door,
But hearken all both rich and poor.

The first thing which I do relate
Is that God did man create;
The next thing which to you I'll tell—
Woman was made with man to dwell.

Then after this 'twas God's own choice,
To place them both in Paradise,
There to remain from evil free,
Except they ate of such a tree.

And they did eat, which was a sin,
And thus their ruin did begin;
Ruined themselves, both you and me,
And all of their posterity.

Thus we were heirs to endless woes,
Till God the Lord did interpose;
And so a promise soon did run
That he would redeem us by his son.

Words English traditional carol
Music arr. R Vaughan Williams (1872–1958)

The choristers go to their usual stalls.
The boy bishop and his attendant canons go to seats in the presbytery, turning to bow to the bishop as they pass him.

The congregation remains standing.

Preces and Responses

The congregation sits, but stands for the Gloria at the end of the psalm.

Psalm 8

Boy Bishop with attendants
Boy Bishop Thomas Isaac with attendants, 2004
Salisbury Cathedral, England
Used by permission

The First Lesson

Read by a Senior Chorister

1 Samuel 3: 1–10

The congregation stands. During the office hymn, the bishop with his chaplain leaves his throne and moves to the sanctuary. The boy bishop and his canons stand in front of the bishop at the sanctuary step.

Office Hymn

Prayers at the Boy Bishop Ceremony


Blessed is he who puts his trust in the Lord.
N. you have been chosen to serve in the office of Boy Bishop in the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Salisbury. Will you be faithful and keep the promises made for you in holy baptism and affirmed by you at your confirmation?

Boy Bishop

I will, the Lord being my helper.


While you hold this office, will you pray regularly for the members of this Cathedral Foundation and for all those who need your prayers?

Boy Bishop

I will, the Lord being my helper.


Receive this book of prayers to guide you in your resolve.

The bishop gives the boy bishop a book of prayers.

The boy bishop kneels and says this collect:

Almighty God,
by whose grace alone we are accepted
and called to thy service:
strengthen us by thy Holy Spirit
and make us worthy of our calling;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.



The bishop gives his blessing.

The Lord bless you and keep you:
The Lord make his face to shine upon you,
and be gracious unto you:
The Lord strengthen you to serve him
all the days of your life.



The boy bishop stands. His canons robe him in his cope and place the mitre on his head. The bishop places a ring on the boy bishop's finger and gives him the pastoral staff.

The congregation remains standing and faces east.

The Creed

The congregation kneels for the lesser litany, Lord's Prayer, responses and collects.

The congregation sits.


'His piety and marvellous works' from St Nicolas
Music Benjamin Britten (1913–76)

The congregation remains seated.

The Boy Bishop's Sermon

The Boy Bishop

The congregation stands. During the hymn, the boy bishop receives the collection. In accordance with tradition, the precentor gives a sum of money to the boy bishop.


Thou didst leave thy throne and thy kingly crown
When thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem's home there was found no room
For thy holy nativity:
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus;
There is room in my heart for thee.
Heaven's arches rang when the angels sang,
Proclaiming thy royal degree; But in lowly birth didst thou come to earth,
And in great humility:

Thou camest, O Lord, with the living word
That should set thy people free;
But with mocking scorn and with crown of thorn
They bore thee to Calvary:

When all heaven shall ring, and her choirs shall sing,
At thy coming to victory,
Let thy voice call me home, saying, Yet there is room,
There is room at my side for thee:

Words Emily Elliott (1836–97)
T W Matthews (1826–1910)

All remain standing. As the choir sings the Magnificat, the boy bishop remains facing the altar until the verse "He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble and meek", when he goes to the bishop's throne.


After the Magnificat there follows

The Blessing of the People

The congregation kneels and the boy bishop, standing facing the people and holding the bishop's pastoral staff, gives a blessing with these words:

Boy Bishop

Jesus said to the disciples, "Truly I say to you whoever does not receive
the kingdom of God like a child
shall never enter it."
Our help is in the name of the Lord.


Who made heaven and earth.

Boy Bishop

Blessed be the name of the Lord:


From henceforth, even for ever.

Boy Bishop

May Almighty God, the Father,
the Son, and the Holy Spirit, bless,
preserve and keep you.



The congregation sits.

The Second Lesson

Read by a Senior Chorister

Matthew 18: 1–7

The congregation stands.

Nunc Dimittis

The congregation remains standing.

The boy bishop says a prayer for the choristers:

Lord God, thou hast given us thy servants skill in making music,
that with all the created order
we may bless thee, praise thee and magnify thee for ever.
Bless all who lead thy worship in choir and sanctuary,
especially the choristers of this Cathedral Church,
and grant that our music-making
may be joined with the music of heaven,
so that everything that has breath may praise thee,
the source of all beauty and truth,
for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Lord.




The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore.

The congregation stands.

The Final Responses

Boy Bishop

The Lord be with you


And with thy Spirit.

Boy Bishop

Let us bless the Lord;


Thanks be to God.

The choir and clergy, followed by the procession of the boy bishop, move from the quire to the vestry.

Boy Bishop with father
Boy Bishop Thomas Isaac with his father, Canon David Isaac, 2004
Photo: Salisbury Cathedral
Used by permission


Far-shining names from age to age
Enrich the Church's heritage,
The loyal liegemen of the Lord,
Who found in thee their great reward.

One name from that immortal throng
Inspires today our festal song:
In loving memory we hold
The bishop and the saint of old,

Who, far away in eastern land,
With gentle heart and open hand
Loved all things living, shared his store
With homeless men who sought his door.

Friend of the poor, no less was he
The Guardian saint of those at sea;
O'er wave-swept rock and sheltered bay
God's churches bear his name today.

And his the skill, the tender art
That wins the trustful, child-like heart:
His dearest title to the end
'Saint Nicolas, the children's friend.'

To thee, O Lord, the praise be given
For this true citizen of heaven:
A star above the stormy sea
To lead the wanderer home to thee.

Words W H Savile (1859–1928)
Percy Buck (1871–1947)

More about boy bishops

From, Salisbury Cathedral, The Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary . Used by permission.

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