Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Boy Bishop (Chavagnes), December 2008

March 8th, 2010, Promulgated by Choir

Jean-Baptiste,Chavagnes Boy-Bishop for St Nicholas Day 2008.

A living tradition from 16th Century England

The tradition of the boy bishop – elected each year on the 6th of December, from among the choristers of Cathedrals, Colleges and large parish churches – is an English custom dating back to the 12th century. It was abolished by Henry VII in 1542, but briefly revived under Mary.

The bishop would symbolically stand down at the moment in the Magnificat when the choir sang deposuit potentes de sede (He puts down the mighty from their thrones). Then the ‘boy bishop’ would ascend the throne at the words et exaltavit humiles. Apart from the celebration of Mass and the important Vespers and Lauds of Christmas itself, the boy would officiate at many services and make decrees as to the obligations of the other choristers (usually, extra food, less work, etc.)


It was a popular custom. Eton College elected two boy bishops each year, and all the Cathedrals had them, including St Paul’s. The boy’s reign would come to an end on Holy Innocent’s Day, after he had himself preached a sermon at Mass. His fellow scholars would then have to give him a penny as a Christmas offering.

Like many similar traditions in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, it served to teach children about the dignity of high office (and especially the importance of the bishop’s role in the Church.) It also demonstrates to those in authority the fragility of honour and rank; a warning that they should not cling to earthly honours.

Here, Bishop Jean-Baptiste (a pupil in year 8) presides at Pontifical Vespers and afterwards receives the customary reverences from pupils and visitors at the end of the ceremony.

The Boy Bishop’s symbolic reign only lasts a day, but he makes good use of it. Having discharged his liturgical duties with great dignity, he presides at dinner, where he pronounces the blessing and grace.

Bishop Jean-Baptiste afterward decreed a later bedtime and a film evening for all pupils, while the suitably humiliated Chaplain and Masters cleaned the tables and swept the floor.



3 Responses to “Boy Bishop (Chavagnes), December 2008”

  1. Gen says:

    Choir – this crosses the line. I told you my home videos were private, as in "Don't put my childhood on YouTube."

  2. I believe Gen, that was when you were an auxiliary bishop in-training for the DoR.

  3. Gen says:

    That would explain it.

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