A medieval custom of selecting a ‘chorister bishop’ is to be revived at Ripon Cathedral on Sunday, December 9 – but with a contemporary twist.
The ‘bishop’ will be chosen from the choristers by the Dean of Ripon, the Very Rev John Dobson, following a selection process involving the choristers writing a few sentences about why it is right for Christians to be generous to others at Christmas.
The ‘bishop’ will be dressed in a small scale version of a bishop’s robes and have a miniature crozier and mitre and be supported by two ‘chorister canons’ who were runners-up. The ‘bishop’ will read what they have written during the dean’s sermon and will also be involved in the blessing.
The contemporary twist is that, in an age of increasing use of food banks and reliance on charities, members of the congregation at the 10.30am service will be invited to bring Christmas gifts with them to be presented to the ‘bishop’ by the altar. They will then be given to the Salvation Army to be distributed to people in need.
“This is an excellent opportunity for the cathedral community to offer gifts not just for children but also for adults, ideally not wrapped, so the Salvation Army can see what they are and give them out as appropriate,” said the dean.
The idea to select a chorister bishop for a day was put forward by one of the cathedral’s canons, Ailsa Newby, who, in her previous role as a team rector of a parish in Putney, was aware of the custom having been revived there.
In the Middle Ages a boy bishop was selected from the cathedral choristers on December 6, the Feast of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children. He was famous for giving dowries to three poor young women to enable them to get married.
The boy bishop’s authority would typically run to Holy Innocents’ Day, December 28. The custom was abolished during the Reformation by Henry VIII in 1542.