Tuesday, December 6, 2011

St. Nicholas Day and Boy Bishops

On December 6, the feast of St. Nicholas of Myra, it was common throughout England and on the Continent during the Middle Ages that a Boy Bishop would be chosen at the monasteries and cathedral schools from among the boys in the choir or school. He would be vested as a bishop, lead a procession and bless the people on St. Nicholas's Day. The boy bishop remained in office until the Feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28--of course, he did not celebrate any sacramental rites during this time.

This was a very popular custom representing a change in order: the real Bishop stepped down in humility while the young boy stepped up from his lowliness. This quotes Mary's Magnificat: "He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble and meek." It was common that the Boy Bishop would distribute treats and declare holidays.

Henry VIII abolished the practice in 1542; Mary revived it during her reign and Elizabeth abolished it again--more about the tradition and its current status here.

1 comment:

  1. Heard about this but never learned much about it. Thanks for the post and link to learn more.