Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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THE BOY BISHOP
after Compline on the Eve of the Innocents a supper for himself and his train from the Dean or one of his canons. The number of his following must, however, be limited ; if he went to the-Dean's he might take with him a train of fifteen : two chaplains, two taper-bearers, five clerks, two vergers, and four residentiary canons ; if to a lesser dignitary his attendants were to be fewer.
On Innocents' Day he was given a dinner, after which came a cavalcade through the city, that the " bishop" might bless the people. He had also to preach a sermon—no doubt written for him.
Examples of such discourses are still extant,22 and are not with­out quaint touches. For instance the bidding prayer before one of them alludes to " the ryghte reverende fader and worshypfull lorde my broder Bysshopp of London, your dyoceasan," and "my worshypfull broder [the] Deane of this cathedral] chirche," 23 while in another the preacher remarks, speaking or the choristers and children of the song-school, " Yt is not so long sens I was one of them myself." 24
In some places it appears, though this is by no means certain, that the boy actually sang Mass. The " bishop's " office was a very desirable one not merely because of the feasting, but because he had usually the right to levy contributions on the faithful, and the amounts collected were often very large. At York, for instance, in 1396 the "bishop" pocketed about £77, all expenses paid.
The general parallelism of the Boy Bishop customs and the Feast of Fools is obvious, and no doubt they had much the same folk-origin. One point, already mentioned, should specially be noticed : the election of the Boy Bishop generally took place on December 5, the Eve of St. Nicholas, patron of children ; he was often called " Nicholas bishop " ; and sometimes, as at Eton and Mayence, he exercised episcopal functions at divine service on the eve and the feast itself. It is possible, as Mr. Chambers suggests, that St. Nicholas's Day was an older date for the boys' festival than Holy Innocents', and that from the connection with St. Nicholas, the bishop saint par excellence (he was said to have been consecrated by divine command when still a mere layman), spra
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