The Boy Bishop harks back to medieval festivities in select English Cathedral cities, such as London or Salisbury. A boy was chosen from choristers who would be ‘bishop’ for a day. He would give a sermon, sing, and command a troupe of monks. The date usually fell on St Nicholas’s Day.
Durham’s tradition is exceptional in that Durham had two boy bishops, not one; they officiated in late spring, not winter. In the fifteenth century, one boy bishop was chosen from the Almonry School (the predecessor of the current Chorister School). Another boy bishop, the so-called Bishop of Elvet, came from St Oswald’s parish. Processions from the Cathedral to the parish churches featuring these bishops took place in Ascension week. The Rites of Durham, a sixteenth-century manuscript describing pre-Reformation religious ceremony in Durham, gives further details of the context of the ceremony, although the actual use of boy bishops had probably come to an end about 1475.
Our show The Sacred and Profane resurrected the tradition of Boy Bishops at Durham Cathedral for the first time in many years.