Bishop Stephen and his ‘stunt double’

During Evensong at Salisbury Cathedral on Sunday 10 December two ‘rival’ bishops came face to face in a ceremony that harks back to the Middle Ages. This special service takes place in early December every year.

In keeping with tradition, as the service unfolded The Right Revd Stephen Lake, Bishop of Salisbury, ‘handed over’ the diocese to 13-year-old Harry Mills, symbolically handed over his staff, mitre and cope. 

Chorister Bishop Harry was supported by his canons, or attendants - a group of friends from the Cathedral School – as he delivered the sermon and led the choir and congregation in prayer. 

In his address at the start of the service The Right Revd Stephen Lake, Bishop of Salisbury said:
“I am delighted to have a ‘stunt double’ in Harry and happy to be handing responsibility for the 613 churches that make up Salisbury Diocese to him. For the duration of this service, he will be in charge of 461 parishes stretching across Wiltshire, Dorset, the Channel Islands and parts of Hampshire. I hope he enjoys his brief tenure.”

In his address Chorister Bishop Harry Mills acknowledged the Bishop and fellow choristers:
“Thank you to my fellow choristers for their friendship and sharing jokes with me all the way, my attendants for helping me through the service and last but not least Bishop Stephen for lending me his throne, mitre, his crook, his ring and his robes for me to experience what it is like to be the Bishop of Salisbury.”

Harry’s selection for the role marks the contribution he has made personally and as a singer to the Cathedral Choir. The Chorister Bishop (Boy Bishop) tradition goes back to medieval times, when a boy chorister held the office of bishop from the Feast of St Nicholas (the patron saint of children) on 6 December until the Feast of the Holy Innocents on 28 December. Once enthroned, medieval child bishops could appoint clergy and distribute the Church’s money as they saw fit.

The Boy Bishop tradition continued right up until the reign of Henry VIII. It was revived in its present form in Salisbury Cathedral during the 1980s and today the position is open to anyone in the choir, hence the name change from ‘boy bishop’ to ‘chorister bishop’.

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