Chorister Bishops at Salisbury Cathedral
After just six months in post, The Right Revd Stephen Lake was unseated at Evensong on Sunday 4 December….by this year’s chorister bishop. Bishop Stephen stood down during the service allowing Chorister Bishop Rory Law to take his place in a ceremony that harks back to medieval times
At Evensong last Sunday (4 December) 13-year-old Rory from Warminster was installed as the latest in a long line of Chorister Bishops at Salisbury Cathedral, unseating the Bishop of Salisbury for the duration of the 45-minute service.
During the Magnificat, sung by the Cathedral choir, The Right Reverend Stephen Lake, Bishop of Salisbury, symbolically relinquished his staff, mitre and cope, and stood aside whilst Rory, wearing the Chorister Bishop’s robe, mitre and ring, stepped up into the Cathedra (or bishop’s throne). Supported and robed by his retinue (a group of friends from the Cathedral School), Rory delivered a sermon, and led the choir and congregation in prayer.
Being chosen to be the Chorister Bishop marks the contribution made by a chorister to the choir and Cathedral music. One of the youngest choristers to join the choir in 2019, Rory was just eight when he started singing in the Cathedral, and has since gone from strength to strength. In 2019 he took the part of the young St Nicolas in a performance of Benjamin Britten’s cantata, St Nicolas, given by Salisbury Music Society and at last year’s midnight mass he sang the spine-tingling solo at the start of Once In Royal David’s City.
Rory has been involved in countless services during his time with the choir, including the Cathedral’s renowned From Darkness to Light Advent Procession, the Inauguration of Bishop Stephen Lake, and services commemorating the Queen following her death earlier this year. David Halls, Director of Music at Salisbury Cathedral said: Rory is a knowledgeable and intelligent singer, who is wise beyond his years and a great asset to the choir. His year group was amongst those most affected by Covid and the singing ban but, remarkably, they don’t seem to have been held back. The boys are singing particularly well at the moment. Rory Law, Chorister Bishop said: “It’s such an honour to be made Chorister Bishop and something I will never forget. I love Christmas time at the Cathedral anyway. It is the best music we do in the year and that makes it worth waiting until Boxing Day to celebrate Christmas with my own family. Actually its quite nice spending Christmas lunch with all the other choristers and their families and being with schoolfriends at Christmas time.”
The Chorister Bishop or 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. During that time, medieval child bishops could appoint clergy and distribute the Church’s money as they saw fit. The practice continued right up until the reign of Henry VIII. He put a stop to the practice in 1541, declaring it a distraction from proper church business. It was revived in its present form at Salisbury Cathedral in the 1980s and today the chorister is as likely to be a girl as a boy. Salisbury Cathedral appointed its first Girl Chorister Bishop in 2015.