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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Boy Bishop,

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"the principal person in an extraordinary sacred frolic of the Middle Ages, and down to the period of the Reformation. On St. Nicholas's day, the 6th of December, the boys forming the choir in cathedral churches elected one of their number to the honor of bishop, and robes and episcopal symbols were provided for him, while the other boys, assuming the dress of priests, took possession of the church, and went through all the ecclesiastical ceremonies but that of mass. This strange reversal of power lasted till Innocents' day, the 28th of the same month. In Sarum, on the eve of that day, the boy went through a splendid caricature of processions, chantings, and other festive ceremonies. Dean Colet, in his statutes for St. Paul's School, London, ordains that the boys should come to St. Paul's Church and hear the ' chylde' bishop's sermons, and each of them present him with a penny. By a proclamation of Henry VIII, 1542, this show was abolished; but it was revived under Mary, and in 1556 the boy bishops still maintained some popularity. The similar scenes in France were yet more extravagant, and often indecent. The Council of Paris, in 1212, interdicted the pastime, and the theological faculty of the same city, in 1414, make loud complaints of the continuance of the diversion. In Scotland similar saturnalia also prevailed, as Scott has described in his Abbot, connected with 'those jocular personages, the pope of fools, the boy bishop, and the abbot of unreason.' This custom is supposed to have given rise to I the ceremony of the Montem at Eton. Bishop Hall, in his Triumphs of Rome, says, 'What merry work it was here in the days of our holy fathers (and I know not whether, in some places, it may not be so still), that upon St. Nicholas, St. Catharine, St. Clement, and Holy Innocents' day, children were wont to be arrayed in chimers, rochets, surplices, to counterfeit bishops and priests, and to be led, with songs and dances, from house to house, blessing the people, who stood grinning in the way to expect that ridiculous benediction. Yea, that boys in that holy sport were wont to sing masses, and to climb into the pulpit to preach (no doubt learnedly and edifyingly) to the simple auditory."-Eadie, Eccles. Cyclopedia, s.v. (See MYSTERIES).


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Boy Bishop,'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/b/boy-bishop.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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