Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Sunday, 6 December 2020

Boy Bishops

Today, December 6, is the Feast of St Nicholas. From the end of the eleventh century devotion to this eastern saint became widespread in the medieval west following on from the transfer of his relics to Bari in Apulia. Because of his role as a patron of the young his feast day became that on which in the high and later middle ages cathedrals elected their Boy Bishop. He held office until Holy Innocents Day on December 28th.


The Hereford Boy Bishop of 2017

Brinsley Morrison, then 13, is a former cathedral chorister

Image: Hereford Times

The history of the custom and the story of various revivals of it can be read on Wikipedia at Boy bishop. This also has a good bibliography on the topic. 

The Encyclopaedia Britannica website also has an account which can be seen at Boy bishop | medieval custom |

The website of The Tudor Society has an article about Boy Bishops at 6 December - The Boy Bishop Tradition

The New Liturgical Movement has a feature from 2016 on the tradition in England and Spain which can be seen at A Bit More About Boy-Bishops


In 2012 Neil Mackenzie published a book about the practice which I have not seen myself but about which there are details at The Medieval Boy Bishops - Troubador Book Publishing

The St Nicholas Center, which is a useful resource on all things connected with St Nicholas has a detailed account which can be viewed at Boy or Youth Bishops ::: St. Nicholas Center  This includes a list of cathedrals and churches which have revived or established the custom in recent years.

This also contains links to various related sites:

The Boy Bishop’s Visitation of the Diocese of York in 1396 was a fairly extensive tour of the noble households within reasonable reach of York. It has a couple of typographical errors or misreading of personal or place names, giving ‘Koos’ for Roos, the family who owned Helmsley Castle and who were to be benefactors to the glazing of York Minster, and ‘Eipley’ for what I think must be Ripley and a visit to the Ingilbly family who are still in residence at the castle there.

St Nicholas Pray for all Boy Bishops and for us all.

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