All across western Europe, cathedrals would elect a boy bishop. His role was pretty much exactly what the name suggests. He was a pubescent choirboy who was elected at the beginning of December and then dressed in full bishop’s robes, mitre and crosier. He acted as the head of the Church from 6 December until 28 December. He performed the role of a priest, took all services apart from Mass and was free to direct church proceedings and appoint other choristers to act as his canons. The boy bishop was not universally popular – largely because traditionalists felt that the practice of having a small boy pretend to be a bishop undermined the solemnity of the Church.
There were practical problems too. The congregation did not seem to take the boy bishop very seriously and members of the congregation would throw things at him or pull pranks to disrupt the services. Occasionally the boy bishops took themselves far too seriously and houses near the church would suddenly be confronted with a menacing gang of choirboys dressed as bishops and canons demanding the householders hand over money to absolve their sins!
“Bad Santas and Other Creepy Christmas Characters” by Paul Hawkins is available now and published by Simon & Schuster.