13-year-old becomes Salisbury Cathedral’s chorister bishop for a day

In a tradition dating back to medieval times, a schoolboy has been chosen to take on the role of Salisbury Cathedral’s chorister bishop.

Unlike their predecessors, though, who held office for three weeks between the Feast of St Nicholas and Holy Innocents, 13-year-old Sebastian Kunzer will only be in post for a day.

Chorister bishops were traditionally chosen by the cathedral’s director of music but this year each chorister was asked to suggest a name.

Verger Joseph Davies helps Chorister Bishop Sebastian Kunzer fit his mitre during rehearsal for the Feast of St Nicholas at Salisbury Cathedral (Ben Birchall/PA)
Verger Joseph Davies helps Chorister Bishop Sebastian Kunzer fit his mitre during rehearsal for the Feast of St Nicholas at Salisbury Cathedral (Ben Birchall/PA)

Sebastian was elected by his peers due to his talent as a singer, his leadership qualities and his kindness.

David Halls, the cathedral’s director of music, said: “(Sebastian’s) a really nice boy – kind, thoughtful, hardworking and a talented singer.

“He would have been my choice if it had been my choice to make this year and all credit to his fellow choristers because they have selected very wisely in my opinion.”

Sebastian lives in Salisbury and was admitted as a full chorister in 2017 after a short stint as a probationer.

The topsy-turvy chorister bishop ceremony echoes the medieval practice of holding festivals in which the “high” became “low” and vice versa.

The elected chorister bishop held office from St Nicholas Day on December 6 until Holy Innocents Day on December 28.

They could make decisions on church appointments that fell vacant within this period, as well as presiding over all services.

The practice continued right up until the reign of Henry VIII who put a stop to it, declaring it a distraction from proper church business.

It was revived in its present form in Salisbury during the 1980s and the service takes place on December 6, during the Feast of St Nicholas.

Chorister Bishop Sebastian Kunzer stands beside the baptismal font as he prepares for the Feast of St Nicholas at Salisbury Cathedral (Ben Birchall/PA)
Chorister Bishop Sebastian Kunzer stands beside the baptismal font as he prepares for the Feast of St Nicholas at Salisbury Cathedral (Ben Birchall/PA)

During the service, as the choir sing the words of the Magnificat, the Bishop of Salisbury descends from his throne and is stripped of his robes and emblems of office.

The chorister bishop is then robed and equipped as a bishop before taking his place on the bishop’s throne to conduct the service, deliver the sermon, receive the collection and lead prayers.

The role was originally known as the Boy Bishop but the title changed when the choir began admitting girls and the first female chorister bishop was elected in 2015.

Meanwhile, the cathedral is launching a virtual choristers tour narrated by TV star Alexander Armstrong to recruit the next generation of singers.

The choir has 10 places to fill, five for girls and five for boys, and the virtual tour replaces recruitment events cancelled because of Covid-19.

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