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News > Christ College Archive > A Festival of Lessons and Carols

A Festival of Lessons and Carols

After last year's restricted service and the imposed absence of a carol service in 2020, this year's 'Festival of Carols and Lessons' will once again be held in Brecon Cathedral.

What we tend to know as 'The Carol Service' has a long and fascinating history. Many older OBs will also know that it hasn't always been held in the Cathedral. Though we posted this story last year, it is one worth retelling to celebrate a return to the Cathedral.

Most people know the format of the Lessons and Carols from the one televised each Christmas from King’s College, Cambridge. In fact, King's College adopted the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols in Christmas 1918. Less well known is that Christ College had already been holding its own Service of Nine Lessons and Carols for some years by then - pre-dating the service in Cambridge by more than a decade.

Originally an ancient medieval custom, The Service of Nine Lessons and Carols was revived in the 1870s by Dr Benson at Lincoln Cathedral. When he was appointed Bishop to the newly formed diocese at Truro, Dr Benson took the service with him. The first service at Truro in 1880 was held at 10pm on Christmas Eve, carefully timed to keep the men out of the pubs in the late evening. 

Writing in The Sunday Times in January 1956, Canon Donaldson (Christ College Master 1902-1955 and retired Chaplain) replied to a letter on the subject. He explained that his father was the First Precentor of Truro Cathedral in Bishop Benson’s time and, as a youngster, he himself had attended the annual Service of Nine Lessons and Carols there. He wrote that he had introduced the form of service to Christ College fifty years earlier in 1906. 

Holding the Carol Service in the Cathedral also feels like a long-standing tradition, but it’s one that goes back only 30 years to 1991 - and it didn’t take place on the last day of term until 1997. From its inception in 1906, the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols at Christ College was always held in the Chapel. In the 1960s additional services were introduced, subsequently providing three (and sometimes four) separate Carol Services - for Town and Guests, Parents, and School. 

The same form of service has been held continually by Christ College for more than a hundred years, with each of the now six lessons being read by a range of members of the Christ College community and the last lesson traditionally read by the Head. One can’t help but think that Canon Donaldson would reflect with some satisfaction that Christ College is preserving such a precious legacy, and has done so for more than a century. 

The order of service is from the R J Boulton Collection and it dates from 1927, exactly 95 years ago. 




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