Edward White Benson started his career as a schoolmaster and was ordained deacon in 1852 and priest in 1857. He had previously been the headmaster of Wellington College and Canon Chancellor of Lincoln Cathedral.
He was consecrated as the first bishop of Truro on 25 April 1877 at St Paul's Cathedral. He threw himself into establishing the new diocese and initiating the building of this wonderful cathedral.
In 1880 Bishop Benson created the ‘Service of Nine Lessons and Carols’ which for over 120 years has formed part of Truro Cathedral’s traditional worship on Christmas Eve and has been adapted for Christmas Eve services in Anglican churches all over the world.
Six years later, in 1883, he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury where he remained until his sudden death in 1896, aged only 67. He therefore never saw the realisation of the new cathedral.
Benson had an interesting background. As a young man, he had ghostly interests and was the founder of the Cambridge Ghost Society formed in 1851. Henry James’s famous novel ‘The Turn of the Screw’ is said to have been based on a story that Benson told him about the ghosts of evil servants who tried to lure young children to their deaths.
Benson was also the founder of the Church of England Purity Society, an organisation which later merged with the philanthropic White Cross Army.
A biography of Benson’s wife, Mary Benson, compiled via her letters, was published in 2011. One of these letters describes Benson as having ‘a life of relentless success’.
You can see a bust of Benson, together with a copy of the original Nine Lessons and Carols service sheet from 1880, in the glass cabinet situated opposite the entrance to St Mary’s Aisle in the cathedral.