Nine Lessons and Carols

The famous Nine Lessons and Carols Service which is held in Anglican churches at Christmas all across the world today was originally devised by the first Bishop of Truro, Bishop Edward White Benson in 1880. It was first conducted in a temporary wooden building as Truro Cathedral was being constructed, and this Christmas service continued to be held in the wooden structure for a further 6 years before the cathedral building was completed. 

It is said that the service was created as a response by Bishop Benson to discourage a different festive spirit found in the local Cornish pubs and was influenced by an idea of George Walpole, at the time Succentor of Truro Cathedral, and the future Bishop of Edinburgh. The first Nine Lessons and Carols service was attended by 400 people and it has been held at Truro Cathedral every Christmas ever since.  The service has been modified in that time and different pieces of music are chosen each year. In December 2013, Truro Cathedral Choir staged a reconstruction of Bishop Benson's original 1880 Nine Lessons with Carols Service (a CD of this reconstruction, together with a DVD of the 2014 Nine Lessons and Carols service is available in the Cathedral Shop). 

Today the service is held twice on the 23 and 24 December; one service with the girl choristers and adult singers, the other with the boy choristers and adult singers. Each has a different musical programme and each is attended by audiences of around 1,000 people. 

The service takes us through nine biblical passages from the old and new testaments, interspersing with various carols, hymns and other classical pieces. The first reading is undertaken by a chorister and each reading moves up the cathedral hierarchy ending with the bishop. The first reading sets out mankind's need for a Redeemer – the fall of humanity represented by Adam eating an apple from the tree from which God has commanded him not to eat. The promise of the Messiah, and the birth of Jesus are the subjects for the subsequent readings. 

Here at Truro Cathedral we are proud to be the spiritual home of the Nine Lessons and Carols Festival and hope that you can join us for this very special Christmas service.