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24 September 2014
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Truro Cathedral by Lester Stenner

Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols

On Christmas Eve millions around the world be listening to the annual 'Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols' broadcast by the BBC. But its origins can be found here in Cornwall.


This year's Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols comes from King's College in Cambridge. It will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

This massive annual event began 125 years ago thanks to the first Bishop of Truro, Edward White Benson. He created the tradition of the popular service of nine biblical extracts and suitable Christmas music. Benson called it a 'Festal Service for Christmas Eve'.

Truro Cathedral
The home of 'Nine Lessons and Carols'

It was back in 1880 when the first service took place. The present cathedral had not even been built. The two foundation stones had just been laid by the Prince of Wales only a few months earlier. All the services were being held in a temporary wooden cathedral.

"My father arranged from ancient sources a little services for Christmas Eve, nine carols and nine tiny lessons," says AC Benson in his writings about his father.

"They were read by various officers of the church, beginning with a chorister and ending, through different grades, with the bishop."

Truro Cathedral
Truro Cathedral

In 2005, the 125th anniversary, Truro Cathedral will be celebrating the Nine Lessons and Carols twice! It will be held on Christmas Eve and the previous evening, 23 December. This has been done for three years now to avoid having to turn people away. This had happened back in 2001 when the queues continued even though there were already 1400 in the cathedral.

For many people this special service, with its origins in Cornwall, marks the real start of Christmas.  

For the Truro Cathedral services the doors open at 6pm on both evenings with a 7pm start.

The service from King's College in Cambridge will be broadcast on Saturday 24 December 2005 between 3-4.30pm on BBC Radio 4.

 

last updated: 16/12/05
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