Boy Bishop Coin

A Peep Into the Past

Alan Calver from Sudbourne has been metal detecting at Fir Tree for several years now and in 2002 he found a medieval coin dating back to circa 1200-1300. Experts Chris Mycock (of Moyses Hall Museum, Bury St Edmunds) and Dr Helen Geake (from the Portable Antiquities Scheme) told him that it was a unique and very important find that should be in a public collection as it turned out to be what was known as a “Boy Bishop Coin” actually minted in Blaxhall – the words “Villa Blaxal” are still clearly visible on one side.

It was a widespread custom in the Middle Ages in which a choir boy was chosen to act as bishop for the Feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28th . In England the boy bishop was elected on the feast of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children, on December 6th. On the eve of Holy Innocents the boy and his colleagues took possession of the church or cathedral and performed all the ceremonies except for mass. The boy would be given a coin issued by the Church, as a token of his election together with several more which he would then distribute amongst the poorest children in the village which they could use to buy food and wine.

In England it was finally abolished by Elizabeth I.

The main collection of boy bishop tokens are in the British Museum with just a few being exhibited in Ipswich, Ely and Norwich Castle museums.

Sue

(With special thanks to Alan)

Note: Alan Calver was kind enough to let Shane take a picture of the coin. Thumbnails are below, please click on one for an enlarged picture.