December 24th Nine Lessons and Carols Service (1876)

Although the Nine Lessons and Carols Service at Kings College, Cambridge, is the most famous as it is has been broadcast every year since 1928, it was devised by the Bishop of Truro, A.C. Benson, as an alternative to men spending Christmas Eve in public houses and to keep them out of trouble.  It was held in a temporary wooden building which was used for seven years whilst the Cathedral was being constructed on the site of the former St. Mary’s Church which had been condemned as having become unsafe.  The illustration above depicts the laying of the foundation stone of the Cathedral.

The initial service included three anthems from Handel’s Messiah – ‘For unto us a child is born’, ‘There were shepherds abiding in the field’ and ‘The  Hallelujah Chorus’ which do not appear in more recent services and did not include the now traditional opening carol of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’. Other than those and other minor variations made by the Dean of King’s, Eric Milner-White – the exact choice of hymns etc;  – the general structure of the service is little changed from that time.

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