About this blog

This is a window into the weird world of Anglicanism, as experienced on a Cathedral Close. Has anything much happened since Trollope's Barchester Chronicles? You will still see the 'canon in residence' hurrying across to choral Evensong, robes flapping, as the late bell chimes. But look carefully and you will notice he is checking the football score on his iPhone as he runs. This is also a writer's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the novelist's life. And it's a fighter's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the judo mat. Well, the agony, anyway.

Saturday 24 July 2010

What is the difference between a prebend and a prebendary?

You can’t wash your hands in a prebendary. I got that out of a Christmas cracker. It was an Anglican cracker. It had a paper mitre in it and a little plastic novelty tea urn. According to my dictionary, a prebend is either a) the stipend assigned by a cathedral to a canon or member of the chapter or b) the land, tithe or other source of such a stipend.

The word ‘stipend’ in this context means ‘a fixed or regular amount paid as to a clergyman, of completely imaginary money.’ A prebendary is the recipient of such an imaginary stipend. In some cathedrals there are 'honorary canons'. Same thing. It is an honorary post awarded to long standing clergy of the diocese for being a good egg. Or eggess, in these modern days of ours.

Lichfield cathedral has many prebends. These are named after the various places in Staffordshire where the prebend lands were once situated. Places like 'Gaia Major' (pronounced, rather thrillingly, gayer major, and source of many quip.) Each prebend has its own prebendal stall in the cathedral in the choir chancel. This is where the prebendaries sit. The Prebendary of Curborough sits in the Curborough Stall, for example. These rights are fiercely guarded. I’ve learnt that proper etiquette and formal ritual is hugely important in cathedral life. Prebendaries must each sit in their own designated stall.

The only exception is the stall of the Prebendary of Freeford, which is next to the chancellor’s stall. The Freeford Stall is reserved for Mrs Chancellor (as I am known around the Close), and she asserts her ancient historic right to punch anyone who tries to sit there in evensong. Unless of course, the Prebendary of Freeford turns up, in which case he may assert his right to punch the chancellor’s wife. He in turn will immediately be punched by the chancellor.

After this, the precentor, in his role as first canon of the cathedral, may if he chooses, punch the chancellor. Obviously, the dean may punch anyone he feels like punching, up to and including the bishop—unless they stray outside the cathedral precincts, in which case the bishop’s own punching rights come into force and he may punch the dean. In fact the bishop of Lichfield may punch anyone anywhere within the boundaries of the Lichfield diocese, apart from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, or the queen. Finally, every few years the leaders of entire Anglican Communion world-wide gather at the Lambeth Conference for a mass punch-up. I hope this is helpful in clarifying Anglican protocol.

To be honest, I just made all that up. I don’t go around punching people. I prefer to strangle them. But that’s just me, I’m a judo player. I actually have to be quite careful to keep judo and the cathedral in separate mental compartments. There is a lot of bowing in the cathedral, just as there is in martial arts. If someone bows at you on the judo mat, it’s a signal that they are about to attack you. This is not the case when people bow in the cathedral. In the cathedral they generally attack without warning. That is the Anglican way.


  1. Is it known why the prebend/prebendary of Freeford was a special case? I'm doing some research on property on Beacon St. where I think I've observed this distinction and it has puzzled me.....

    1. That was a joke. I sat there if it was vacant, because it was a rare opportunity to sit next to my clergy husband during a service.

    2. Thanks. I understood it was a joke, but wondered why you had singled out Freeford! I got to the bottom of my little question anyway......