The sound of Christmas carols sung by a cathedral choir is an important and familiar part of the holidays. In England the tradition of the cathedral choir, including trained English choirboys and poignant boy sopranos, is more well developed and refined than anywhere else in the world. Glance at the credits on favorite recordings of traditional carols in your own collection and you'll likely find one or two famous English Cathedral Choirs.
There is nothing quite like the sound of pure voices filling England's ancient Cathedrals all the way to their magnificent vaulted ceilings. And if you are lucky enough to be in England during Advent and Christmas, you could have a chance to hear Christmas carols, sung by an English Cathedral Choir in one of these magical settings.
How to Find The Best English Cathedral Choir Carol Concerts
Cathedral websites often begin listing their holiday music schedules in September and October. Most plan a mixture of free and ticketed concerts. Some of the most famous - Handel's Messiah at St. Paul's Cathedral, Christmas Carols at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford - are free but tickets are snapped up early. Nevertheless, you can hear the famous Westminster Abbey Choir, or attend a popular carol service at York Minster simply by turning up early enough, on the day, to get a seat.
When making your plans, watch for concerts and services that feature the cathedral's own choir - these are the ensembles that have been gathered and trained for the best sound in that particular place.
Where to Find The Best English Cathedral Choir Holiday Music
This list of England's most historic cathedrals includes Christmas music highlights from previous years. Follow the links for full Cathedral Choir schedules and ticket details.
- Bristol Cathedral At the time of writing (mid September 2016) Bristol Cathedral had not yet announced the schedule of their holiday concerts. You can check their website from mid-October onwards or telephone +44 (0)117 926 4879 for more details. But these services do not change much from year to year. Tickets for ticketed events are available through a special webpage. In 2017, they have scheduled;
- Advent Procession and Candlelight Service, December 3 at 6 p.m. Free event
- Carols by Candlelight with the Cathedral Choir, December 15 and 16 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets £5 and £15
- Family Carol Service, December 17 at 3:30 p.m.
- Toddler Carols at 10 a.m. December 20 for children too young for the famous Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.
- The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, December 23 at 6 p.m. and Christmas eve at 3:30 p.m.
- Bury St. Edmunds Cathedral At the time of writing (mid October 2017) Bury St Edmunds had not yet announced its Christmas schedule. Check their website toward the end of October. In previous years they have offered Carols by Candlelight in aid of the Children’s Society and the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.
- Kings College Chapel, Cambridge Though not a cathedral choir, the Kings College Chapel Choir of Cambridge University ranks high alongside the best cathedral emsembles in the world. Because of its live broadcast by the BBC, the Christmas Eve Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is not only famous but very popular.
- Canterbury Cathedral Two identical unticketed Cathedral Carol Services. Those attending have to queue on the day but arrangements are usually made for people unable to stand in line. If you'll be unable to queue, notify the Cathedral by email by the end of October. The Services of carols for Christmas are held from 3 to 5 p.m., December 23 and 24. Doors open at 1:30p.m. services are held f
- Chester Cathedral
- Joyeux Noel at Chester Cathedral with the Cathedral Choir. Dec.9 and 16, 2017, at 7:30 pm. Tickets available online and early booking is recommended.
- Service of Lessons and Carols for Christmas December 23 at 6:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. Christmas Eve.
- Chicester Cathedral There are three Cathedral Carol Services - December 20 and 21 at 6.00pm and December 22 at 3.00pm. The services on December 20 and 21 are ticketed. Tickets are free and given out on a first come, first served basis. To apply, send a written request with a S.A.E. to Liturgy & Music Assistant, The Royal Chantry, Cathedral Cloisters, Chichester, PO19 1PX. The December 22 service is not ticketed. Doors open one hour before the concert.
- Durham Cathedral Christmas with Durham Cathedral Choir, carols and seasonal music in a candlelight concert featuring the Cathedral's girl and boy choirs as well as the men of the Cathedral choir and a brass band. This is a ticketed event, to raise funds for music at the cathedral, on December 9, 2017 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets from the Cathedral Visitor Desk, Monday to Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or from 12:30 p.m. on Sundays. Or telephone +44 (0)191 338 7178. The traditional Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, Dec.22, 7 p.m. and Christmas Eve at 3 p.m..The candlelight service always starts in darkness with a solo chorister singing the first verse of Once in Royal David's City. It is unticketed but very popular so be there on time.
- Ely Cathedral Hark! The Herald, carols in one of England's most beautiful cathedrals -December 22, 7:30p.m. Traditional carol concert with the cathedral choirs and the City of Cambridge Brass Band. Tickets from Cathedral Box Office by phone +44(0)1353 660349 email.
- Exeter Cathedral Christmas with the Cathedral Choir, Dec.9 and 14 at 7 p.m., ticketed event. Tickets from the Cathedral Shop, +44(0)1392 285983, or online.
- Gloucester Cathedral
- Advent by Candelight, December 3 at 6 p.m.
- Christmas Carols on the Hour, half hour bursts of holiday music by all the Cathedral's choirs. December 9 and 16 at 11 a.m., noon, 1, 2, 3 and 4 p.m.
- Christmas Carol Services, with the Cathedral Choir, December 23 and 24 at 6pm.
- Lincoln Cathedral
- Benjamin Britten's "A Ceremony of Carols", Saturday December 16 at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Book tickets through theCathedral website. The same concert is performed in the Cathedral Chapter House in the evening, at 7 and 9 p.m.
- The Friends' Concert of Carols and Candlelight, Dec.13 at 7:30 and 9:p.m. Tickets from the Friends' Office or the cathedral shop from Nov. 1, 2017.
- There is usually a Christmas Eve Carol service at about 4 p.m. but at the time of writing (Oct.22, 2017), the details had not yet been announced.
- Lichfield Cathedral
- Advent Carol Service, December 2 and 3 at 6 p.m.
- Christmas by Candlelight, December 16 at 7:30 p.m. The boys, girls and men of the Lichfield Cathedral Choir. Tickets from the Cathedral Shop, No.9, the Close, or inquire by email.
- The Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols, 6 p.m. December 17 and 24. This is a free servcie.
- Norwich Cathedral Christmas with the Norwich Cathedral Choir, Dec. 15 at 7.30 p.m. Tickets from the Cathedral Gift Shop +44 (0)1603 628319 or online from the Norwich Theatre Royal box office.
- Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford
- Peterborough Cathedral
- Cathedral Christmas Concert with the Cathedral Choir, Youth Choir and Festival Chorus. December 15 at 7:30 p.m. Ticket information to be announced on the website.
- Cathedral Carol Service, 4 p.m. Christmas Eve.
- St. Paul's Cathedral, London
St Paul's Advent and Christmas events schedule is published in October on the special Christmas website. Here are some of the highlights
- Benjamin Britten's "A Ceremony of Carols," featuring the cathedral boys choir and harpist Sioned Williams, Dec. 21 at 5 pm. Free and unticketed.
- A Celebration of Christmas, featuring the Cathedral Choir, City of London Sinfonia and celebrity readers. Dec. 14, 6:30 p.m.. All are welcome but in 2017, for the first time this free event will be ticketed. Tickets will be available through the Christmas webpage from 8pm GMT, November 1. This is one of the highlights of the holiday season so if you want to go, be at your phone.
- Christmas Carol Service, Dec. 23, 24, 4 p.m., all welcome but arrive early. Because of the popularity of these two concerts, in 2017 they were relayed live to a big screen in Paternoster Square. No word yet (in October 2017), whether that will happen again.
- Salisbury Cathedral The holiday season is kicked off with a spectacular Advent Procession, "From Darkness to Light". It begins with the massive cathedral interior in total darkness and ends, after a service of readings and music with the medieval interior lit by 1,300 candles. Unmissable. In 2017, this service takes place at 7pm December 1 and 2, and at 5pm December 3. There is no public ticketing but seats for the disabled can be reserved by phoning +44 (0)1722 555125 or by email. Other visitors can queue for admission in the Cloisters from 5p.m.
- Wells Cathedral
- Cathedral Advent Carol Service, December 3 at 5p.m.
- Carols by Candlelight, December 20 and 21 at 7 p.m. These ticketed events, when the cathedral is illuminated by thousands of candles, are very popular. Tickets available at the Cathedral Shop box office and can be ordered by phone on +44 (0)1749 672773. They go on sale in the spring and sell out well before December so don't dawdle.
- Cathedral Carol Service, sung by Wells Cathedral Great Choir, takes place on December 22 and December 23 at 6 p.m.No tickets are required.
- Westminster Abbey A "cathedral" in all but name -
- Advent by Candlelight, Choir of Westminster Abbey, December 3 at 4 p.m.
- Benjamin Britten's A Service of Carols, December 15, 5:45 p.m,
- A Service of Lessons and Carols, December 23 and Christmas Eve at 4 pm. Tickets - which are free - are now required and are almost always fully allocated before the end of November. Inquire at the Abbey Chapter Office, +44 (0)207 222 5152.
- Midnight Mass with the Choir of Westminster Abbey, free but ticketed. Christmas eve, 11:30pm
- Winchester Cathedral
- Christmas Community Carol Service, Dec. 18, 20, 21, 6:30pm. Tickets for the first service are offered with priority booking to members of the the Cathedral community. The services on December 20 and 21 are free and unticketed.
- Benjamin Britten's A Service of Carols, sung by the boy and girl choristers December 22, 1 p.m
- Worcester Cathedral
- Candlelit Advent Procession with Carols, December 3, 6:30 p.m.
- Christmas Concert by the Cathedral Choir, Dec. 16 at 7:30 p.m.
- Cathedral Carol Service, Dec. 22, 23, 6:30 p.m.
- York Minster The largest Gothic Cathedral in Northern Europe is a splendid setting for:
- Several concerts of York's Christmas Early Music Festival, Dec.8 to Dec.16 (2017).
- Christmas Carol Concerts in 2017 take place at 7 p.m. December 14 and 15. Tickets are available online from the York Theatre Royal Box Office, after September 26.
- Nine Lessons and Carols, December 22 at 7 p.m. and December 24 at 4 p.m. These services are free but very popular so plan to arrive early to get a seat.