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Pancake-flipping choristers and clergy race at UK cathedrals for Shrove Tuesday honours

Norwich, UK

Choristers and clergy at Church of England cathedrals across England joined in flipping pancakes as they raced each other this week in an annual tradition that’s gained in popularity in recent years.

The races – which mark Shrove Tuesday, traditionally the day when eggs and fat were used up by making food such as pancakes before Ash Wednesday and the start of the Lenten fast – are said to date back to the 15th century but recent years have seen growing numbers of clergy and choristers in cathedrals like Winchester, Bradford, Wells and Norwich joining in.

Pancake Day races at Norwich Cathedral . PICTURE: Bill Smith/Courtesy of Norwich Cathedral

“[T]he choristers always look forward to the annual Shrove Tuesday pancake races,” said Ashley Grote, master of music at Norwich Cathedral. “It’s a fun opportunity for them to let off steam and enjoy pancake eating as well as racing before we embark on the season of Lent.’

The idea apparently dates back to 1445 when a baker in the town of Olney, Buckinghamshire, found she was late for church when the ‘pancake bell’ rang, calling parishioners to come and be shrived of their sins at the church. Unfortunately, the pancake in her frying pan was still cooking on the fire so she ran to church complete with frying pan, flipping the pancake as she went. Out of that came the custom of pancake races involving large groups of people.

The races are these days held in a range of locations – within the cathedral itself, in the cloisters or adjacent outside areas. At Wells, choristers race along Vicars Close where the ancient cobblestones provide an added hazard as they run along the uneven surface while trying to flip pancakes as high as possible.

This year, Canterbury Cathedral held its first race for decades, with plans to make it an annual event. Winner of the clergy race was lay clerk David Wilcock. The Very Rev Dr David Monteith, dean of Canterbury Cathedral, was quoted as giving the sage advice: “Don’t go running in a cassock!”

Pancake racing participants at Worcester Cathedral. PICTURE: Courtesy of Worcester Cathedral.

At Worcester Cathedral, choristers and clergy donned their cassocks and headed for cloisters for a relay obstacle race between two teams made up of the two sides of the cathedral choir – ‘Cantoris’ led by the precentor, and ‘Decani’ by the dean. Cantoris were the winners.


Sarah Bowyer, communications manager at Worcester Cathedral, told Sight the event was a “bit of light relief and fun” for choristers in the lead-up to a particularly busy time over Lent and Holy Week.

“About five years ago, the Dean Emeritus, Peter Atkinson, went viral on Twitter when we strapped a Go Pro to his collar and captured his out of breath sound effects during the final lap,” Bowyer recalled. “We’ve had laughter, trips, dropped pancakes, forgotten pancakes and photo finishes.”

Below – Members of the Bradford Cathedral Choir and Rev Duncan Milwain, assistant curate, flip pancakes. PICTURE: Courtesy of Bradford Cathedral.


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