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The Vergers

History

The Office of the Verger has its roots in the early days of the Church of  England's history. The Order shares certain similarities with the former Minor Orders of Porter and Acolyte. Historically Vergers were responsible for the order and upkeep of the house of worship, including the care of the church buildings, its furnishings, and sacred relics, preparations for liturgy, conduct of the laity, and grave-digging responsibilities. Although there is no definitive historical examination of the Office of Verger, evidence from Rochester Lincoln Exeter and Salisbury Cathedrals points to the existence of Vergers even in the twelfth century. Koster is the Dutch word for sexton or verger, derived from the Latin custos (the equivalent German word is "Küster").

The symbol of a Guild of Cathedral vergers is the Crossed keys. Perhaps the best-known portrait of an verger in fiction is in Somerset Maugham's short story, "The Verger."

The office's title comes from the ceremonial rod which a verger carries, a virge (from the Latin virga, branch, staff or rod; see virgule. The Maces of State used in the House of Lords and the House of Commons of the British Parliament are examples of another modern use of the medieval virge. In former times, a verger might have needed to use his virge to keep back animals or an overenthusiastic crowd from the personage he was escorting or even to discipline unruly choristers.

Duties

During the service itself, a verger's main duty is ceremonially to precede the religious participants as they move about the church; he or she does not typically take any speaking part in the service itself. It could be argued that a verger's main pride during a service lies in his or her inconspicuousness; vergers often play a very prominent role "behind the scenes" — helping to plan the logistical details of service and discreetly shepherding the clergy through it. (In some churches these latter duties are handled by a Master of Ceremonies, while the verger functions as a sort of marshal in the procession.)

At Bradford, in addition to the normal liturgical duties, our vergers also look after the sound desk and security at services and other Cathedral events.

Bradford Cathedral currently has a Head Verger, an assistant Verger and a number of volunteer vergers.  We are, however, always on the lookout for additional volunteer vergers who would be willing to share the load.

 


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