Evening prayer often takes the form of Choral Evensong, such as this service at Westminster Abbey.

Evensong is a church service traditionally held near sunset focused on singing psalms and other biblical canticles. It is loosely based on the canonical hours of vespers and compline. Old English speakers translated the Latin word vesperas as æfensang, which became 'evensong' in modern English. Typically used in reference to the Anglican daily office's evening liturgy, it can also refer to the pre-Reformation form of vespers or services of evening prayer from other denominations, particularly within the Anglican Use of the Catholic Church.[1][2]


Main article: Daily Office (Anglican)

From Late Antiquity onwards, the office of vespers normally included psalms, the Magnificat, a hymn, and other prayers. By the Early Middle Ages, it became common for secular clergy to combine vespers and compline. By the sixteenth century, worshippers in western Europe conceived 'evensong' as vespers and compline performed without break.[3] Modern Eastern Orthodox services advertised as 'vespers' often similarly conclude with compline, especially as part of the all-night vigil.[4]

When the English reformation produced the Book of Common Prayer, it provided a version of evensong that abbreviated the secular version of vespers and compline, drawing on the Use of Sarum.[5] Nearly all its elements are taken from medieval service books, with only minor changes to the order in which they appear.


Evensong was initially sung entirely to plainsong. Musicians gradually created polyphonic settings of its music, especially of the Magnificat.[6]

The first musical setting of the Book of Common Prayer, by John Marbeck, provided a simplified version of traditional chant settings.[7] It remains unclear whether plainsong remained a common feature of evensong in the Church of England after the sixteenth century.[8] Metrical psalms and Anglican Chant were also developed as alternate methods of singing the psalms and canticles.

In choral evensong, all of the service is sung or chanted by the officiating minister and a choir. In cathedrals, or on particularly important days in the church calendar, the canticles are performed in elaborate settings. In churches where a choir is not present, simpler versions of the psalms and canticles are usually sung by the congregation, sometimes with responses and collects spoken rather than sung. Said evening prayer services with the musical setting omitted are also sometimes referred to as evensong.[9]

A number of composers have contributed settings of the canticles. These range from late Renaissance composers such as Thomas Tallis, William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons, through Victorian composers such as Charles Villiers Stanford, Thomas Attwood Walmisley to later masters of the form such as Herbert Murrill, Basil Harwood, Herbert Howells, Michael Tippett, Giles Swayne, and Arvo Pärt (who composed a Magnificat and Nunc dimittis at different times).

In High Church parishes, the service may conclude with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament (or a modified form of "Devotions to the Blessed Sacrament") and the carrying of the reserved sacrament under a humeral veil from the high altar to an altar of repose, to the accompaniment of music.

The service may also include hymns. The first of these may be called the Office Hymn, and will usually be particularly closely tied to the liturgical theme of the day, and may be an ancient plainchant setting. This will usually be sung just before the psalm(s) or immediately before the first canticle and may be sung by the choir alone. Otherwise any hymns normally come toward the end of the service, maybe one either side of the sermon (if there is one), or following the anthem. These hymns will generally be congregational.

Churches offering evensong

Great Britain

The choir rehearsing for Evensong in York Minster
Choral Evensong at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford
A parish church choir at All Saints' Church, Northampton singing Evensong

Most cathedrals of the Church of England, where the service originates, and a number of university college chapels (e.g. in the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford; including Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford which is unique in the world for being both the college chapel for Christ Church, Oxford and a Cathedral Church for the Diocese of Oxford, the University of St Andrews, the University of Durham and King's College London[10]) offer this service regularly, often daily. Most of the cathedrals of the Church in Wales and the Scottish Episcopal Church also offer choral evensong. Choral evensong is usually sung during term time; at other times, it is most often replaced with said Evening Prayer.

Aside from the cathedrals and collegiate chapels, evensong is also sung in many parish churches around England where there is a choral tradition. There may be a choral service each Sunday or less frequently, such as on a monthly basis or only on feast days in the liturgical calendar. Many churches in central London have a professional choir and have a weekly service of choral evensong, among them All Saints, Margaret Street, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, St Bartholomew the Great and St Bride's, Fleet Street.[11]


Most of the larger churches and cathedrals of the Church of Ireland offer evensong. It is sung six times a week at St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, twice at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, and once at Trinity College, Dublin. Additionally, although rarely, some parish churches hold evensong; however, this is most often replaced with Evening Prayer.

United States and Canada

Most of the larger cathedrals and large parishes of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada offer choral evensong.[12] During the school year, Washington National Cathedral offers Evensong not only on Sunday afternoon, but also from Monday to Thursday, with the Girl Choristers and the Boy Choristers alternating.[13] Saint Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue in New York City offers Evensong from Tuesday to Thursday during the school year, in addition to Sundays.[14]

Evensong is also often offered at Episcopal seminaries as part of a chapel program. For example, General Theological Seminary currently offers Evensong.


Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Lagos

Throughout the countries of Africa with a large Anglican presence, evensong is also offered, for instance in the Cathedral Church of Christ, Lagos, Nigeria, St George's Cathedral, Cape Town, South Africa, and every Sunday at the St Cyprian's Cathedral, Kimberley, South Africa.

Australia and New Zealand

The choir in procession at a service at St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne.

Most of the cathedrals of the Anglican Church of Australia offer choral evensong at least weekly, with St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne offering daily evensong. Likewise in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, evensong is offered at the cathedrals in Auckland, Nelson, Christchurch, Dunedin, and Wellington.


Non-Anglican churches

The popularity of evensong has spread to other churches, particularly churches of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Methodist churches which use a formal liturgical worship style. Examples in the Presbyterian Church include Fourth Presbyterian Church (Chicago) and Independent Presbyterian Church (Birmingham, Alabama) both of which offer evensong services on a seasonal basis, as does Peachtree Road United Methodist Church[15] in Atlanta, Georgia.

There are some Roman Catholic churches and abbeys in England offering choral evensong: These include Ampleforth Abbey, Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, the Birmingham Oratory, Ealing Abbey, Leeds Cathedral, Downside Abbey, the London Oratory, and Westminster Cathedral.[16]

Loyola University Maryland, a Jesuit Catholic university in Baltimore, Maryland, celebrates a half-hour evensong on Thursday evenings, although this has been temporarily suspended.

In Scotland, some larger churches (and former cathedrals belonging to the Church of Scotland) hold evensong, including Glasgow Cathedral, Paisley Abbey (2nd Sunday of each month), and Edinburgh Cathedral.

The Basilica of St. Nicholas in Amsterdam holds choral evensong on Saturdays.


Main article: Choral Evensong (BBC)

The BBC has, since 1926, broadcast a weekly service of Choral Evensong. It is broadcast (usually live) on BBC Radio 3 on Wednesdays at 15:30 and often repeated on the following Sunday. Between February 2007 and September 2008, the service was broadcast on Sunday only. The service comes live from an English cathedral or collegiate institution. However, it is occasionally a recording or is replaced by a different form of service or a service from a church elsewhere in the world or of another denomination. The most recent broadcast is available on the BBC iPlayer for up to a week after the original broadcast. There is also an archive available.[17]

See also


  1. ^ "evensong". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. April 2020. Retrieved 23 March 2021. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  2. ^ Dipippo, Gregory (21 April 2022). "Ordinariate Pontifical Vespers and Benediction in NYC Tomorrow Evening". New Liturgical Movement. Retrieved 25 April 2022.
  3. ^ Baring-Gould, Sabine (1891). In troubadour-land. A ramble in Provence and Languedoc. London: W. H. Allen. p. 211.
  4. ^ French, Reginald Michael (1951). The Eastern Orthodox Church. New York: Hutchinson's University Library. p. 122.
  5. ^ The book of common prayer: the texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2011. ISBN 9780191619922.
  6. ^ Gant, Andrew (2017). O sing unto the Lord: a history of English church music. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226469621.
  7. ^ Merbecke, John (1550). The booke of common praier noted. London: Imprinted by Richard Grafton printer to the Kinges Maiestie.
  8. ^ Kim, Hyun-Ah (2008). Humanism and the reform of sacred music in early modern England: John Merbecke the orator and the booke of common praier noted (1550). Aldershot, England: Ashgate. p. 109. doi:10.4324/9781315587585. ISBN 9781317119593.
  9. ^ Hughes, Gareth (26 November 2013). "A spotter's guide to evensong". Liturgical Space. Retrieved 17 June 2019.
  10. ^ "King's College London - College Chapel". www.kcl.ac.uk.
  11. ^ "Choral evensong". www.choralevensong.org. Retrieved 11 September 2017.
  12. ^ Armentrout, Don S.; Slocum, Robert Boak, eds. (2000). "Evensong". An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians. New York City: Church Publishing Incorporated, The Episcopal Church.
  13. ^ "Choral Evensong". Washington National Cathedral. Retrieved 2022-05-16.
  14. ^ "Home". www.saintthomaschurch.org. Retrieved 2022-05-16.
  15. ^ "Atlanta's Home Church". Peachtree Road United Methodist Church.
  16. ^ "Choral Evensong". www.choralevensong.org.
  17. ^ "Choral Evensong". BBC Radio 3. Retrieved 25 August 2015.

Further reading