Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?

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According to an old British tradition, vintage port wine is served in a decanter passed at the end of the meal from right to left. When someone forgets to pass the decanter, instead of saying. “Would you mind passing the port,” the British like to ask: “do you know the Bishop of Norwich?”  They will then explain that the bishop was a very nice fellow except for his annoying proclivity to forget to pass the port decanter. Henry Bathurst, the Bishop of Norwich from 1805 to 1837, often fell asleep at the table, interrupting the flow of port that fueled the conversation.

The British port-wine merchants and producers gather every Wednesday for lunch at the Feitoria Inglesa, an elegant 18th century building in Oporto. It is a place where the slightest hesitation about passing the port results in a lecture about the Bishop of Norwich.

One day, two members of the Feitoria Inglesa conspired to invite the current bishop of Norwich to lunch. The bishop arrived incognito. One of the conspirators failed to pass the port and was promptly asked by his neighbor, “do you know the Bishop of Norwich?” He responded “I do, in fact I can introduce you to him because he is sitting at the table!” The bishop rose and told the guests that he was indeed the Bishop of Norwich and that he always passed the port.

15 thoughts on “Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?

  1. I was very lucky to have been invited to one of those port wine producer lunches at the Feitoria Inglesa a couple of years ago. It was like stepping into a whole different world as I was the only one in attendance who wasn’t in the industry.

    There were so many distractions that if a decanter was passed around, I didn’t even notice! I was too caught up in this other tradition they have, where everyone has to guess which year the poured port was from (it’s a secret; they pull it from the cellar unlabelled and all the companies contribute). Since I had not the foggiest idea where to start and I couldn’t read the face of the master blender sitting across from me, I threw in my birth year when it came time to guess.

    “Don’t worry,” said Natasha Bridge leaning forward to reassure me, “It’s very difficult to guess, even for this bunch.”

  2. I’ve never heard anyone say “do you know the Bishop of Norwich?”, but I once commited a faux pas at High Table in Jesus College Oxford by passing the port. Why? Because women are not supposed to touch the decanter! My host thought this crazy and kept on giving me the decanter after that….we both got quite drunk…..

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