As stated in my previous blogpost, I am currently employed by the library of the University of Southern Denmark as a research assistant. Part of my job is to identify liturgical fragments, and this is a task I relish because it poses a particular set of challenges. Identifying any kind of medieval fragment is challenging, but in the case of the liturgical fragments the challenge is perhaps more balanced between those aspects that are very difficult and those aspects that are quite easy. In this little blogpost, I wish to provide an example of what I mean by this. (Before I continue I should also emphasise that I write this blogpost as a private individual, not as an employee. I have been given carte blanche to blog about my research from the heads of the fragment project, but I wish to emphasise that this blog is a personal endeavour, and does not represent the university or its library. All photos used are taken by me.)
Liturgical books in the Middle Ages were full of information, and in many cases this information had to be heavily abbreviated in order to provide directions for which texts and what type of texts were to be performed. In a cathedral or in a monastery, the performance of the liturgy was a ubiquitous aspect of the daily life, with masses and services of the daily cycle of hours in the celebration of a saint's feast. The songs to be performed for the various celebrations were written down in books, and - as stated - due to the sheer amount of information to be put into these books, much of that information was reduced to a single letter to denote the type of song to be performed, such as a red-lettered A for antiphon, a type of chant that was sung before and after a psalm. Moreover, in some cases the songs would be indicated only by their opening words, the so-called incipit, the beginning. This was most often the case with psalms, as they were well-known texts for the choristers and had their particular places in the established uses of the ecclesiastical institution, a use or usus meaning the way in which the psalms were organised to be sung in the course of the week, and the saints which were to be celebrated in that institution and the other institutions following that specific usus.
Because of this system of abbreviations, liturgical manuscripts pose a challenge to those who seek to extract its information as it is necessary to decode it. However, once you have learned those abbreviations, the decoding is fairly easy - depending on the state of the surviving fragments - and one can manage to extract quite a lot of information from a rather small fragment. In this blogpost, I wish to provide an example of that from the work that I have done recently on one of the four fragments that collectively comprise RARA Musik M 4. I will not say much about these fragments here, but I might return to that in a later blogpost.
RARA Musik M 4 - Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek
This page is from the office for a confessor, i.e. one of the types of saints. It is still a bit unclear which type of confessor this particular office is celebrating, as there are several set sequences of chants and psalms that were common to all Latin Christendom in their celebration of saints belonging to this saint-type. Such sets of chants and psalms are called commune, common, because they were common to each ecclesiastical institution of Latin Christendom. Since the saint-type of confessor contains several commons - the common of one confessor, the common of one confessor who is not a bishop, the common of several confessors, and so on - it is not always easy to pinpoint exactly which common we are here dealing with. However, in this fragment, there is an added celebration in the office which is easier to pinpoint.
RARA Musik M 4 - Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek
These three lines in minuscules are inserted into the sequence as a parenthesis in the performance. Such a parenthesis, so to speak, is a commemoration, a commemoratio, which is performed during a feast so as to ensure that those commemorated by this commemoratio are not forgotten. This little commemoration provides a very good example of just how much information can be found in a liturgical fragment.
As mentioned above, for the celebration contained in this part of the manuscript, it is unclear which office we are dealing with. For this little commemoratio, however, it is as simple as can be, since the information is given in the commemoratio's opening letters: De confessore non pontificus, or for a confessor who is not a pontiff. The time of the performance of the commemoratio is established in the following words, namely ad uesperas, for Vespers, an hour in the daily cycle of the office which was performed in the late afternoon, often around six (but depending on the time of the year as the hours followed the sun rather than a clock). In the office for a saint, the Vesper of the day before the feast itself is the first hour of the liturgical celebration of the saint.
Following the establishment of the time of the performance of the commemoratio, we are given the texts that are to be included in it. The first is a capitulum, a chapter, which is a passage from the Bible being read, in this case a verse from James 1:12, "blessed is the man who suffers temptation". This is a very appropriate text for a saint, especially for a confessor, since their main claim to sanctity was a holy and spotless living. Then comes the hymn Iste confessor, followed by what seems to be Psalm 1, Beatus uir, and then it is concluded with the antiphon Amauit eum dominus, a chant based on the book of Ecclesiasticus which states that the holy man is beloved of God who clothes him in a robe of glory.
In those three lines of the commemoratio can be found all that information: The type of saint being commemorated, the time of the day, and the four texts included in the commemoration. This compression of information allows for a lot of information to be found in even small liturgical fragments, or in small parts of larger fragments. This is one of the many reasons I thoroughly enjoy working with liturgical fragments, because there is so much to be found in a relatively small space, and because once the decoding has been learnt it is not too difficult to identify the various items included in the fragment.