Yesterday, August 29, was the feast of the beheading of John the Baptist, also known as Decollatio in liturgical calendars. Decollatio is a minor feast for John the Baptist, as his main feast is his birthday on June 24. I have a particular fascination with this feast, and it is almost entirely owing to a fragment from a liturgical manuscript that I researched as part of a side project during and shortly after my PhD. The fragment in question is one of three fragments used as bindings for a three-volume collection of music by Michael Praetorius, a collection titled Polyhymnia. All the three fragments come from the same manuscript, which I believe to have been a breviary of Northern German provenance, tentatively dated to the fourteenth century.
The reason why this particular fragment, fragment XII, has fuelled my fascination with the feast of the Decollation is that it contains part of the office for precisely this feast. In the picture below, we see the full text of the Magnificat antiphon Preco superni iudicis (CID: 206802). An antiphon is a chant that is performed in connection with another text, for instance as a refrain to its theme. Most antiphons are performed in conjunction with psalms, but the Magnificat antiphon precedes the Magnificat, which is Mary's response to the archangel Gabriel in the Gospel of Luke. It is a fixed text always read at Vesper. This particular antiphon, Preco superni iudicis, was one of the first texts I transcribed as a part of my collaboration with the university library of University of Southern Denmark. My fascination is, in other words, of a sentimental nature, as it reminds me of the exciting detective work of working with a fragment that no one has ever worked on before, while putting your growing experience in transcription, Latin and liturgical studies to test after test.
Detail from the feast of Decollatio
Syddansk Universitet RARA Musik M 4
The text of this fragment has been transcribed in an hitherto unpublished report I wrote as a part of a four-month pilot project which was a collaboration between the university library and the Centre for Medieval Literature. As it was a pilot project and therefore of a very limited duration, I did not have time to work as closely on the individual fragments as I had hoped. For instance, I have not taken the time to translate it, a task I hope to do as a sort of completion of my work on the fragment - even though I'm sure there exist translations of the text elsewhere already. However, in lieu of a proper translation of the text, and on the occasion of yesterday's feast, I here present to you my transcription of the Magnificat antiphon in Fragment XII. I have kept the spelling of the fragment, rather than the standardised spelling you encounter in databases. One day I might take the time to finally translate it. Or rather, one week, as my Latin is quite rusty.
It should be noticed that while the text in the fragment is continuous, I have here chosen to divide the text into its strophes in order to bring out the antiphon's rhyme scheme.
Preco superni iudicis
Preco superni iudicis
precursor summi uindicis
paranymphus sponsi ueri
multa passus ludibria
triumphauit per omnia
nec potuit aboleri
domus in petra posita
nam iusti recordatio
ut mel dulcis et musica
in uini conuiuio