Friday, 16 December 2011

A Medieval Mass for Christmas Day and the Carol of the Three Kings

There is a festive theme to this week’s Library blog post, which will be the final instalment of the year!  The first document I’ve selected relates to the celebration of Christmas Day in the twelfth century.  It is a fragment from a missal (or mass-book), which contains part of the third of three masses for Christmas Day along with masses for St Stephen (26th December) and St John the Evangelist (27th December).  This manuscript would have been very beautiful when it was complete; the colours of the initial letters are still striking today.

The second document is a copy of ‘A Carol of the Three Kings’ from Christmas 1915.  W. D. V. Duncombe, who wrote the ‘Three Kings’, sent this charmingly annotated version of his latest work to Ivor Atkins, the organist and choirmaster at Worcester between 1897 and 1950.

Duncombe declares on the first page that ‘The peculiar lumbering gait of the camel is imitated in the rhythm of the music’.  The camel theme is further pursued in the subsequent marginal notes, which include references to ‘camels getting tired’, and ‘camels flump themselves down clumsily, sulkily’.  So next time you sing ‘We Three Kings’, spare a thought for the plight of those grumpy camels!


Monday, 5 December 2011

Book of the Week (5th December 2011)

MS. F. 173, a Sacramentary of Old Minster, Winchester

This week’s book is of personal interest to your blogger, who has dabbled in the history of the liturgy in late Anglo-Saxon England!  MS. F. 173 is a sacramentary, a book containing the words to the various Masses performed throughout the Church year.  Sacramentaries were often made for monastic users, and this one is no exception.  It was made for the monks of the Old Minster, Winchester, during the first quarter of the eleventh century.  We know this because the prayers (‘collects’) appended to two Masses invoke Saints Birinus, Ethelwold, Grimbald and (perhaps most famously) Swithun, all of whom were connected with – and venerated at – Winchester.  The book must have been brought to the Cathedral before the Reformation because it is inscribed with the name of Worcester monk, John More.

The image below (folios 3v – 4) includes a special Mass for sailors (‘Missa pro navigantibus’).  It seeks God’s protection against adversities and asks that he provides a safe haven for those on board.