13c music for the Office of St Edmund King and Martyr

Today’s piece comes from MS 75 the French Apocalypse here at Lambeth palace, a 13th century work full of illuminated images depicting the end of days

More images can be found here.


However, that is not what we are going to focus on. Our interest is in the flyleaves. These are sheets of paper typically used to mask and reinforce the joint between the cover and the body of the book. They are also distinguished in codicology by being supplied by the binder, and distinct from blank pages which originate from the printer (in this instance the writer as the book is hand written) and are found at the beginning or end of a book. The original flyleaves were helpfully preserved at the back of the book when it was rebound in the ?th century. These contain music printed in neume notation on a four-line stave dating from the 13th century. The music comes from 3 offices. The Medieval Office was comprised of every liturgical element including, texts, layers of music, and numerous ceremonies, all evolving and shifting as fashions changed. The forces used could vary from vast choirs to solo voices all contained within the ecclesiastical space featuring specific styles of art and decoration. The form of the Office and the cycle of saint’s days and festivals was formalised in the 5th to the 8th century with the reestablishment of the overall control of the Church in Rome. Saints and the procession of saint’s days was a fundamental part of the medieval life. It structured the year providing rest days and feast days, contributed to politics, art, society and in certain instances drove a significant proportion of the economy.

It is thanks to the work of Paul Bradshaw and Robert Taft that the origins of the divine Office, the system of corporate worship outside of the Mass, is so well known. The foundation of the Office can be found in the Fourth Century via the combination of the Morning and Evening services of the cathedral and monastic Offices. This emerged following the emancipation of the church under Constantine. We can reconstruct possible forms for these services by extrapolating from later fourth century sources. However, providing a clear reconstruction of the sequence of these early Offices is impossible based on the available evidence. One can only highlight the elements and tendencies that appear most often.

The monastic Office, being developed in Egypt, has a particularly interesting history, having been developed, in part, as a continuous chanting of Psalms. This Office, as described by Veilleux [H350.V3] consisted of silent and recited prayer as well as the recitation of Psalms. It is this synthesis of traditions both monastic and urban, Eastern and Western that produced the traditional medieval office that can be found in the rules of Benedict and others.


For all this one must wait until the 9th century before there are manuscript sources available for the actual Office Chant texts. These are accompanied by the production of the first liturgical books for the Office, the oldest being the Antiphoner of Compiegne [the Antiphoner of Charles the Bald] copied around 870. As Ruth Steiner has shown, much of the text for these chants is extracted from non-biblical sources, mainly from the saint’s lives, and even when biblical text is used the it is often recontextualised for the saint. This was a continual process of evolution with the text and music being worked and reworked as styles and fashions changed. [For more information see G185.F2]


The flyleaves here contain music for the offices of St Edmund King and Martyr, named so as to distinguish this office from others dedicated to Edmund, the Office of St Martin, and the Office of St Brice. These were celebrated on November 20th, the 13th, and 11th of November respectively.


The office of Saint Edmund King and Martyr is one of three separate saints’ days for Edmund. Much of the Saints popularity, comes from the active promotion of the Saint by the ruling family, in this case King Cnut. It might be thought of as a curiosity that a prominent Scandinavian king adopted and supported the cult of a saint most known for being killed by Viking raiders. Part of the answer is in attempting to consolidate his hold over England Cnut patronised a number of popular saints and shrines, this also served to shore up his credentials as a Christian king. There is also the legend that Sweyn Forkbeard, father of Cnut was killed via the intersession of St Edmund. By the active promotion of the saint Cnut was therefor asserting his own piety and drawing a distinction between himself and the previous Norsemen. The other side is the influence of Queen Emma, the wife of Ethelred and later wife of Cnut. Who was also an important patron of English churches and gave extensively to churches, cathedrals, and shrines. They founded the abbey in Bury in 1020 under the rule of Benedict with Abbot Baldwin who oversaw its subsequent growth as a place of pilgrimage. There is a wealth of musical material surviving from Bury Abbey including four complete books containing plainchant and the group of theoretical treatises including the Anonymous IV which survives in a 13th century manuscript.[i] The words for the Office are attributed to Abbo of Fleury who having spent time in England, in addition to Italy, France, and Germany, is known to have written the passion of St Edmund.[ii] The earliest known text is MS 361 ff1-11 Held at Lambeth Palace


This is a quarto sized libellus for individual use[iii] and according to A. Gransden is probably copied from Abbo’s holograph due to copies of errors and text forms that are indicative of an Anglo-Saxon origin. The work contains three hymns and a mass. The Office is also found in St Dennis, Lucca, and Rome from 1100


For more information on the interconnectedness of the early medieval world you can read the blogpost on the Anglo-Saxon conference at the British Library to see how the transmission of culture and learning was shared throughout Europe. By the 13th and 14th centuries this process of transmission and sharing of knowledge had extended from the shores of the Atlantic to India encompassing everything from mathematics to religion. The music, in theses flyleaves, is written out on a four-line stave in neume musical notation with a C clef. This can be found on the top line of each section. This gives us both an absolute and relative pitch however it does not provide indications of rhythm. One can refer back to previous post on this blog [https://lambethpalacelibrary.wordpress.com/2019/02/01/manuscripts-in-the-anglo-saxon-kingdoms/] for a more comprehensive account of neume notation One can see looking at other examples provided by [http://cantus.uwaterloo.ca/home/], and clearly shown in the section concerning St Brice that the placement and interpretation of the text and notation was not a set form.


You can see that whist there are a lot of similarities there are significant variations in where the text falls in relation to the notes. Musical practice at this time instead relied upon a common musicological language and shared idiom amongst practitioners to allow for transmission, rather than the more codified, and more easily replicable, process that evolved in the renaissance era. The music connected with these Offices does however provide clear examples of this transmission process as well as the extent of this transmission, with the music appearing in 14th century manuscripts from Paris to Kraków.[iv]


The Office of Saint Martin.

Saint Martin was one of the most important Saints in Merovingian France, one of the founders of western monasticism, and interestingly enough one of the first people not to have been martyred and yet become a saint (reputedly due to his work converting pagans and working miracles as well as the propagation of a biography written by his contemporary Sulpicius Severus). There is a great deal of music written for this particular saint from initial Offices plainchant to motets others (for more information see Medieval Music, Legend, and the Cult of St Martin). Similarly to Edmund, Martin and his cult was closely aligned with the ruling family, in this case the Merovingians in France starting with Clovis leader of the Salian Franks. This led to a particular focus on his veneration in attempts to secure patronage or favour. Of particular note is the choice of rules for the monastery. Due to the prior monastic life of St Martin the monks followed his rules which brought them in to conflict with the increasing early dominance of the Benedictine rules. Examples of this can be found in Alcuin’s letter to Charlemagne where the Emperor professes serious doubts about the morality of the monks.[v] The antiphons for the Matins service of this Office are attributed to Odo of Cluny, early 10th century by John of Salerno Ordo’s biographer. They are the first nine of a set of twelve, the final three being Exequie Martine, Martinus signipotens, and O vere beatum.

The office for St Brice consists of a simple feast of 3 lessons with invitatory sung by two. Ant. Post excessum. The feast was introduced in 1013 and consists of plain chant and polyphonic music. It is very unusual for an office to contain only proper antiphons for Lauds. However, among CANTUS sources this seems to be the norm for this feast. St Brice was a popular figure in the middle ages, having served as bishop of Tours and being closely connected with St Martin. He is reputedly responsible for the construction of the fist chapel for the body of St Martin. During his lifetime despite being constituted bishop of tours he was on two occasions forced to leave by angry towns people before finally being accepted on the death of his second replacement. Much of our information on St Brice comes from Gregory of Tours who reports that on his return his zeal impressed the town so much that on his death they immediately proclaimed him a saint.[vi] Now days he has been rather overshadowed by his more illustrious predecessor.

Due to the extent of the damage to the other pages it can be difficult to translate the text. As one can see above the text is disjointed and non-continuous as the pages are out of the proper order and arrangement. However, with this providing the clearest example a brief translation may be attempted. The full text of all the offices is available from http://cantusindex.org/ which has proven invaluable in this post.


The chant can be seen starting with a decorated capital and the text

“Post excessum beatissimi Martini episcopi beatus Briccius cathedram episcopalem suscepit,”


“Trigesimo ordinationis suae anno oritur contra eum lamentabile crimen nam quaedam mulier quae cubiculariis vestimenta ablue[page break]bat concepit et peperit et omne crimen super episcopum objiciunt”.

The fold at the top of the page is where the music was folded over to create a clean edge for the front piece, there is a line hidden in the fold before the text continues

“fantem cumque oblatus fuisset triginta ab ortu habens dies ait ad eum Briccius adjuro te per deum ut si ego te generavi coram cunctis edicas.”

“Respondens autem infans coram omni populo beato viro dixit non es tu inquit pater meus”.

“Sanctus Briccius satisfaciens populo prunas ardentes ab urbe in birro suo deferens et ante sepulcrum beati Martini coram populo proiciens vestimentum ejus inustum apparuit”

As shown above, looking at the line Post excessum beatissimi Martini episcopi beatus Briccius cathedram episcopalem suscepit, one can see several of the problems involved in working with this type of music. The music is similar to that found in Twelfth-century antiphoner from Klosterneuburg, Austria as well as other manuscripts stretching from the 13th -15th century. There are clear differences however with the line over “episcopi” with changes to the ligatures. The placement of the notes as well is different in the melismatic phrase occurring much more on the end of beatissimi than in other volumes.

This trio of chants provides only a fragmentary view of a rich and enduring tradition. They provide examples of the occasionally difficult and hidden nature of early musicology. There are many other works, including other editions of these chants that exist in full and complete works. The most well-known at Lambeth being the Arundel Bible


And the York Breviary. The study of items like this is invaluable to our understanding of the medieval person and world view. Situated in a rolling calendar of feasts and saints’ days

[i] Thomson, Rodney M. “The Music for the Office of St. Edmund King and Martyr.” Music & Letters 65, no. 2 (1984): 189-93. http://www.jstor.org/stable/736982.

[ii] Thomson, Rodney M. “The Music for the Office of St. Edmund King and Martyr.” Music & Letters 65, no. 2 (1984): 189-93. http://www.jstor.org/stable/736982.

[iii] Gransden, A. 1995. “Abbo of Fleury’s ‘Passio Sancti Eadmundi.’” Revue Bénédictine 105: ff63

[iv] Kraków, Klastor OO. Karmelitów na Piasku (Carmelite Convent), Ms.3 (rkp. Perg. 15)

[v] Maurey, Yossi. Medieval Music, Legend, and the Cult of St Martin The Local Foundations of a Universal Saint. 2014.

[vi] Butler, Thurston, Attwater, Thurston, Herbert, and Attwater, Donald. Butler’s Lives of the Saints /edited, Rev., and Supplemented by Herbert Thurston and Donald Attwater. 2d Ed.] ed. London: Burns & Oates, 1956.

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