09.07.14, Baxter, Sarum Use

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Katherine Zieman

The Medieval Review 09.07.14

Baxter, Philip. Sarum Use: The Ancient Customs of Salisbury. Reading: Spire Books, 2008. Pp. 118. ISBN: 9781904965183.

Reviewed by:
Katherine Zieman
University of Notre Dame

Sarum Use: The Ancient Customs of Salisbury is the second edition of Philip Baxter's 1992 history of the ritual and institutional structure of what was arguably the most influential cathedral community of the medieval period. Baxter charts Salisbury's history back to the earliest days of Christian worship in Britain, through the early communities at Sherborne and Ramsey. The Norman foundation of Old Sarum is discussed as well as the eventual move to the site where the cathedral stands today. Baxter's focus throughout is not simply on the ceremonial aspects he finds too narrowly associated with the term "Sarum Rite"; as he points out in his introduction and throughout the book, Salisbury was important not simply for its ritual, but for its institutional organization and the customs that reinforced that organization. He treats the many important figures in Sarum's early history, from Osmund to Richard Poore and beyond--those whose organizational energies led them to preserve and codify the customs that defined the community. He also tries to account for Salisbury's importance by describing its early association with royal power, its (often underestimated) importance as an educational center, and its prominence in producing liturgical books that led to the generalizing and exporting of Salisbury's ceremonial and institutional structure. This broader history provides a useful context for the chapters that follow, which describe different aspects of Salisbury's ritual in detail. Not only are the Mass and Divine Office covered, but processions and the kalendar, as well as aspects of the physical layout of the cathedral as they pertained to both larger ceremony and private masses. The book then continues its narrative historical account, moving to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, through the Reformation to focus on the Book of Common Prayer and its indebtedness to Salisbury's liturgy, ending with a brief account of the ceremonial and institutional aspects of the Sarum Use as they survive today.

The book was not primarily written for academic researchers, but rather for interested lay people. While it contains some good illustrations, it does not contain many of the trappings academic readers rely on: notes, extensive bibliography, full citations of evidence. Baxter seems to have a broad command of the historical material, but less so of the manuscript sources on which the material is based (for example, a discussion concerning the alternating of personnel in the choir in a reproduced manuscript page is misidentified as a passage about antiphonal singing, an identification accompanied by a line mistranscribed from the manuscript, p. 35). His sources are the standards one would be likely to consult--W.H. Frere, Christopher Wordsworth, Kathleen Edwards--but not perhaps the most up- to-date, such that, for example, Baxter simply repeats Frere's mistaken attribution of the treatise "Of feigned contemplative life" to John Wyclif (51). Few of these issues, however, would be of much consequence for the book's intended audience: Baxter's purpose is to provide a basic narrative and descriptive introduction rather than a cutting-edge argument. Scholars who are looking for a way in to the often mystifying intricacies of Salisbury liturgy or a brief account of its early history might find this book a useful place to begin, as it is clear, readable, and takes pains to gloss liturgical jargon for the uninitiated. Though it would best be checked against the most recent sources for accuracy, some parts might also be useful for teaching. Baxter manages to cram a wealth of information into a very short volume and does so in a style that is engaging and accessible.

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Author Biography

Katherine Zieman

University of Notre Dame