The Medieval Review 14.04.30


Morgan, Nigel J. English Monastic Litanies of the Saints after 1100, Volume I: Abbotsbury - Peterborough. Henry Bradshaw Society. London: Boydell Press, 2012. Pp. x, 204. $80.00. ISBN: 9781907497261.



Reviewed by:


Bradford Lee Eden
Valparaiso University
brad.eden@valpo.edu

This is another important book in a long line of outstanding resources and publications by the Henry Bradshaw Society. It is the first of two volumes (rumor has it there will be a third, due to the abundance of information found and needing to be documented) on the litanies of saints contained in post-Norman Conquest medieval English manuscripts. This volume records the litanies of those English monastic houses beginning with A and ending with Peterborough; volume two will record the English monastic houses from Pontrefract through York (which has just been published). The medieval litany, although highly repetitious and formulaic, assists the modern-day medievalist and liturgist in its listing of medieval saints, which in turn assists in the identification of provenance and dating of the manuscript.

Documenting the late medieval English monastic litanies now provides a fairly complete picture of the saints in the medieval English church, as Michael Lapidge's book, Anglo-Saxon litanies of the saints (1990), covers the Anglo-Saxon period, while collections of pre- and post-Conquest calendars by Francis Wormald and Rebecca Rushworth provide coverage of many of the secular uses which Morgan's edition has not included. A third volume has been hinted at, which may provide some background and understanding of litanies overall in the medieval church.

A quick history of the development of litanies: they formed part of the Mass in the Eastern Church around the fourth century and moved into the Western Church sometime by the sixth century. The litany of the saints was actually developed in the early Anglo-Saxon Church by Archbishop Theodore (668-90), incorporating Eastern models. This litany was then transported into the Frankish church in the eighth century, where it underwent further modification and codification, eventually being reimported into England in the ninth century. Many of the late medieval English litanies are identical in wording and structure to their earlier Anglo-Saxon counterparts, and this provides a rich field for research in and of itself. The basic structure of a litany is: introduction by the Kyrie eleison, followed by invocations to the Trinity, Mary, Archangels, spirits, John the Baptist (the last and greatest prophet), the Twelve Apostles, martyrs both universal and local, confessors, monks and hermits, liturgical virgins, and then all saints. Deprecations (petitions for protection from dangers; usually twelve) starting with A/Ab follow, then Per invocations (recalling various aspects of Christ's life; usually seven), then Ut petitions (usually twenty), ending with the Agnus Dei and Kyrie eleison.

According to the Preface, those English monastic orders included are the Benedictines (including nunneries), Cistercians, Cluniacs, Carthusians, and the Order of Fontevrault. No monastic litany survives from Wales, and only Dunfermline survives from Scotland. A total of 110 litanies will be listed in the two volumes (60 in volume one, and 50 in volume two). Volume 1 begins by listing all 110 manuscripts to be researched in the series, followed by annotated detailed descriptions of the sixty manuscripts of Volume 1. The complete litanies from these sixty manuscripts are then transcribed, and this is where the real research potential begins. Because litanies are virtually identical in wording within individual monastic houses as well as between different monastic orders, the subtle differences in manuscripts both in chronological time and between orders stands out rather dramatically. In addition, Morgan uses a parallel-column format in printing the full text of the litanies, thus allowing the researcher to easily compare and contrast similarities and differences of the cult of saints in the same monastic house over time as well as between different monastic houses of the same order and monastic houses of different orders. Another major decision is that Morgan has listed the manuscripts by the names of the monastic houses they belong to, rather than the libraries that they currently reside in (which is how Lapidge documents them). Litanies are ordered chronologically by monastic house, and several monastic houses have four or more manuscripts, providing a rich and varied perspective on the worship and cult of saints in medieval England. Those monastic houses with numerous surviving manuscripts (Bury St. Edmunds, Canterbury Cathedral, Ely, Norwich, Peterborough, St. Albans, Winchester Cathedral, Winchester Hyde Abbey, and Worcester) will no doubt have substantial scholarship on their litanies and cult of saints increase dramatically as the result of these volumes.

As an example, there are two manuscripts from Christ Church at Canterbury Cathedral from the same time period (c. 1210-20): Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Ashmole 1525, and Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS lat. 770. One would think that their litanies would be exactly the same, given their provenance and same time period. Morgan's parallel-column format exhibits some striking differences between the manuscripts, which he documents in the endnotes: the scribe for the Oxford manuscript has added additional saints within the margins, as one-line additions to the text, and over erasures. If these two manuscripts were the product of the same scriptorium in the same place and time, one would think that there would be no differences, but there are, providing material for further research. Similarly, one can examine two manuscripts with the same provenance but from different centuries. The Benedictine Abbey of St. Peter at Gloucester has two such documents: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS lat.bibl.d.9 (c. 1300-25), and Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Rawl.liturg.f.1 (c. 1450). In the 150 years between these two manuscripts, a number of saints have been added or removed from the litany, some of the Per invocations have been removed, and a number of Utpetitions have been added. Examination of the litanies of different monastic houses, from either the same or different centuries, can also yield valuable information for comparison and contrast.

Substantial notes on the Volume 1 manuscripts follow their full-text parallel-column listings. There is also an alphabetical listing of saints of special significance, a large bibliography, and an index of manuscripts in both volumes. The author hints that there will be a detailed discussion of relics and cults in the General Introduction and the List of Saints in Volume 2, along with other significant saints mentioned in the texts of Volume 2. This volume and the ones that follow will add significantly to our ongoing knowledge and an overall picture of medieval English liturgical practice and influence.



Copyright (c) 2014 Bradford Lee Eden



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