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15.10.43, Salisbury, The Secular Liturgical Office in Late Medieval England

The Medieval Review

15.10.43, Salisbury, The Secular Liturgical Office in Late Medieval England

Matthew Cheung Salisbury's The Secular Liturgical Office in Late Medieval England provides a new look at the contents and evolution of liturgical manuscripts. He attempts to dispel the idea that manuscripts containing copies of secular liturgical Uses, primarily the Uses of Sarum and York, were stable and relatively uniform in the centuries leading up to the Reformation. Instead of focusing on early printed works, scholarly critical editions, and manuscript descriptions found in catalogues, Salisbury argues that the contents of liturgical manuscripts need to be compiled, compared, and analyzed in order to understand the development and use of the liturgy, and he attempts to do so on a much larger scale than previously attempted. He concludes that liturgical patterns were transmitted via manuscripts associated with liturgical Uses, but the variability of the liturgy in the manuscripts shows that what "Use of Sarum" or "Use of York" meant exactly varied depending on the time and the local circumstances.

After a brief introduction, chapter one provides a basic outline of liturgical genres, the structure of liturgical manuscripts, and a historiographical survey of the study of the English liturgy from the mid-nineteenth century to the modern day. Chapter two compares the structure and contents of liturgical manuscripts, and it contrasts the contents of secular Uses to those of monastic manuscripts. The chapter begins by comparing the Matins responsory series for the four Sundays in Advent, the three Ember Days, the three days of the Triduum, and the Office of the Dead. Salisbury finds that the vast majority of the series (75%) belonged to either the Sarum or York Uses, and he argues that they were reproduced quite consistently in manuscripts associated with each Use. However, the responsory series in the monastic manuscripts varied, suggesting that "monastic communities had greater freedom to develop their own liturgical patterns" (102). Due to the stability of the series within the secular Uses, Salisbury argues that they could serve as a way of identifying where these works were used. The second part of the chapter compares the liturgical calendars to a calendar printed in 1531 in order to determine whether calendars can be used to determine geographical origin or relationship to other manuscripts. Salisbury identifies standard calendars used within the Uses of Sarum and York, but the calendars varied due to the integration of regional saints and the insertion of observances. While wary of relying on calendars to identify where manuscripts were used or produced, Salisbury does provide some groupings of saints that only appear in certain geographical regions. Chapter three provides a detailed textual analysis of the observances for Advent Sunday, the feast of St Thomas Becket, and the Office of the Dead in the Uses of Sarum, York, and Hereford, and it examines the Office of St William of York within the York Use. The sung texts (antiphons, responsories, and verses) appear relatively stable; however, the lessons and rubrics accompanying this material varied quite frequently. The chapter concludes with the suggestion that changes which resulted in different performance results can be used to identify the intent of those redacting liturgical texts.

Chapter four provides an historical overview of the regulation of the liturgy in England from the Anglo-Saxon period to the fifteenth century, and it focuses on fifteenth-century efforts to revise the liturgy via the spread of a standardized Sarum liturgy. While this has been characterized as a centralized effort, Salisbury suggests that it was a rather more chaotic situation in which local bishops were able to modify the Sarum Use so that it would match local traditions. The work concludes with a passionate argument for the necessity of examining all aspects and details of liturgical manuscripts and not making generalizations about their contents.

The scope of the research and the amount of detail that was accumulated about these manuscripts is truly amazing. The analysis in chapter two is based on the analysis of one-hundred and seventy-seven manuscripts (including breviaries, antiphonals, and books of hours), and it is clear that Salisbury accumulated a great deal of additional material that is still awaiting publication in other venues. Throughout the work, the care and effort that went into the collection of material, as well as Salisbury's passion for the topic, is palpable. However, this is an arduous book to read. The text provides an immense amount of information and detail about the process of accumulating data and the methods used in analysis. While the amount of information provided is certainly admirable, clarity in these sections is often lacking. In particular, the explanation of the method used to examine and analyze the calendars is extremely complex. This issue is compounded since the results of this research are provided in a series of tables scattered throughout chapters two and three. Unfortunately, the surrounding text sometimes assumes that readers will immediately grasp the importance of the data presented in the tables, and so detailed explanations are occasionally lacking. In all fairness, Salisbury clearly recognized the density of his work, and he acknowledges the convoluted nature of subsequent chapters at the end of chapter one. However, a greater attempt to make the text more reader-friendly would have been appreciated. Understandably, a strong knowledge of liturgical terms is assumed, but chapter one does provide a brief but helpful introduction to the structure of the liturgy and to terms used later in the text. A final point regards the structure of the work. Given the argument and conclusions, it seems somewhat odd that the discussion of theoretical approaches to the variability of texts in manuscript culture (such as Paul Zumthor's study of textual variation) is confined to a brief discussion at the end of the chapter four. While chapter one situates the study within the larger context of liturgical studies and previous attempts to catalogue liturgical manuscripts, a more extensive discussion of the theoretical approaches to manuscript studies and the study's place within that literature might have been useful at the beginning of the text.

The Secular Liturgical Office in Late Medieval England is a thought-provoking and valuable contribution to the study of the liturgy. The work provides a great deal of evidence to demonstrate the variability of liturgical manuscripts, and it provides an important reminder that critical editions and printed versions of the liturgy mask local variations that appear in the manuscripts. For liturgical scholars and those interested in the production and contents of liturgical manuscripts, this work will undoubtedly prove invaluable.