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22.11.02 Maurey, Liturgy and Sequences of the Sainte-Chapelle

22.11.02 Maurey, Liturgy and Sequences of the Sainte-Chapelle

Yossi Maurey begins his recent book with a discussion of relics, those inert objects invested with so much meaning--and movement--in the Middle Ages. Among the most prized relics, of course, were those of Christ’s Passion: so much so that when Louis IX of France received the Crown of Thorns and other relics between 1239 and 1242, he had the Sainte-Chapelle built for them as a kind of reliquary. In Liturgy and Sequences of the Sainte-Chapelle, Maurey focuses on the twenty-one sequences composed for the chapel’s two relics feasts, the Crown of Thorns (11 August) and the Reception of Relics (30 September), together with their weeklong octaves. As he acknowledges, this focus has much to do with the work of friend and colleague M. Cecilia Gaposchkin, who, when they met, was further into her study of the Sainte-Chapelle relics liturgies, particularly for the Divine Office (10). [1] As a musicologist, Maurey was trained to explore the sonic dimensions of the sequences of the Mass, whose often contrafacted melodies--borrowed or adapted from pre-existing sequences--could carry symbols and meanings from their parent chants. Thus, it was to the relics sequences that he turned his careful attention, with the aims of exploring how they reflected and shaped ideologies of sacral kingship and demonstrating, for scholars in other fields, the value of sequences as a historical source.

Rather than traditional chapters, Maurey organized his book into Introduction, two Parts (on liturgy and sequences for the Crown of Thorns and the Reception of Relics, respectively), Conclusions, and Appendices. This is a sensible arrangement given that the bulk of Parts I and II--more than 80 percent--is devoted to close analysis of the text and music of each sequence, presented alongside textual and musical editions and generally felicitous English prose translations. The Introduction does an admirable job of summarizing the history of the Sainte-Chapelle, its relics, and the primary source for the study of its sequences, the “Sainte-Chapelle Proser” in Bari 5, a Parisian gradual adapted for the Sainte-Chapelle built in Bari, Italy, by Louis IX’s younger brother Charles I of Anjou. [2] Maurey’s attempt at a more precise dating of this manuscript to after 1257, however, remains unconvincing: its inclusion of a contrafact of a Saint Quentin sequence may well have nothing to do with Louis IX’s presence at the translation of the saint’s relics in that year. [3]

Parts I and II begin with brief overviews of the history and contents of the Office and Mass for the Crown and Relics feasts, respectively, before diving into detailed textual and musical analyses of each sequence. One by one, Maurey identifies their textual structures, including line and syllable counts, rhyme scheme, etc. He notes the mode, musical rhymes, melodic contours of interest, and, in cases of contrafacture, how closely the new sequences adhere to the original melodies and, if relevant, their texts. He also offers perceptive interpretations of their textual stances, poetic devices, and biblical or other allusions. If the cumulative effect can seem static, Maurey succeeds in giving each sequence its due, in fresh--at times even lovely--descriptive terms. In the process, he elucidates the full range of compositional procedures found within the late sequence repertoire, including the many degrees and variations of contrafacture. (Sixteen of the twenty-one sequences discussed in the book are contrafacts.) He also suggests possible symbolism or meaning in the re-use of preexisting melodies.

Beyond individual descriptions, Maurey points out common poetic themes, such as near-ubiquitous theologies of reversal--death/life, agony/healing, shame/glory, and sin/redemption. In Part I, he spotlights the nine of eleven Crown sequences that refer to France (or Paris or Gaul), promoting the idea that France and its Christian kings are the Christ-chosen heirs of his Crown of Thorns, worthy of protection and glory now and in the Day of Judgment. More than “a relocation of a sacred relic,” the translation of the Crown of Thorns to Paris becomes “also a symbolic superimposition of the New over the Old, of Paris over Jerusalem, of Kings David and Solomon prefiguring King Louis [...]” (98). Maurey devotes special attention to the multiple versions of Regis et pontificis, including one whose melody is “perhaps the most melismatic in the French repertory” (61). Devoid of (French) royal ideology are Quasi stella matutina, a fascinating Q&A dialogue, and the Dominican sequence Dyadema salutare, a contrafact of In celesti ierarchia for the Translation of St. Dominic (24 May). The use of a melody, and even some text, from a sequence for St. Dominic pays tribute to the role of two Dominican friars in procuring the Crown and to Louis IX’s order that the Dominicans of Paris administer the liturgy on its feast.

Maurey’s analyses of the ten sequences for the Reception of Relics and its octave spotlight their varied theological, exegetical, hortatory, and homiletical perspectives on the relics acquired by Louis IX in 1241 and 1242. These relics included additional objects from Christ’s Passion (the iron lance, a piece of the Cross, the chain, etc.), some from his Nativity (his swaddling clothes and his virgin mother’s milk), and the heads, or parts thereof, of Saints John the Baptist, Blaise, Clement, and Simeon. If some sequences functioned as simple catalogues of the chapel’s relics, others--through text or borrowed music--interpreted the relics’ significance to the chapel and its royal patrons, at times also amplifying the growing cult of the Virgin as Mother of God. Of particular note are Maurey’s discussions of the first and last Relics sequences in Bari 5 (the most attested, Nos ad laudes, and Letabundus decantet fidelis), both based on the sequence Letabundus exsultet fidelis for the Assumption of Mary.

Maurey’s excellent close study of these sequences would have benefited from a stronger framing up front of the importance of liturgical chant generally, and sequences, in particular, in shaping memory and identity in the Middle Ages. A more comprehensive introduction to these “Latin songs of praise” and their symbolic meanings within the performance of Mass would have strengthened his thesis that the Sainte-Chapelle sequences “enabled the power of [its] relics and articulated the nature of that power” (16). Added to Mass on especially festive or solemn occasions, sequences “followed” the singing of the Alleluia, often localizing its expressions of joy, and ushered in the day’s Gospel text, the climax of the public, readings-based portion of the Mass. By the thirteenth century, their texts were sung mostly syllabically, with one note per syllable, and with regular rhyme and meter, all of which aided comprehension. Unlike in melodically uniform hymns, the music of each two-part verse could vary, heightening the development of the text. Sung by the whole choir, its two sides perhaps alternating paired versicles, sequences often broadcast local legends and identities, rather than biblical imagery and themes as typical in other proper chants of the Mass. They could thus transmit local stories, interpreted within embodied performance of the wider Gospel story, the sacrifice of the Mass, and the symbolic communion of saints and angels. Any sonic symbolism from contrafacture only added to a medium already packed with meaning and performative potential. Sequences, moreover, could be sung instead of hymns at Vespers or Compline, or during weekly commemorative liturgies, like the Saturday Mass for the Virgin, that replaced ferial and low-ranking liturgies in many communities.

At the Sainte-Chapelle, sequences may have been sung not only on the annual feasts of the Crown and Relics, and the seven days of their octaves, but also during commemorative Masses for relics sung on Fridays or other days at certain times in the year, just as Marian sequences--in some cases models for relics contrafacts--were sung on Saturdays. [4] Indeed, an introduction to liturgical routines in the Sainte-Chapelle generally would have strengthened and contextualized Maurey’s arguments. How was liturgy organized temporally and spatially, and how did it play out within the building’s upper and lower chapels, and in relation to the relics themselves? Who might have composed, and who sang and heard, these sequences? Similarly, in his Conclusions, Maurey briefly discusses the chapel’s famous glass cycle and the nature of the Sainte-Chapelle’s liturgical authority (in particular, in relation to Notre-Dame), but such topics could have been engaged more throughout the book or perhaps explored in a Part III. That said, Liturgy and Sequences of the Sainte-Chapelle offers an indispensable reference for historians of art, the French monarchy, Paris, relics, liturgy, and theology, who now have access to editions and analyses of an important body of texts and melodies.

The book’s appendices also provide valuable aids. In the first, Maurey describes the main sources and problematic historiography of Sainte-Chapelle liturgies (“Thus we find manuscripts that were copied for, at, belonging to the orbit of the Sainte-Chapelle, classified as family books, capella books, belonging to someone related to the French monarchy, copied for someone following the liturgy of the Sainte-Chapelle, and so forth”) (171). Casting a wider net than previous scholars, Maurey skillfully lays out the sources “along chronological and institutional axes” and describes their contents, including relics-related material. Appendices 2 through 4 identify sources of the proper chants of the Crown Mass and the Crown and Relics sequences, respectively. Appendices 5 and 6 provide synopses of these sequences, including their spiritual themes, known contrafact sources, references to Paris/France, manuscript dissemination, and citations. Appendix 7 is an edition and translation of the Historia susceptionis coronae spinae, attributed to Gautier Cornut, as divided into readings for the feast of the Translation of the Holy Crown in BnF lat. 1028, a breviary from Sens. Commissioned by Louis IX, the historia reflects many of the themes at work in Crown liturgies, but the choice to include it in a work on Sainte-Chapelle liturgy is a bit odd, as Gaposchkin has shown that Parisian books uniformly prescribed a different text, and she translates the historia, alongside the Parisian readings, in her recent article. Appendix 8 gives an edition and translation of lessons for the Reception of Relics as found in an early Sainte-Chapelle miscellany, Brussels, KBR, MS IV.472, without introduction. Finally, Maurey’s bibliography includes a particularly useful annotated list of 100-plus manuscripts he consulted.

Maurey set out to demonstrate music’s role “in reflecting and shaping the sacral dimensions of the Sainte-Chapelle” and to offer “a model for considering new kinds of sources for the study of medieval history” (18). In the process, he also widens our understanding of how the Sainte-Chapelle liturgies were formed and disseminated. His work will no doubt be mined by scholars in multiple fields for years to come.



1. See Gaposchkin’s since-published Vexilla Regis Gloriae: Liturgy and Relics at the Sainte Chapelle in the Thirteenth Century (Paris: CNRS éditions, 2021), and “Between Historical Narration and Liturgical Celebrations: Gautier Cornut and the Reception of the Crown of Thorns in France,” Revue Mabillon 30 (2019): 91-145.

2. Bari, Archivio della Basilica di San Nicola, MS 5.

3. Among other issues, as Maurey points out, the Saint Quentin sequence is prescribed in a notated missal from Notre-Dame of c. 1220, so it was clearly known in Paris before this event, and the fact that Louis himself funded the new reliquaries for the saint and his companions, and presided over their translation ceremony, demonstrates pre-existing interest.

4. Craig Wright, Music and Ceremony at Notre-Dame of Paris, 500-1550 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 122, documents Saturday Marian liturgies at Notre-Dame by the early thirteenth century, and the Sainte-Chapelle liturgy was based on that of Notre-Dame. Barbara Haggh, “An Ordinal of Ockeghem’s Time from the Sainte-Chapelle: Paris, Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, MS 114” Tijdschrift van de Koninklijke Vereniging voor Nederlandse Muziekgeschiedenis 47 (1997): 33-71, at 55, details the Sainte-Chapelle’s weekly cycle of commemorative Masses, sung by 1471 from Septuagesima to Wednesday of Ember Week, except when coinciding with feasts of nine lessons and proper Mass. These included Masses for the chapel’s relics on Fridays (widening Friday’s typical association with the Holy Cross) and for the Virgin Mary on Saturdays. The ordinal also specifies near daily singing of a relics Mass from the Purification of Mary to Quinquagesima (Haggh, 50). Saturday Marian Masses at the Sainte-Chapelle routinely included the singing of a sequence, sometimes named, sometimes not. Study of the ordinal, and other sources, might determine whether any of the non-annual relics Masses also included sequences.