The Use of Sarum as model and influence

The southern province of Canterbury

The Church in England and Wales was divided into two provinces, overseen by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York: a southern province and a northern province. The metropolitan cathedrals were the natural institutions to set the model for liturgical practice.

In the northern province, this was relatively straightforward. The metropolitan cathedral at York was non-monastic: it was a college of secular canons. The forms and texts of the liturgy could be readily transferred to other churches within the diocese of York, and throughout the northern province. York was the only non-monastic cathedral in the northern province: Durham was staffed by Benedictine monks, and Carlisle by Augustinian regular canons. Furthermore the diocese of York accounted for about two-thirds of the geographical extent of the northern province.

In the southern province it was less straightforward. Canterbury was a Benedictine cathedral priory, and its forms and texts of the liturgy were not appropriate for use in non-monastic churches. It could not provide the liturgical model for the province. This had to be based on another model.

By comparison with the northern province, the southern province of Canterbury was both more diverse and more extensive. It included the whole of southern England, all of Wales, and extended north to include Lancashire and Lincolnshire (but Nottinghamshire belonged to the northern province).

The southern province included seventeen dioceses with nineteen cathedrals (Bath and Wells, and Coventry and Lichfield dioceses had two cathedrals). Six dioceses had a Benedictine cathedral priory as their sole cathedral, where the cathedral liturgy could not be transferred to the great majority of churches in the diocese which were non-monastic. They had to look elsewhere for their liturgical model, and could not turn to the metropolitan cathedral at Canterbury.

The dominant model which persisted from at least the thirteenth until the sixteenth century was that of Salisbury Cathedral, the Use of Sarum.

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Non-monastic cathedrals in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries

Information about the organisation and liturgical practice of non-monastic cathedrals in England and Wales is very sparse and mostly fragmentary before the thirteenth century. In the tenth and eleventh centuries the clergy of the non-monastic cathedrals appear to have shared a common life under the leadership of the bishop. A model of the regulation of such a life can be found in the Continental Rule of Chrodegang drawn up in the century for Metz cathedral in the eighth century.

In the twelfth century there were major changes in the nature of the non-monastic cathedrals. First, the bishops ceased to be so closely linked to their cathedral: other duties drew them elsewhere, not least to court and government, and many preferred to make their principal residence some distance from the cathedral. The oversight of the cathedral now rested on the dean. Secondly, the shared life of the canons supported by a common fund broke down. Canons moved out of common accommodation to establish their own separate household in the vicinity of the cathedral, and the common fund was larger segmented into a series of prebends, each of which provided the income for an individual canon. Any rule governing a common life of the cathedral became redundant: a different kind of constitutional instrument was necessary. Thirdly, by the later twelfth century it became increasingly common for the canons of cathedrals to be absent for periods of the year, or even totally non-resident. Substitutes fulfilled their duties in the cathedral church: the vicars choral. They too needed regulation.

These constitutional, regulatory and liturgical challenges facing non-monastic cathedrals at the end of the twelfth century were clearly addressed at Salisbury. The evidence survives in three documents: Institutio Osmundi, Nova Constitutio, and the Customary. They served as benchmarks for other non-monastic cathedrals.

The lack of surviving evidence even at Salisbury makes it difficult to be sure of the background to these documents. There are later documents from Lichfield and Lincoln which appear to have passages that may be taken from versions that antedate the early-thirteenth-century documents from Salisbury. There are thirteenth-century liturgical manuscripts from Exeter that may best represent the Salisbury repertory.

The picture is complex and very incomplete. It is, however, worth recognising the network of the medieval church. There were only twenty-three diocesan bishops, and they all had provision of a residence in London. Bishops, deans and canons often had experience of holding an office at another cathedral before their appointment, as well as experience of Continental practice during times abroad, to draw on. What the Salisbury documents demonstrate is the state of regulation and practice in the early thirteenth century; and transmission of manuscript copies allowed other institutions to take account of the codification of these matters at Salisbury.

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The diocese of Salisbury in the thirteenth century

Parish churches also needed to have authoritative texts, and their diocesan cathedral was the obvious source. Where that cathedral was a monastery, they followed what was promulgated by the bishop and his archdeacons, most often through diocesan statutes, monitored by visitations and ensuing articles (i.e. instructions) issued by the bishop.

The earliest surviving diocesan statutes are those issued by Richard Poore, as bishop of Salisbury, in 1223. These include directions on liturgical practice. Implicitly, Poore acknowledges the diversity of liturgical texts in use parish churches across the diocese: he requires only that the Canon of the Mass is to conform to the Use of Sarum [statute 54]. Books were rare, expensive and very slow to copy: a church (even a cathedral) might be using books that were several hundred years old. Early sources or their readings, including the early-fourteenth-century Ordinal and Customary of British Library, MS Harley 1001 (containing the revised form of the Old Customary, OCR), appear to have continued in use until the mid-sixteenth century.) The level of conformity that could be asserted through a printed book was not available at this time.

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Wider influence and adoption of the Use of Sarum

In a recent doctoral study, The secular liturgical Office in late medieval England (Oxford University, 2011), Matthew Cheung Salisbury has delineated three stages in the formation of the Use of Sarum, based on a close study of the texts. The first stage is the codification at Salisbury Cathedral in the thirteenth century, and its adoption and adaptation in some parts of the southern province of Canterbury(as well as further afield). The second stage reflects the provincial status of the Use; it can be dated to the earlier fifteenth century, and the direct influence of Henry Chichele, archbishop of Canterbury from 1414 to 1443. Here the chants found in the sources were taken over from the Salisbury family, but other aspects of the liturgy were adapted to make them more usable in a range of church settings. The outcome is a more transferable, ‘generic’ liturgy, less cumbersome and complex. The third stage, at the end of the Middle Ages, is characterised by greater local variety under the umbrella of the Use of Sarum.

It is the texts, the chants, and the directions to the priest at the altar that are most transferable from one location to another, from one clerical body to another. Many of the rubrics would have been impossible to fulfil in churches with more modest resources, or with different spatial layout than Salisbury or another large church built on a similar model. Local adaptation of ritual must have been the normal practice. Even in Salisbury it was necessary both during the building of the new cathedral, and for any Mass celebrated outside the main quire and presbytery. For instance, there is no instruction in any book to direct the priest how to celebrate Mass except with the assistance of deacon, subdeacon, acolyte, thurifer and two taperers; yet simple celebrations of Mass with priest and one assistant were normative at side altars in places like Salisbury Cathedral, and at the high altar in churches with only one ordained member of the clergy. Local ritual adaptation was necessary everywhere.

Greater stability of liturgical Use in both texts and rubrics was achieved in the printed versions that appeared at the end of the fifteenth century, and especially in the first half of the sixteenth century. Just three English Uses were published: Salisbury, York and Hereford. (Hereford is the only distinctive diocesan Use to have existed alongside Sarum in the southern province.) All three share the great majority of their texts in common, though there are variants and some unique materials. Printed books of the Use of Sarum dominate, and even in them there are significant differences between some editions, as printers drew on different manuscript versions. The notion of a consistent Use of Sarum is largely a nineteenth-century aspiration and construct.

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