The Use of Sarum: origins

The basis of the Use of Sarum

We can only draw on evidence which survives. The earliest surviving document that provides details of the pattern of cathedral liturgy and its conduct is the Register of St Osmund, written in the early decades of the thirteenth century. It is of comparable date to those manuscripts of liturgical chant that represent the musical repertory sung at Salisbury Cathedral at that time.

It is principally to the Register of St Osmund, corroborated by other early sources from Salisbury and other institutions, that scholars turn for evidence of the earliest known practice at the cathedral. Although the Register dates from the early thirteenth century, it draws on earlier sources. It appears to have been compiled at a time when the cathedral was reviewing and codifying its practice, both institutionally and liturgically.

It was this institutional and liturgical codification that provided the basis for what has become known as the Use of Sarum.

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Richard Poore

The codification of the liturgical Use of Salisbury has generally been attributed to Richard Poore. He was the younger brother of Herbert Poore, bishop of Salisbury from 1194 to 1217, both apparently being illegitimate sons of Richard of Ilchester, bishop of Winchester (d. 1188).

At Salisbury, Richard Poore was successively archdeacon of Dorset (1194x96-97), dean (1197-1215) and bishop (1217-28). It was he who finally secured permission from the pope for the removal of the cathedral community from Old Salisbury to New Salisbury in 1218, and oversaw the completion of the first phase of the new cathedral building (1220-25) before his translation to become bishop of Durham (1228-37).

Poore’s capacity to bring order and instigate reform is well attested. It is less clear, however, exactly what he instigated at Salisbury, and what was primarily an act of codification of the cathedral body and its worship. Nor is it clear when this work was undertaken, nor which of the officers of the cathedral did the collation and drafting.

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The impact of the papal interdict

King John’s dispute with Pope Innocent III is well known: the pope wished Stephen Langton to be archbishop of Canterbury, and John (among others) did not. Langton was consecrated as a bishop by the pope in Viterbo in 1207, but John would not relent. The pope therefore imposed an interdict on England and Wales in 1208, and it was only finally lifted in July 1214.

The impact of the interdict was very considerable. There was to be no regular public worship in any church in the land; neither Mass nor Office could be recited even in private by a priest. Baptism continued, as did marriage and penance of the dying, but no one could be buried in consecrated ground. There was limited relaxation for monasteries and other conventual communities: the Office could be recited behind closed doors, and Mass celebrated once each week. At Salisbury the interdict resulted in the suspension of daily services in the cathedral for a period of up to six years.

Following the excommunication of the king, many bishops and senior clerics left England. From 1209 until 1213 Bishop Herbert Poore was exiled in Scotland. Though the exact dates cannot be ascertained, Richard Poore went back to Paris (where he had earlier been a pupil of Langton) and taught in the university. He, like his brother, may have returned in 1213, the year in which it was possible for Stephen Langton to come to England as archbishop. Certainly he was active as dean in chapter by January 1214.

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The possible consequences of the interdict at Salisbury

Richard Poore is accredited with the codification of two key liturgical texts at Salisbury: the Ordinal and the Customary. The Ordinal sets out the contents of the liturgy, listing by title or opening words the texts to be recited daily, seasonally, and on specific feasts. Any Ordinal for a specific church or diocese may have local nuances, but the broad pattern of the content is that compiled in the middle of the first millennium, re-codified in the Frankish empire in the latter part of that millennium, and disseminated throughout the greater part of the Western Church.

If the Ordinal defines the text of the liturgy, the Customary describes the way in which the liturgy is conducted – who does what, where and when. A Customary has to be far more local, matching the requirements of the liturgy to the clergy available and the configuration of the church building. At the end of the interdict at Salisbury it was necessary to re-establish the daily pattern of the liturgy after a significant gap. Much could be recalled from memory, but it may have required reinforcement from one or more written documents.

In January 1214 Richard Poore met with members of the Salisbury Chapter and approved a new constitutional instrument. Not as comprehensive as the institution document attributed to Osmund, it nevertheless set standards for the reconvening cathedral community in the final months of the interdict, and received the cathedral seal in September 2014, some two months after the interdict was lifted. Poore became bishop of Chichester in 1215, and it seems more likely that he oversaw the work on Ordinal and Customary as dean of the Old Cathedral, and that this coincided with his review of the constitution of the cathedral. When he returned from Chichester as bishop of Salisbury in 1217 the focus was on preparing for the building of the new town and new cathedral, and on drawing up statutes for the churches of his diocese.

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