Conclusion: The Saint Michael Text and the Exeter Parish Guild

Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 41 is of greater interest to scholars than its appearance would at first glance suggest, containing as its principal text the B-version of the Old English translation of Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum Libri Quinque and a range of marginalia—portions of a Latin missal, six homiletic texts in Old English, macaronic charms and loricas in Old English and Latin, a version of the Old English poem Solomon and Saturn, and fragments of an Old English martyrology. The manuscript was made in the early eleventh century in a southern English Benedictine centre whose illuminators belonged to the ‘Winchester’ school, and during the first half of the eleventh century a number of texts in Old English and Latin were added in its margins and blank spaces by a single scribe. Corpus 41 came into the possession of Bishop Leofric of Crediton and Exeter, in whose scriptorium the marginalia were added. Scholars have hesitated to assign a scriptorium to Leofric's Exeter, but while it may be doubted there was one in Crediton, modern opinion credits Exeter with its own institution—see, for example, Ian Maxted[1] and Susan Rankin:

It is clear that [Leofric] initiated a scriptorium: the work of at least seventeen scribes writing in an Exeter hand has been recognised in extant manuscripts.[2]

Many of the marginalia in Corpus 41 are unique, and display Irish and Coptic influence. One in particular deserves further study, a text in praise of the Archangel Michael, which is very loosely listed as one of the homilies when, strictly speaking, it is nothing of the sort.

If the text in praise of St Michael should not really be called ‘homiletic,’ then what should it be called? It does not help if one says its contents show Coptic and Celtic as well as Roman influence or that the text seems to be unique in Old English, Latin, and Coptic and surely unique in Christendom if its overall content and its editorially arranged twenty-eight sections cannot be discussed clearly. It is not a poem, for all it has a certain rhythm to it, for the alliterative and stress patterns are not sufficiently rigorous to permit the use of such terminology as ‘poem’ and ‘stanzas,’ ‘hymn’ and ‘verses.’ Likewise, calling the text a ‘eulogy’ is unfortunate, if only it suggests that the immortal archangel is dead. It may be preferable to adopt Budge's term ‘encomium.’[3]

The formula that introduces most of the sections, ‘þis is se halȝa heahenȝel Sanctus Michael,’ is probably derived from the Roman liturgy's ‘Hic est Michael Archangelus,’ and this structure suggests a ‘trope of sequence’ as used liturgically from the ninth to the twelfth centuries.[4] The Winchester Troper, MS Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 473 is the oldest known manuscript of English music and the earliest record of polyphony in Europe. Written c. AD 1000 in Winchester Cathedral for Wulfstan, St Æþelwold's cantor, the Winchester Troper contains the music for the liturgical drama ‘Quem quaeritis’ together with instances from Winchester and Exeter;[5] Susan Rankin has produced a facsimile edition.[6] Reconstructions of the English cycles for the sequences suggest that on Michaelmas the melody ‘Mater sequentiarum’ accompanied the sequence whose incipit was ‘Summi regis’ in eleventh-century Winchester and Exeter.[7] It may be that the St Michael text in Corpus 41 was intended for this Michaelmas ceremony, but one should not go so far as to suggest that it was sung in absence of neumes, etc.[8] At least the possibility of the text's being intended for reading aloud in public has been raised, for the trope ‘Quem quaeritis in sepulchro? Non est hic’ (‘Visitatio sepulchri’), originally from St Martial, an abbey in Limoges, was the first to embellish liturgical texts with dramatic interpolations, and the practice spread in England from the tenth century onwards.

Patrick Conner draws attention to the Parish Guilds of mediaeval Exeter and their contribution to the production of secular religion,[9] concluding that Exeter certainly had a guild with written statutes as early as ca. 920-959.[10] He cites Nicholas Orme's description of the Kalendar Brethren at Exeter, Winchester, and Bristol:

They were voluntary associations of priests, laymen and laywomen, for the purpose of holding religious services and doing works of charity. They used the wealth at their disposal to benefit those of their members who were sick or old, and sometimes cared for other deserving people.... Their principal activity, from which they got their name, was to meet in the church on the calends... to participate in the celebration of a requiem mass.[11]

Conner argues that the guild feasts provided a context for much Old English vernacular literature, not only vernacular homilies but also poetry; these banquets included drinking and public speaking by groups of people from all levels of society and literacy. He cites Caedmon, for instance, and Blickling Homily XVII, which he describes as ‘a homily designed for use on St. Michael's day, one of the required meeting days of the Exeter Guild.[12] (Italics editorial.)

It is surely not too great a stretch of the imagination to suppose that the St Michael text in Corpus 41 is likewise intended for a Michaelmas feast of the Exeter Guild and for the use of Bishop Leofric or one of his clerics or a literate layman on such an occasion. It is designed for reading aloud, with its strong rhythms and stanzaic structure and so many sections beginning ‘þis is se halȝa heahenȝel Sanctus Michael.’

Was it acted out like the ‘Quem quaeritis’ trope and others from the Benedictine Reformation period of Dunstan and Æþelwold? This we cannot tell, but another suggestion can be made. The guilds later employed actors, giving rise to the great cycles of Miracle Plays and Mystery Plays, and they could have been used in Exeter. The Oberammergau Passion Play interpolates static Old Testament tableaux vivants into the action sequences of the New Testament. The Old Testament tableaux deal with prefigurations of Christ as depicted in the New; for example, a tableau showing Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac yet with heart-rending regret is inserted into the tale of Christ's passion when God sacrifices his son for the redemption of all. During the tableaux, the actors freeze in situ while the chorus after the Classical fashion comment and interpret what the audience sees—along the same lines as ‘þis is se halȝa heahenȝel Sanctus Michael.’


The St Michael text in Corpus 41 will continue to fascinate scholars, but may never fully reveal its secrets any more than will the manuscript itself and its varied marginalia with their picture of Bishop Leofric, the end of Anglo-Saxon England and the birth of Norman England, the cult of St Michael, and the mixture of Classical and Celtic influences.

And even I can remember
A day when the historians left blanks in their writings,
I mean, for things they didn't know.[13]

NotesEdit

  1. Ian Maxted. Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History 12; A history of the book in Devon 23: The Cathedral Library. (2001).http://bookhistory.blogspot.ca/2007/01/devon-book-23.html
  2. Susan Rankin. ‘From memory to record; musical notations in manuscripts from Exeter.’ Anglo-Saxon England 13 (1984), pp. 97-112, citing Elaine M Drage, ‘Bishop Leofric and the Exeter Cathedral Chapter 1050-1072: a Reassessment of the Manuscript Evidence.’ Unpublished PhD dissertation (Oxford University, 1978), pp. 145-90.
  3. E(rnest) A(lfred) Wallis Budge, ed. Saint Michael the Archangel. Three Encomiums by Theodosius, Archbishop of Alexandria, Severus, Patriarch of Antioch, and Eustathius, Bishop of Trake. (London, 1894).
  4. Information on these hymn forms may be found in W Apel. Gregorian Chant. (Indiana UP, 1958), pp. 429-464; P Evans. ‘Some reflections on the origin of the trope.’ Journal of the American Musicological Society 14 (1961), pp. 119-30; and R Weakland. ‘The beginnings of troping.’ The Musical Quarterly 44 (1958), pp. 477-88.
  5. Specific information about the music of the liturgy in Winchester and Exeter may be found in two works by Bishop WA Frere: The Winchester Troper. (London, 1894) and Bibliotheca Musico Liturgica. (London, 1932) II, pp. 11-13.
  6. Susan Rankin, ed. The Winchester Troper: Facsimile Edition and Introduction. (London: Stainer and Bell, 2007). See also David Hiley and Susan Rankin, eds. Music in the Medieval English Liturgy. Plainsong & Mediaeval Music Society Centennial Essays (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993).
  7. See A Hughes. Anglo-French Sequelae. (London, 1934), p. 134.
  8. The Michaelmas sequence was taken back to Winchester Cathedral on Saturday, September 29, 2007 for the first time since the 16th century and used by the Cathedral choir to sing a full Michaelmas Mass in its original setting for the first time in a thousand years. http://www.corpus.cam.ac.uk/oldmembers/news.
  9. Patrick W Conner. ‘Parish Guilds and the Production of Old English Literature in the Public Sphere’ in Virginia Blanton and Helen Scheck, eds. Texts: Studies in Early Insular Culture Presented to Paul E Szarmach. (MRTS, 2007).
  10. Conner, loc. cit., p. 259.
  11. Conner, loc. cit., pp. 259-60, quoting Nicholas Orme. ‘The Kalendar Brethren of the City of Exeter.’ Report and Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art 109 (1977), p. 154.
  12. Conner, loc. cit., p. 269.
  13. Ezra Pound. The Cantos. Canto XIII.

BibliographyEdit

Apel, Willi. Gregorian Chant. (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1958, 1990).

Budge, E(rnest) A(lfred) Wallis, ed. Saint Michael the Archangel. Three Encomiums by Theodosius, Archbishop of Alexandria, Severus, Patriarch of Antioch, and Eustathius, Bishop of Trake. (London, 1894).

Conner, Patrick W. ‘Parish Guilds and the Production of Old English Literature in the Public Sphere’ in Blanton, Virginia, and Helen Scheck, eds. Texts: Studies in Early Insular Culture Presented to Paul E. Szarmach. (MRTS, 2007).

Drage, Elaine M. ‘Bishop Leofric and the Exeter Cathedral Chapter 1050-1072: a Reassessment of the Manuscript Evidence.’ Unpublished PhD dissertation (Oxford University, 1978), pp. 145-90.

Evans, P. ‘Some reflections on the origin of the trope.’ Journal of the American Musicological Society 14 (1961), pp. 119-30.

Frere, Walter Howard. The Winchester Troper, from MSS of the Xth and Xith Centuries. (London: Henry Bradshaw Society 8, 1894). Facsimile ed. by Susan Rankin. Early English Church Music 50 (London: Stainer & Bell, 2007).

Frere, Walter Howard. Bibliotheca Musico Liturgica: A Descriptive Handlist of the Musical and Latin-Liturgical Mss of the Middle Ages. (London, 1894-1932, reprinted Hildesheim, 1967).

Hiley, David and Susan Rankin, eds. Music in the Medieval English Liturgy. Plainsong & Mediaeval Music Society Centennial Essays. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993).

Hughes, Dom Anselm. Anglo-French Sequelae. Burnham, Plainsong & Medieval Music Society. (London, 1934, facsimile reprint Farnborough: Gregg Press, 1966).

Maxted, Ian. Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History 12; A history of the book in Devon 23: The Cathedral Library. (2001). http://bookhistory.blogspot.ca/2007/01/devon-book-23.html

Orme, Nicholas. ‘The Kalendar Brethren of the City of Exeter.’ Report and Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art 109 (1977), pp. 153-69.

Rankin, Susan. ‘From memory to record; musical notations in manuscripts from Exeter.’ Anglo-Saxon England 13 (1984), pp. 97-112.

-----------------, ed. The Winchester Troper: Facsimile Edition and Introduction. (London: Stainer and Bell, 2007).

Weakland, Rembert. ‘The beginnings of troping.’ The Musical Quarterly 44 (1958), pp. 477-88.