And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

mandag 23. april 2018

A liturgical chant for Saint George

Today is the feast of Saint George, one of the most widely popular among the saints of medieval Christendom. According to his legend, he was martyred in the town of Lydda in Palestine c.303 (a year that is commonly used in the dating of martyrdoms that are more myth than history, as this is the year that marked the beginning of the Diocletianic persecutions). This martyrdom happened after he had liberated the town from a dragon, and saved the king's daughter  who had been chosen by lots to be the dragon's tribute. George did not kill the dragon right away, but overcame it and put it in chains. He then paraded the beast around the city and demanded that the citizens be baptised as Christians, and once they had received the Christian faith he slew the dragon with a sword. In both medieval and modern depictions, this narrative is typically overlooked in favour of the more chivalrous and action filled portrayal of George charging against the dragon on a horse and killing it with his spear. Saint George's martyrdom is narratologically separated from his fight with the dragon, as the capture and torture of George is overseen by the Roman prefect of the area and takes place at some later point.

St George
Limoges - BM - ms. 0002, f.129r, Graduale, Abbey of Notre-Dame, Fontevrault, c.1250-1260
Courtesy of

Saint George was venerated throughout Christendom, and in this blogpost I wish to focus on one of the chants for the liturgical celebration of his feast. The chant in question is can be seen in the pictures from this thirteenth-century graduale. Since the chant is contained in a graduale, the chant must have belonged to the celebration of the mass. Because the image is a bit small, it is difficult to assess with complete certainty what type of chant that has this beautiful initial. However, based on the incipit and the subsequent chant, I find it fairly safe to say that this is an introit for the mass. The text can be found in the common of one martyr, and the succeeding chant, Exaudi deus, is noted in the CANTUS database as an introit verse for the feast of Saint George.

The text of the introit is as follows (ortography is modernised according with the CANTUS version):

Protexisti me Deus a conventu malignantium alleluia a multitudine operantium iniquitatem alleulia alleluia

You  haveprotected me from the gathering of the wicked, alleluia, from the multitude that works iniquity, alleluia, alleluia

This text is taken from Psalm 63:3 of the Vulgata (my translation).

Chants for the mass of Saint George
Limoges - BM - ms. 0002, f.129r, Graduale, Abbey of Notre-Dame, Fontevrault, c.1250-1260
Courtesy of

mandag 16. april 2018

Tyco Brahe digitised - notes on a recent digitisation project at the library of University of Southern Denmark

Although I no longer work at the university library of University of Southern Denmark, I have a backlog of things to write and talk about regarding my work there, other projects, and of course the wonderful fragments and books from their special collections. This blogpost is one such blogpost, and it is more an announcement than a blogpost in itself.

Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek

While I was finishing my own work at the library, there was another project that came to its close and was indeed finished. This was the digitisation of three books by Tyco Brahe that are found in the special collection, and one owned by Roskilde monastery. These books are Epistolarum astronomicarum libri primus, Historia coelestis, and, from Roskilde, De Nova Stella. This project was led and executed by astronomer Majken B. E. Christensen, research librarian Jakob Povl Holck, and astronomer and head librarian Bertil F. Dorch.

The project has made all these three books available for download in Pdf format, and an overview of the project can be found here (in Danish, but with links to the digitised copies) and also here (in Danish). This digitisation has allowed for primary sources to be freely available, and it has also served as a great first step in the digitisation of the material from the special collection, which will hopefully result in the digitisation of fragments and entire books from the throve of historically significant gems found in the library.

RARA L 31, col. 1
Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek
I was also able to contribute in a small way, since the fragment that was used as a binding to the edition of Epistolarum astronomicarum was one of the fragments I had been researching. I was asked to write a short description of the fragment, and this description (in Danish) can be found here. For those not fluent in Danish, I will summarise the key points of this manuscript here.

The fragment is cut vertically from a liturgical manuscript of uncertain date and provenance (though because it was printed and bound in Denmark it is likely that the manuscript has been used in either Denmark or Norway). The original manuscript was a breviary, and the fragment contains texts for the office for Sundays in the summer season. This can be seen from the indication in the picture above, which points to "in primo nocturno antiphoni", or the antiphons for the first nocturne. This is preceded by a hymn that has traditionally - though probably erroneously - been ascribed to Gregory the Great (d.604). This hymn has a complicated history, but that might be a subject for a future blogpost.  

 RARA L 31
Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek

lørdag 31. mars 2018

Holy Thursday - a poem by Geoffrey Hill

Since this is the paschal time, I present you one of Geoffrey Hill's early poems, taken from his first collection For the Unfallen from 1958, whose title is relevant for the season.

Holy Thursday

Naked, he climbed to the wolf's lair;
He beheld Eden without fear,
Finding no ambush offered there
But slep under the harbouring fur.

He said: 'They are decoyed by love
Who, tarrying through the hollow grove,
Neglect the seasons' sad remove.
Child and nurse walk hand in glove

As unaware of Time's betrayal,
Weaving their innocence with guil.
But they must cleave the fire's peril
And suffer innocence to fall.

I have been touched with that fire
And have fronted the she-wolf's lair.
Lo, she lies gentle and innocent of desire
Who was my constant myth and terror.'

fredag 30. mars 2018

The Disappearing Island - a poem by Seamus Heaney

Continuing on from previous blogpost's theme of islands, and keeping in tune with my abiding fascination with them, I here give you a short but haunting poem by Seamus Heaney, printed in his collection The Haw Lantern from 1987.

The Disappearing Island

Once we presumed to found ourselves for good
Between the blue hills and those sandless shores
Where we spent our desperate night in prayer and vigil,

Once we had gathered driftwood, made a hearth
And hung our cauldron like a firmament,
The island broke beneath us like a wave.

The land sustaining us seemed to hold firm
Only when we embraved it in extremis.
All I believe that happened there was a vision.

tirsdag 27. mars 2018

Islands - a poem by Derek Walcott

It is the Easter week and I am home, back in the house of my paternal grandparents where I spent so much of my childhood, and where - because it is close to the salt scents of the fjord and because it contains so much memorabilia from the outside world - I feel that I am both securely nestled in the homescape and also connected to the wider world. Here I read about distant lands, about islands - especially about islands - and here I keep going back to my favourite poet, Derek Walcott. I'm giving you this particular poem because it fits so well with the book I'm currently reading, the Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky, a florilegium of islands that stokes the imagination and transports the mind far away.


Merely to name them is the prose
Of diarists, to make you a name
For readers who like travellers praise
Their beds and beaches as the same;
But islands can only exist
If we have loved in them. I seek
As climate seeks its style, to write
Verse crisp as sand, clear as sunlight,
Cold as the curled wave, ordinary
As a tumbler of island water;
Yet, like a diarist, thereafter
I savour their salt-haunted rooms
(Your body stirring the creased sea
Of crumpled sheets), whose mirrors lose
Our huddled, sleeping images,
Like words which love had hoped to use
Erased with the surf's pages.

So, like a diarist in sand,
I mark the peace with which you graced
Particular islands, descending
A narrow stair to light the lamps
Against the night surf's noises, shielding
A leaping mantle with one hand
Or simply scaling fish for supper,
Onions, jack-fish, bread, red snapper;
And on each kiss the harsh sea-taste,
And how by moonlight you were made
To study most the surf's unyielding
Patience though it seems a waste.

From In a Green Night (1962)

mandag 12. mars 2018

Working with liturgical manuscripts, part 10 - Breviary or Missal?

One of the primary tasks of my research of the fragments at Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek, is to assess - as far as possible - what type of books these fragments once belonged to. This is sometimes a frustratingly difficult question, as there is a wide variety of books used for the various liturgical services. As I have mentioned in a previous blogpost, there are some books that contain material for the mass, such as graduals and missals, and books that contain material for the office, such as breviaries and antiphonaries. With some fragments it is easy enough to assess whether a fragment belongs to the office or the mass, as there are some types of chants that are used exclusively for one type of celebration. In other cases, however, the fragment simply does not contain enough information to be certain. For instance, although text types such as antiphons and responsories are primarily chants belonging to the office cycle, they do also appear in masses.

Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek

One such challenge was posed by the fragment shown above, an apparently single-column folio page with water damage and wormholes. Rubrics and some chants made it easy enough to ascertain that the fragment contains texts for the feasts of the birthday of John the Baptist (June 23) and the feast of Peter and Paul (June 29). Due to the large script of the fragment, the page does not contain much information despite its size, and what does appear are texts that are in some cases too general to allow for any conclusion as to whether fragment comes from a missal or from a breviary (or any of the other options). This question was also made difficult by the fact that I was for a long time working only from pictures, and it was not until relatively recently that I had a chance to see the fragment for myself and take a few pictures of my own. 

Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek

It was then that the question could be answered. I had taken a few pictures but without paying very much attention to the fragment itself, because I had other priorities at the time. But when I had uploaded my pictures and as I was looking through them, I noticed that the texts for the vigil were easier to read than I had thought, and I could even make out a few of the incipits. I also saw that one rubric that I had failed to identified earlier could be read as GR, a responsory for the gradual, a type of chant uniquely belonging to the missal (as seen below just before the blue A). I looked further at the texts for the vigil, and I was able to make out indications for the offertorium, another chant exclusively for the mass, and then a "co" which belongs to the communion, also only found in the celebration of the mass.

Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek

It turned out that the answers had been there all along, and I only needed to come closer to the fragment to take some more detailed pictures. It also reminded me how necessary it is to continuously return to the fragments to check and check again, because there are sometimes details that are unclear or difficult to identify at first, but which can appear more clearly the second or third time around. One reason for this hermeneutics of fragments, as it were, is due to a very basic but very important point: In some fragments, certain items might be difficult to identify, especially if you have not encountered them before. Later on, however, as one progresses in the studies of other fragments, one might come across this item in such a condition that it can be identified with greater ease, and it is then possible to return to earlier investigations and fill in the gaps. This is why I have been working on around thirteen different fragments over and over again for four months.

tirsdag 27. februar 2018

Dies Irae - by Edward Kamau Brathwaite

It is a near-quotidian occurrence here at work, that at the beginning of sunset the great flocks of crows and jackdaws and rooks that inhabit the woods and fields around the university rise up in their entire numbers and seem to wage war on one another. I caught this image of them as they were flying across the campus buildings, and it appears as if they are rising out of the very earth itself. There is always a certain apocalyptic undercurrent, despite its daily repetition, and it also gives me a very good excuse to present to you the poem Dies Irae by Barbadian poet Edward Kamau Brathwaite, printed in his 1983 poetry collection Third World Poems.

Dies Irae

Dies irae dreadful day
when the world shall pass away
so the priests and shomen say

what gaunt phantoms shall affront me
mi lai sharpville wounded knee
arthur kissorcallatme

to what judgement meekly led
shall men gather trumpeted
by Louis Armstrong from the dead

life and death shall here be voice
less rising from their moist
interment hoist-

ing all their flags before them
poniard poison rocket bomb
nations of the earth shall come

and his record page on page
forever building he shall scan and give each age
sentences of righteous rage

if the pious then shall shake me
what reply can merchants make me
what defences can they fake?

mighty and majestic god-
head saviour of the broken herd
grant me mercy at thy word

day of fire dreadful day
day for which all sufferers pray
grant me vengeance with thy sword