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

tirsdag 25. april 2017

Distractions along the thesis road - an antiphon for Saint Laurentius

As every academic knows, the road towards completing the PhD thesis is a long-winded one, and it is full of major and minor distractions. In this brief blogpost I want to present you with an example of just such a little distraction from my current research.

These days I am researching the liturgical office for Saint Knud the king, also known as Canute or Kanutus Rex, who died in Odense in 1086 following a rebellion that spread across the estates of eleventh-century Danish society, at least according to some of the earliest sources. The liturgical office - which occupies a prominent part in my thesis - contains the chants and readings for the feast of Knud's death (July 10). We do not know when the office was composed as the manuscript sources for it only survive in fragments, and few conclusions can be drawn with certainty. The office survives, however, in printed breviaries from the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, and therefore I have for the past two days been immersed in the structure and the content of this office.

During my transcription of the office text, however, I was briefly distracted by a rubric breaking off the flow of the office itself, placed between the chants for Vesper and the chants for Matins. This rubric points to a chant for Saint Laurentius of Rome (3rd century) whose feast is celebrated August 10, i.e. one month after the feast of Knud. The text and the position of the chant can be seen in the picture below, which - don't worry - is not a photograph of the breviary itself but of a printout.

Antiphona Sancti Laurentii
Breviarium Othoniense 1497, f.262r (print-out with personal notes)
(Courtesy of Copenhagen Royal Library

The chant in question is an antiphon with a versicle belonging to the repertoire of chants for Saint Laurentius. The antiphon can be found on this website, while the versicle can be found here. An antiphon is a short text in verse chanted before and after a psalm. In the office of a saint, the antiphons were often composed specifically for the saint in question, as we see here. The text reads:


Laurentius ingressus est
martir et confessus est
nomine domini nostri ihesu cristi


Dispersit [dedit pauperibus justitia ejus manet in saeculum saeculi]

This can be translated (by me) as:
Laurentius martyr is entering, and the name of our Lord Jesus Christ is confessed.

He disperses and gives the poor, His [God's] justice endures in all eternity.

The text itself is typical of a generic chant for a saint and contains nothing special about Saint Laurentius of Rome. I was nonetheless distracted by it in part because it is a beautiful little poem, and because its placement in the office of Saint Knud was a bit puzzling to me. As mentioned, Knud is celebrated exactly one month before Laurentius, and therefore this rubric can not be a commemoratio, a chant celebrating the less important of two saints when the feasts of those two saints overlap. What I do know is that Saint Laurentius was the patron of the metropolitan see of Lund. Although the city of Lund now lies in Sweden, it was Danish in the Middle Ages and housed the archbishop of the Danish church. The patronage of Laurentius in Lund and the bishopric of Odense's subordination to the archbishop of Lund might go some way to explain this rubric. But at the current time, however, I have no satisfactory explanation to give.

I have paused to reflect a bit on this little piece simply because it is a distraction and because it is something I do not yet have a satisfactory answer to. It is a good example of those thousand little things that can lead to a wild goose chase in the academic writing process. Hopefully, with this current blogpost, I have managed to vent my curiosity and prevented the distraction from leading me too far astray .

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