Established in 1348, one of the key functions of the College of St George was the correct observance of the Divine Liturgy, including the celebrations of mass, and by so doing to enhance the reputation of its founder, Edward III.
Music was one of the main ways in which this observance could be maximised, and the Statutes of 1352 allowed for 13 vicars, 4 clerks and 6 choristers to this end. By 1482 the choral strength had reached 45, including 16 vicars, 13 lay clerks and 13 choristers.
All services in the Chapel were specifically ordered to be performed cum nota, with each separate part of each service sung to its proper plainsong chant. This was determined according to the Sarum Use, the medieval code of practice stating which Mass, Divine Office and Processional should be used to ensure the correct execution of Christian worship. The Sarum Use was that of the diocese of Salisbury, in which St George’s was situated, and was the most common form of worship in the south of England, going on to form the basis of the Book of Common Prayer established after the Reformation.
This fragment of a service book gives the responds, antiphons and office hymn to be sung in the Chapel at Epiphany. It shows the antiphonal style of singing where the two halves of the choir sing alternately, and which is still employed in sung services today. Dating from around the 14th century, it was discovered in a volume of the Chapter Accounts where it had been used in the 17th century as part of the binding. The style of writing is similar to that on wall paintings of musical exercises found in No. 25 Denton’s Commons, and which date from the 1470s. It was cleaned and placed in the Chapter Library in February 1934.
The Christian festival of Epiphany commemorates the visit of the Magi to the new born Christ, and is celebrated on the 6th January. The Epiphany season forms part of the liturgical calendar, beginning at evening prayer on the Eve of Epiphany and ending at evening prayer on the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, usually, although not always, the 2nd February. Each season in the calendar has its own colour, and that for the Epiphany season is white. The inventories show that the College had a fine set of vestments for the season made of white cloth-of-gold, consisting of a chasuble, 2 tunicles, 3 albs, 3 amices, with stoles and maniples, 4 copes of the same suit with various orphreys, 4 other copes of a different suit, with 2 curtains and all the hangings of the altar without a frontal. This, together with the music, must have made for a wonderful sense of occasion.
The piece depicted is part of the office hymn for Epiphany, A Patre Unigenitus, to be sung at Lauds or morning prayer. It is an abecedarian hymn, one that begins with the letter A, and each verse or clause following begins with the next letter of the alphabet:
A patre Unigenitus ad nos venit per Virginem,
Baptisma cruce consecrans
Cunctos fideles generans.
Eleanor (Assistant Archivist)