Published online by Cambridge University Press: 12 September 2012
THE first documentary evidence of the presence of boy choristers at Rome occurs near the beginning of Ordo Romanus 1, a detailed description of the papal Mass on Easter Sunday at the Roman basilica of S. Maria Maggiore around the beginning of the eighth century. As the pope approached the altar precinct (presbyterium), the members of the schola cantorum lined up on either side of the processional path.
Then they [the schola] go according to their rank in front of the altar. They stand in order on either side in two rows – paraphonistae on both sides on the outside and the children on both sides in front of them in order.
The rubric assumes that the members of the schola, adults and children, form a “guard of honor” patterned after Byzantine court ceremonial as the papal procession approached the altar for Mass: “et pertransit pontifex in caput scolae.” Recent archeological research suggests the presence of a solea leading to the presbyterium at S. Maria Maggiore. This would mean that the members of the schola lined up on both sides of the space within the barriers, the adult singers standing behind the boys, but the presence of a solea at the time the ordo was compiled is by no means essential. The rest of the rubrics in Ordo Romanus 1 pertaining to the duties of the schola cantorum do not refer separately to the children, and there is no reason to expect that they would do so: the introit was a special case that required precise description.