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Benedictus es domine, the Ambrosian Canticle of the Three Children in the Fiery Furnace

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 February 2022



The hymn of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the Book of Daniel was sung in Milan as the first canticle of Ambrosian Matins on all Sundays and festivals. The Benedictus es domine had a special importance in the Milanese liturgy: it was not only the first lection of the day, but was also seen as providing a common theme unifying the morning office. Those who study Milanese chant will be interested in the details of its performance, but the hope is that even those who do not usually take note of things Ambrosian will welcome an illustration of the extraordinary complexity that characterises the Rite in its final stage.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press

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1 The Book of Daniel, an account of episodes from the Babylonian Captivity, was accepted by the Latin and Greek Churches. It was certainly known to the Jews, being attested to in the Dead Sea Scrolls, but not given canonical status. As a consequence, Protestants consider it apocryphal.

2 It was also in the Old-Hispanic Rite, where the whole of the hymn of the three children was sung daily in the morning office. Hotham, Henry, s.v. ‘Benedictus’, in Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, ed. Smith, William and Cheetham, Samuel (London, 1880), 1: 200Google Scholar.

3 Marco Magistretti, ed., Manuale ambrosianum: ex codice saec. xi olim in usum canonicae Vallis Travaliae, Psalterium et kalendarium, praeviis praefatione, dissertatione et excerptis ex aliis codd, pars prima and secunda (Milan 1904–5). The canticle is not mentioned in the Manuale, but the cue ‘Benedictus domine deus’, referring to a completorium, is entered many times. This article refers exclusively to the prima pars of Magistretti's edition (1904), hereinafter cited (in italics) as Manuale.

4 Magistretti, Marco, ed., Beroldus; sive, ecclesiae ambrosianae mediolanensis kalendarium et ordines saec. xii (Milan, 1894)Google Scholar, hereinafter cited (in italics) as Beroldus.

5 The ordinarii were those on the duty roster (ordo) for the week.

6 The Latin spellings have been regularised in this and other quotations in this article.

7 The cicendelarii (cf. cicindela, ‘firefly’) were minor clerics in the cathedral establishment (Beroldus, the compiler of the ordinal, was one of them) whose duties centred on items requiring a flame, principally, candles, lamps and thuribles.

8 Beroldus, 75; see also 158, n. 14.

9 The rotulatius was the carrier of what we may presume was a scroll containing prayers or details of the liturgy not included in the service books. In them, scrolls are mentioned from time to time. In the ordinal (Beroldus, 76) we read: ‘cicendelarius porrigit duos cereos rotulatio episcopi (et unam candelam accensam) et ille [cicendelarius] dat [illas] archiepiscopo’ (‘the cicelandarius hands the two candles to the bishop's rotulatius (and one of the candles is burning), and this [cicendelarius] gives [them] to the archbishop’).

10 Beroldus, 76.

11 See Beroldus, 194, n. 132, where Magistretti cites an interpolation in his sources M and P: ‘Laudabilis est antiphona pro cantico Benedictus es domine more feriali nec alia in antiphonariis invenitur quae incipiat Laudabilis laudabis [sic].’ The interpolation is itself problematic, but its meaning, in English, is ‘Laudabilis is an antiphon for the canticle Benedictus es domine on weekdays; in the antiphoners none is found that begins, Laudabilis laudabis.’

12 Magistretti, Manuale, 164 and 176.

14 In line 2, laudabile, to match the neuter nomen; in line 9, laudabilem, to match the accusative te; in line 10, laudabilem and gloriosum, again, to match the accusative te; in the two verses of the doxology, laudabili et et glorioso, to match the datives of patri, filio and spiritui sancto.

15 It survives in two copies, the earlier being Milan, Biblioteca capitolare II.D.2.28, fols. 351–88 (dated 1267–9); and Milan, Biblioteca ambrosiana C 23 inf., fols. 347–85 (dated 1336). For information about these manuscripts, see Manus OnLine, Istituto centrale per il catalogo unico delle biblitoteche italiane e per le informazioni bibliografiche, (accessed 9 June 2021).

16 Probably produced shortly after 1126, the document refers to ‘Olric, of blessed memory’. He was archbishop of Milan and died in that year. Beroldus, xi.

17 Manuale, 59 (Dissertatio): ‘saeculo XI (cui aetati probabiliter assignanda est Expositio Theodori)’.

19 See Federica Peruzzo, ‘Il breviarium ambrosianum di Pietro Casola (1490)’, Ricerche storiche sulla chiesa ambrosiana, 24 (2006), 9–52, at 10 and 21.

20 The significance of this word will be discussed later.

21 Manuale, 115.

22 Semper autem antiphonam primam [cantici diaconus] incipit, id est Benedictus es vel Laudabilis. ([A deacon] always intones the first antiphon [of the canticle], that is, Benedictus es or Laudabilis.) Manuale, 114.

23 The only Ambrosian chant that begins with this word is Laudabilis virgo quae, an antiphon for the last lection of Matins (the four psalms referred to collectively as the Laudate) on the sixth Sunday of Advent, the date of the Milanese festival of the Annunciation.

24 Beroldus, 75. This reference is one of the instances of a textual relationship between the Manuale and the Expositio.

25 Beroldus, 75.

26 (accessed 1 May 2021). The Latin rubrics in Example 2 may be translated as follows: ‘The hymn of the three children that is sung in winter on [Sundays and] feast days is sung in this way. First, the antiphon is delivered.’ ‘In summer, however, on Sundays and other festival days, the hymn of the three children is sung as written below. Antiphon.’

27 Nocturns (nocturni) are subdivisions of Matins, items that were grouped together. Benedict (of Nursia) mentions nocturns in chapters 9, 10 and 11 of his Monastic Regulations. Nocturni can also refer to Matins itself, which began while it was still night, but it is made clear from what follows that in the present instance it is the groupings that are meant.

28 Manuale, 116.

29 Beroldus, 37.

30 See fols. 50r, 51r, 52, 54v, 57r, 59v, 79r, 79v, etc. In the last two of these instances the versicle is specified after the first Matins canticle.

31 Manuale, 4, 7, 15, etc.

32 The text that follows, not included in the Expositio, is from the breviary of 1490 as transcribed by Peruzzo (‘Il breviarium’, 29ff., but with modified punctuation and regularised Latin spelling.

33 That is, beginning with the second verse. The first verse was sung as the text of the antiphon.

34 In the summer period, when gloriosum and et gloriosus were omitted, the abbreviated refrain was et laudabilis, altered (see note 14) to et laudabile in verse 2, et laudabilem in verses 9 and 10, and et laudabili in both verses of the doxology.

35 The Ambrosian service books refer to the two cathedrals as ecclesia hiemalis and ecclesia aestiva, or ecclesia maior and ecclesia minor.

36 In the off-season, the church that was not the principal site of the episcopal liturgy was available to some of the most important clergy in other churches of the city. It might seem that, in early times, one of the cathedrals would have been left empty for part of the year, but it is clear that eventually the daily liturgy came, more or less, to be duplicated.

37 Manuale, 211.

38 Manuale, 428, note to lines 2–6, citing the Beroldo novo. See also, Beroldus, 127.

39 The singular verb cantatur (‘is sung’) suggests that the text within parentheses is a later insertion.

40 Earlier in this same excerpt a different lection is mentioned.

41 Beroldus, 39.

42 Beroldus, 49.

43 See Terence Bailey, ‘Ambrosian Psalmody, an Introduction’, Rivista internazionale di musica sacra, 1/1 (1980), 82–99; and idem, ‘Ambrosian Choral Psalmody: The Formulae’, Rivista internazionale di musica sacra, 1/3 (1980), 300–28.

44 In early centuries, the lector sang the canticles alone, antiphon and verses. Whatever psalm tone he decided on did not have to be communicated to others.

45 Tone d'-4 in Bailey, ‘Ambrosian Choral Psalmody: The Formulae’, 314.

46 Magistretti died in 1921.

47 In 1402 the canons of the Duomo appointed the first of the series of cantors charged with the performance of polyphonic music. It is a gauge of its importance in the new cathedral that in 1459, Josquin Desprez, perhaps the greatest composer of the age, became of one of them. See Sartori, Claudio, ‘Josquin des Prés, cantore del duomo di Milano (1459–1472)’, Annales musicologiques, 4 (1956), 5583Google Scholar, at 57, 59–63.

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