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Vigils of the saints and the stational liturgy of Milan

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 October 2019



Vigils, an important and eventually troublesome component of the cult of the saints, are attested to in the fourth century by Sts Ambrose, Jerome and Augustine. In Gregorian regions nearly all these penitential observances were prohibited by a synod in Rouen in 1231, and have been virtually ignored in the scholarly literature. In the Ambrosian orbit, Vigils remained an extraordinarily important part of the public liturgy until the end of the Middle Ages; however, the treatment of these offices in the Milanese service books presents a confused picture that can only be pieced together with some difficulty. In clarifying the practices of Vigils, certain details are brought to light concerning the two other examples of the external episcopal liturgy of Milan (the three-day Litany in the week following Ascension, and the daily stations at both the ancient baptistries of the city), and even important details about the practices in the cathedrals themselves, practices concerning which the ordinal is silent, ambiguous or even misleading.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019 

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1 ‘Ad Ripuarium adversus Vigilantium’, ed. Jacques-Paul Migne, Patrologia Latina (1844–55) vol. 23, col. 347 ff.

2 Satterlee, Craig, Ambrose of Milan's Method of Mystagogical Preaching (Collegeville, MN, 2002), 33Google Scholar.

3 Holweck, Frederick, in The Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. ‘Eve of a Feast’, ed. Herbermann, Charles G., Pace, Edward A. and Shahan, Thomas J. (New York, 1907–14)Google Scholar.

4 Guillaume Durand, Rationale divinorum officiorum, ed. Joseph Dura (Naples, 1859), ch. 7 (de aliis jejuniis) section 8, p. 403. This treatise was written before 1286.

5 von Hefele, Karl Joseph, Conciliengeschichte 5 (Freiburg in Breisgau, 1886), 1007Google Scholar, cited by Holweck (see note 3).

6 Santa Maria Maggiore, the ‘Winter Church’ (ecclesia hiemalis), was the principal venue of the episcopal liturgy from the third Sunday of October (the date of the dedication festivals) until Holy Saturday; Santa Tecla, the ‘Summer Church’ (ecclesia aestiva) was the principal venue for the other half of the year. But whatever the earlier customs, by the twelfth century the daily liturgy was more or less duplicated in the out-of-season cathedral. In this article, when reference is made to ‘the cathedral’ it is the cathedral of the season that is meant.

7 Beroldus: sive, Ecclesiae Ambrosianae Mediolanensis kalendarium et ordines saec. xii, ed. Marco Magistretti (Milan, 1894). Beroldus held the rank of cicendelarius in the episcopal entourage. Cicendelarii, whose duties included the carrying of lights and candelabra, were a subgroup of the custodes.

8 See Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, ed. Fernand Cabrol and Henri Leclecq (Paris, 1907–53), 11/1: 1083; and Magistretti, Beroldus, Praefatio, xi.

9 Milan, Biblioteca capitolare, D 2.28. Magistretti assigns the letter M to this manuscript in his edition of the Manuale.

10 St Ambrose mentions sermons as well. See Taft, Robert, The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West, 2nd edn (Collegeville, MN, 1993), 174–6Google Scholar.

11 Not before Ascension, as in Gregorian regions. The terms Major and Minor Rogation, used for analogous observances in Gaul, are not used in Ambrosian books. Litany (litania, letania, from λῐτή, ‘supplication’) refers to penitential processions to various stations, but the word is used also for the many-times-repeated supplications (to God, to Christ and to a long list of saints) that were chanted. In this paper, Litany refers to the processions; litany (without a capital letter) refers to the brief supplications that were probably the original element of the public demonstrations of penitence.

12vadunt ad [locum] festum ordinarii et lectores et custodes, et schola s. Ambrosii et mares et foeminae’. Beroldus, 63–4. The Schola Sancti Ambrosii was a lay group of men and women closely associated with the cathedral. They were probably joined by other members of the laity, as in other public processions.

13 Lectori and notarii were responsible for liturgical readings; the duties of the lower ranking custodes included carrying crosses, candelabra, books, etc.

14si archiepiscopus adfuerit’. Beroldus, 57.

15 In the East, whose vigils seem to have been the model for those introduced by Ambrose, women were forbidden to take part. See Palladius, Dialogue on the Life of John Chrysostom 5, cited in Taft, Liturgy of the Hours, 173.

16 Proper, when it has this special meaning, will always be in italics.

17 There is some uncertainty. The Feast of the Annunciation was entered twice in the Milanese calendar: on the Sixth Sunday of the Ambrosian Advent and also on 25 March. The same can be said of the festival of St James the Apostle on 29 December and again on 25 July. If there really were two celebrations in each case, were there Vigils on both occasions?

18 The Catholic Encyclopedia (1907–14), s.v. ‘Ambrosian Liturgy and Rite’.

19 Including that of the present author (because of the inordinate detail that would be necessary to consider all their complications and ambiguities) in the chapter, ‘Regional Liturgies: Spanish, Beneventan, Gallican, Milanese’, in The Cambridge History of Medieval Music, ed. Mark Everist and Thomas Forrest Kelly, 2 vols. (Cambridge, 2018), 1: 123–46.

20 The ordinarii are those on the duty-roster (ordo) for the week. The list included not only multiple priests, deacons, subdeacons, lectors, notaries (notarii) and four ‘masters of the boy scholars’ (magistri puerorum), but also numerous lower-ranking acolytes.

21 Brackets are employed in the citations to identify editorial clarifications and emendations; in the translations, parentheses draw attention the corresponding Latin word or phrase.

22 It is not clear why these three psallendae were chosen to begin the procession to Vigils. They may once have been the first chants of each day, but in the Manuale (as we know it) they are not.

23 Beroldus, 57

24 The principal venue of Vigils was not always a church dedicated to the saint of the festival. They might be held in another location important to the cult; for example, a church that preserved his or her relics.

25 All Ambrosian offices begin with this versicle and a hymn.

26 This assignment of the Te deum at Vigils explains why the hymn is entered in the Ambrosian Psalter before the first of the psalms.

27 Beroldus, 57.

28 Lessons at Vigils are mentioned more than once by St Ambrose. See Taft, Liturgy of the Hours, 175.

29 Beroldus, 57–8. The rubric has suffered some obvious damage in transmission. In the citation, the words at issue are represented by signs of ellipsis.

30 Their only assignment in the Manuale or the antiphoners was at Matins on Fridays after Easter Week and until Pentecost.

31 Terminarii are a subgroup of the lectors. The term implies boundaries (termini), but it is not clear what their particular duties were.

32 Clavicularii, keepers of the keys, are another subgroup of the custodes.

33 Beroldus, 58.

34 Psallenda is the usual Ambrosian term for processional antiphon.

35 The feast of St Protasius, archbishop of Milan, was celebrated on 19 June. The procession after Vigils of the feast of Protasius and Gervasius, the martyrs, ended at the church of St Ambrose (see below).

36 Churches are usually identified by with the name of their patron; for example, Sanctus Andreas, Sancta Tecla and Sanctus Ambrosius. Some saints had more than one patronal church in Milan, and the names given in the Manuale do not always specify which was meant.

37 Beroldus, 58.

38 Vigilia is the usual Latin word for the English eve when there is no question of an office of Vigils; for example, ‘in vigilia pentecostes’. Manuale, 269.

39 That is, after the fast was broken. This detail may be part of the exception but it seems likely that Vespers sung in the church where Vigils were held would always be after the breaking of the fast (see below). References in the ordinal suggest that these meals were elaborate and formal. See Beroldus, 18, 21, 22, 29 and passim.

40 The liturgy of a feast displaced that of an ordinary Sunday.

41 Beroldus, 58.

42 Beroldus, 85; Manuale, 11, in particular the note to line 26; and Manuale, 295, note to line 26 (sic). The last two references to the Manuale actually cite the Beroldo novo.

43 Beroldus, 63.

44 See Beroldus, 81, 97, 125, 128.

45 Note that the archbishop is mentioned as the celebrant at Vigils in the festival church.

46 Responsories and antiphons in baptisterio are included in the Commune feriarum.

47 Manuale, 361, 367.

48 Cues to the chants of Vespers of the minor dedication are entered only once, for the Vigils.

49 At the festival Mass the following morning there were different chants, and the alleluia was sung.

50 Psallenda is the usual Ambrosian name for such chants.

51 In this article, prayers are not usually mentioned.

52 Beroldus, 57.

53 ‘canendo Domine probasti [Psalm 138] et eundo’. Manuale, 11, note to line 26.

54 ‘sequitur litania: Domine miserere, Christe libera nos [etc.]’. Manuale, 14.

55 ‘ad vigilias ad sanctum Ambrosium hymnus Miraculum laudabile [canite]’. Manuale, 12 (Magistretti's note to line 15).

56 Milan, Bibl. dell'Università del Sacre Cuore, UC MS 5, a processionale letaniarum copied in 1492 (see fol. 65v). A station at a Church of the Holy Innocents (see fol. 12v) is not mentioned in the Manuale.

57 ‘Psallentium usque ad S. Vitalem, et hic finitur Vesperum.’ Manuale, 295, note to line 26. It might seem that only the final prayer remained to be said.

58 Later, saints’ chants not assigned in the Manuale were added. For example, in the late processionale mentioned in note 56, for Day 1, Confessor sancte sacerdos, was sung as the procession entered the church of San Simpliciano (fol. 5v), the first station of the day, and Gaudete iusti in domine as it exited (fol. 6v), both psallendae from the Commune sanctorum.

59 Manuale, 253, note to line 22.

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