To save content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about saving content to .
To save content items to your Kindle, first ensure firstname.lastname@example.org
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about saving to your Kindle.
Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
The conference that engendered this chapter, ‘Authorship and Authority: Barking Abbey and its Texts’, seemed a rather unlikely place for a paper on medieval liturgy. The overwhelming majority of liturgical texts and musical settings are anonymous. As such, they are often distinguished from such other monastic genres as saint's lives, confessions, theological treatises and other works. Indeed the basic myth about medieval chant – that it was dictated to Pope Gregory by the Holy Spirit – worked against naming authors and composers. This repertoire gained much of its authority because of the assumption that it was divinely inspired and handed down orally from generation to generation. Even on the rare occasions when we do know the names of chant composers, credit for the work is given to God. Hildegard of Bingen, author and composer of more than seventy-five chants, described herself as a ‘feather on the breath of God’. So it is not surprising that we do not know the names of any nun from Barking Abbey who composed texts and/or music for the liturgy.
Claiming such authorship and authority is a pastime fraught with dangers for the contemporary scholar. The extant manuscripts provide only a very fragmentary view of the late-medieval liturgy. Some chants may appear to be unique when in fact they were sung at several other monasteries from which manuscripts do not survive.
It is requested that those who are to be received as nuns will be taught and instructed in reading and singing before they are admitted.
(From a nun's comment at the visitation to Burnham Priory, Diocese of Lincoln, 1520)
SOURCES from medieval England make it abundantly clear that the primary requisite skills for each nun are the ability to read and to sing. Nuns themselves, as evidenced in the above citation from visitation records, emphasized that new nuns should be able to participate fully in monastic life and do their share of the convent's work – matters of deep concern for them. Yet the processes through which nuns mastered these skills are considerably less clear. Evidence from a variety of primary and secondary source materials shows that throughout the Middle Ages, despite the increasing availability of written materials, instruction in liturgical music for English nuns continued to flourish within a culture of oral transmission, memorization of vast quantities of chant, and the gradual absorption of each young woman into the nunnery.
Reading in the medieval period was much more an oral/aural experience than a visual one and relied on the individual's development of great stores of memorized material. At a minimum, a nun was able to recognize the letters of the alphabet and sound out basic syllables, and had learned to read the Psalter – learning also implied reading aloud and memorizing.
Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this to your organisation's collection.