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Commemorating the Virgin Mary at Barking Abbey: Cambridge, University Library, Dd.12.56

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 March 2023



This article examines the unusual commemorative Office of the Virgin from Barking Abbey in a fifteenth-century book of hours, Cambridge, University Library, Dd.12.56 (hereafter Dd.12.56). As already evident in the Barking Ordinal, the nuns of this Abbey venerated Mary, one of their patron saints, with a weekly full three-nocturn, twelve-lesson Matins service. Dd.12.56, however, has only recently been linked to Barking Abbey and drawing on new material in this manuscript in correlation with others from the Abbey, I argue that the Barking nuns compiled a unique series of readings and responsories to honour Mary. The progression through the three nocturns of Matins articulates a Marian theology that intersects with the nuns’ self-understanding and I demonstrate that they carefully crafted the lesser hours to highlight specific times of day and to complement Marian hymns sung at Barking. The accepted belief that books of hours were for personal devotion obscures the possibility that such books reflect communal liturgical practices, potentially serving multiple purposes within a monastic setting. Although Dd.12.56 dates from the fifteenth century, it may testify to a much older liturgical practice, which originated in the twelfth century when the three-nocturn format was still prevalent in Benedictine use and before it was largely replaced by a two-nocturn format in the thirteenth century. Benedictine tradition offered individual monastic houses the opportunity to craft this service. Dd.12.56 stands as a new and important testimony to the rich and imaginative ways in which the Barking community created, collated and curated materials that they steeped in their minds and hearts.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2023. Published by Cambridge University Press

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I thank the many people who assisted with this article including Jesse Mann, Roger Bagnall, Katie Bugyis, Rebecca Maloy, Kate Steiner and Margot Fassler.


1 See Brown, Jennifer N. and Bussell, Donna Alfano, Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture: Authorship and Authority in a Female Community (York, 2012)Google Scholar.

2 Binski, Paul, Zutshi, Patrick and Panayotova, Stella, Western Illuminated Manuscripts: A Catalogue of the Collection in Cambridge University Library (Cambridge, 2011), 228–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 On chants for these local saints, see Anne Bagnall Yardley, ‘Chants for the Holy Trinity of Barking Abbey: Ethelburg, Hildelith, and Wulfhild’, in Female-Voice Song and Women's Musical Agency in the Middle Ages, ed. Lisa Colton and Anna Kathryn Grau, Brill's Companions to the Musical Culture of Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Leiden, 2022), 177–202.

4 For an edition of the ordinal, see J.B.L. Tolhurst, ed., The Ordinale and Customary of the Benedictine Nuns of Barking Abbey, Henry Bradshaw Society, 2 vols. (London, 1927). Sally Roper's monograph on the English Benedictine weekly and daily offices in honour of Mary traces the development of the service, see Sally Elizabeth Roper, Medieval English Benedictine Liturgy: Studies in the Formation, Structure, and Content of the Monastic Votive Office, c. 950–1450 (New York, 1993), esp. 93.

5 Cambridge, Trinity College, O.3.54. The hymnal also dates from the fifteenth century. It can be viewed at (accessed 29 January 2022).

6 Roper, Benedictine Liturgy, 104–5.

7 Ibid., 102.

8 A Catalogue of the Manuscripts Preserved in the Library of the University of Cambridge edited for the Syndics of the University Press, vol. I (Cambridge, 1856), 498.

9 Nigel J. Morgan, ed., English Monastic Litanies of the Saints after 1100, 3 vols. (London, 2012), 1: 11–12.

10 The hands change throughout the manuscript. I note changes at fols. 25v, 60v, 67r, 76v, 79v, 82v, 83r, 91r, 101r, 104v, 107v, 113r, 121r, 145r, 167r, 183 and 185r. These are not all different individual hands but there are clearly distinct ones among them, including the opening hand, and the hands starting on fols. 67r, 121r, 167r and 185r. The book was clearly not made up of separate stand-alone libelli that were subsequently joined together, unlike other codices from Barking Abbey. See Katie Anne-Marie Bugyis, ‘The Manuscript Remains of the Abbess-Saints of Barking Abbey’, Manuscripta, 65 (2022), 1–53, for a discussion of two manuscripts that include vitae for St Ethelburg.

11 The final section of the manuscript (quires 24 and 25, fols. 185r–199r) appears to be a distinctly later addition to the manuscript although is still in a Gothic bookhand. The possibility that this manuscript was copied by a group of nuns merits further investigation. On Benedictine women as scribes in earlier centuries, see Katie Ann-Marie Bugyis, The Care of Nuns: The Ministries of Benedictine Women in England during the Central Middle Ages (Oxford, 2019), 68–77. On the production of manuscripts by multiple scribes, see Jaakko Tahkokallio, ‘Counting Scribes: Quantifying the Secularization of Medieval Book Production’, Book History, 22 (2019), 1–42. Tahkokallio argues that, in aggregate, monastic libraries are likely to have a higher percentage of volumes with multiple scribes than secular collections.

12 For a discussion of fols. 167r–184v and especially the chants in honour of Ethelburg, Hildelith and Wulfhild, see Yardley, ‘Chants for the Holy Trinity’.

13 On the development of the contents of English books of hours, see Eamon Duffy, Marking the Hours: English People and their Prayers 1240–1570 (New Haven, 2006), 3–22, esp. 4–7.

14 The discussion of the distribution of books is found in the ordinal, see Tolhurst, Ordinale, 67–70. On this practice, see Anne Bagnall Yardley, Performing Piety: Musical Culture in Medieval English Nunneries (New York, 2006), 74–5.

15 Roper, Benedictine Liturgy, 102.

16 On the liturgy as a place of composition and creativity, see Anne Bagnall Yardley, ‘Liturgy as the Site of Creative Engagement: Contributions of the Nuns of Barking’, in Barking Abbey and Medieval Literary Culture: Authorship and Authority in a Female Community, ed. Jennifer N. Brown and Donna Alfano Bussell (York, 2012), 267–82.

17 Jean Leclercq, ‘Otium monasticum as a Context for Artistic Creativity’, in Monasticism and the Arts, ed. T.G. Verdun (Syracuse, 1984), 63–80, at 73. Leclercq is speaking here specifically of manuscript production but elsewhere discusses musical composition as one of the arts.

18 The responsory after Lesson 12 [R21] uses a well-known antiphon, Sancta maria succurre miseris, for the first part of the respond but then adds to it. This use of this responsory at Barking is discussed later.

19 The daily office found in Dd.12.56 corresponds closely with the same office found in a psalter from Wherwell Abbey, another Benedictine house (Cambridge, St Johns College, C. 18 (68), fols. 235r–238r). I am indebted to Katie Bugyis for sharing her diplomatic transcription of these folios with me. On the relationship of this manuscript to the knights templar, see Katie Ann-Marie Bugyis, ‘Made for a Templar, Fit for an Abbess: The Psalter, Cambridge, St John's College, MS C.18 (68)’, Speculum, 95 (2020), 1010–50.

20 Roper, Benedictine Liturgy, 110.

21 The ordinal indicates that when the office could not be celebrated on Saturdays it was moved to an earlier day of the week, although that day is not specified. See, for example, Tolhurst, Ordinale, 245: ‘Si festum eorum super sabbatum acciderit, teneatur de illis modo quo predictum est et beata maria superius in ebdomada suum habeat seruicium.’ Similar instructions are found in various places throughout the ordinal.

22 Tolhurst, Ordinale, 175: ‘et dicantur ibi matutine sancte marie cum suffragiis, adinuicem submissa uoce’.

23 An early mention of the Office of the Virgin from St Albans sources suggests that around 1200 the monks sang Matins by heart without candles. Ibid., 97–8.

24 For a detailed discussion of the Hours of the Virgin, see Rachel Fulton Brown, Mary and the Art of Prayer: The Hours of the Virgin in Medieval Christian Life and Thought (New York, 2018). The Use of Rome, with a different set of readings, is the basis of Fulton's discussion of the daily Hours of the Virgin (see 539, n. 4).

25 Dd.12.56, fol. 12r. CANTUS 002217: ‘Dignare me laudare te virgo sacrata da mihi virtutem contra hostes tuos.’

26 John Henry Blunt, ed., The Myroure of Our Ladye, Early English Text Society (Millwood, NY; repr., 1973), 80. The Brigittine liturgy focused completely on Mary with a different liturgy for each day of the week but very little change for feast days.

27 See Appendix, where lessons are numbered and each responsory is assigned an identificatory number, e.g. [R1].

28 The Easter responsories (after the fourth, eighth and twelfth lessons) are given as incipits only. They are listed in the Appendix but not otherwise discussed here.

29 Tolhurst, Ordinale, 169.

30 Jaroslav Pelikan, Mary through the Centuries: Her Place in the History of Culture (New Haven, CT, 1996), 39–52.

31 Blunt, Myroure of Our Ladye, 77–8.

32 A contemporary example of this is the abcedarian Marian litany found in Winchester College 48, a fifteenth-century book of hours belonging to a priest. See Jesse D. Mann and Anne Bagnall Yardley, ‘The Prayer Life of a Fifteenth-Century English Priest: Winchester College MS 48’, Sacris Erudiri, 58 (2019), 231–4 and plate II.

33 On why Mary is celebrated on Saturdays, see Louis Gougaud, Dévotions et practiques ascétique du moyen age (Paris, 1925), 65–73, esp. the discussion of sabbath rest on 68–9.

34 Dd.12.56, fol. 20v. CANTUS 004936: ‘Sicut letancium omnium nostrum habitacio est in te sancta dei genitrix.’ In the CANTUS database, this chant is associated with the Feast of the Purification, but it was not sung on that feast at Barking.

35 See Nicole R. Rice, ‘“Temples to Christ's Indwelling”: Forms of Chastity in a Barking Abbey Manuscript’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, 19 (2010), 115–32, on a fifteenth-century devotional manuscript that bears the names of two nuns of Barking. Rice discusses ways in which virgins, widows and chaste wives are all gathered under the umbrella of chastity (see esp. 124).

36 On the use of the term ancilla at Barking, see ibid., 121–2. Rice notes a distinction in the service of consecration between puella for virgins and ancilla for widows. Both virgins and widows sang the antiphon Ancilla christi sum after Veni creator spiritus. Tolhurst, Ordinale, 354.

37 Because the ordinal does not specifically list the Matins responsories for Christmas, it is not possible to tell exactly how these chants were used at Barking. The ordinal merely refers to the antiphonary. The chants in question are CANTUS 007569, 006167, 006171m and 007756. The gospel passage is listed as ‘Missus est cum exposicione Exordium’. It seems likely that this is a reference to Bede's homily 48 based on Luke I and beginning ‘Exordium nostrae redemptionis’. See Bede Venerabilis, The Complete Works of the Venerable Bede, In the Original Latin, 8 vols. (London, 1843), 5: 360.

38 NRSV, Luke 11:27–8.

39 On the lessons in BnF lat. 10433, and specifically the trope of anti-Semitism in these lessons, see Kati Ihnat, Mother of Mercy, Bane of the Jews: Devotion to the Virgin Mary in Anglo-Norman England (Princeton, 2016), 51–4.

40 Although there were no Jewish communities in England after the expulsion of 1290, the trope of the Jew as heretic continued. Among the remaining items from Barking's library is a manuscript (BL add. 10596) that contains Wycliffite translations of the book of Tobit and the book of Susanna indicating that Barking was not exempt from the Lollard influence. See John Bell, What Nuns Read: Books and Libraries in Medieval English Nunneries (Kalamazoo, MI, 1995), 109. On depictions of Jews in medieval England, see Anthony Bale, The Jew in the Medieval Book: English Antisemitisms, 1350–1500 (Cambridge, 2006), esp. the discussion of Benedictine book culture at 17–19.

41 Tolhurst, Ordinale, 279.

42 CANTUS 004703.

43 The service for daily Matins follows immediately after the commemorative service in Dd.12.56. The nuns are reminded daily of Mary's role as reparatrix, mater and intercessor. As noted earlier, it seems likely that this service also comes from the twelfth century.

44 In the hymnal, these hymns appear on fols. 33v–35r between hymns for the Feast of St Lawrence (10 August) and the Feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist (29 August). The exception to this practice is the Feast of the Purification, which uses Reginam celi, Corde natus, Psallat altitudo and Tu senes for the lesser hours. The texts in the hymnal agree closely with those in Dd.12.56 with only a few minor spelling variants.

45 The basic hymn text appears as a verse of the hymn Quem terra pontus in the eleventh-century manuscript BL Harley 2961 (fol. 231v). (accessed 11 May 2021). It does not, however appear as a verse in Quem terra in the Barking sources. The use of ‘fulget dies ista celebris’ as a refrain is evident in Castitatis lilium effloruit where it appears at the end of each verse of a Benedicamus Domino chant. See Guido Maria Dreves, Cantiones et muteti. Lieder und motetten des mittelalters, Analecta hymnica Medii Aevi 20–21, 45b (Leipzig, 1895), 223. On the use of refrains in the versus, see Richard Crocker, A History of Musical Style (New York, 1966), 48–51. On ‘Fulget dies’, see Mary Channen Caldwell, ‘Troping Time: Refrain Interpolation in Sacred Latin Song, ca. 1140–1853’, Journal of the American Musicological Society, 74 (2021), 91–156, esp. 117–20.

47 Caldwell, ‘Troping Time’, 116. Although Caldwell surveys use of the refrain prior to 1500, her remarks resonate with the usage at Barking. While refrains can be used as mnemonic devices, it seems more likely that the foregrounding of festivity is the more important function in this context.

48 Caldwell, ‘Troping Time’, 119. In private correspondence, Dr Caldwell placed the likely date for this refrain to appear in a hymn in England around 1230 (email correspondence, 28 January 2022).

49 The only place, other than Barking sources, in which I have located this text is in a fifteenth/sixteenth-century volume. See Guido Maria Dreves, Hymni Inediti Liturgische Hymnen des Mittelalters, Analecta Hymnica Medii Aevi 23 (Leipzig, 1896), 57, no. 83.

50 This verse resonates with Psalm 72:6: ‘descendet sicut pluvia in vellus et sicut stillicidia stillantia super terram’.

51 Dd.12.56, fol. 62v (also, Cambridge, Trinity College 1226, fol. 34v): ‘The virgin becomes a mother, but the maternal breasts guard the reputation of chastity with maidenly modesty.’

52 Dd.12.56, fol. 68v (also, Cambridge, Trinity College 1226, fol. 35r): ‘Vergente solis radio mentis vigor non tepeat set genitricis domini in laudi bus efferveat. Hanc frequentemus studiis et precum oraminibus ut nos secum optineat gaudere in celestibus.’

53 Unlike the hymns sung for almost all the Marian feasts, this set of antiphons is referenced in only one other place in the ordinal. They are specifically designated for the Feast of the Oblation when it is celebrated on Saturday, see Tolhurst, Ordinale, 340. Barking seems to have adopted the commemorative Office of the Virgin as the basis for its celebration of the Feast of the Oblation.

54 The manuscript is available at The antiphons in question appear on fol. 1r. The first antiphon, Aue prima, is accompanied by letter notation while the other three have digraphic notation. On this, see Browne, Alma Colk, ‘The a-p System of Letter Notation’, Musica Disciplina, 35 (1981), 554Google Scholar. The manuscript is from the Abbey of Saint-Wandrille in Rouen. See also Santosuosso, Alma Colk, Letter Notations in the Middle Ages (Ottawa, Canada, 1989)Google Scholar. Santosuosso identifies these works as unica and points out that the latter three move in ascending modal order.

55 Dd.12.56, fols. 53v and fol. 144r. The last word is rendered ‘haram’ rather than ‘horam’ on fol. 53v. ‘Illuminata’ appears as ‘illum nata’ on fol. 144r. ‘Hail Prime, illuminated by the light of justice, to you we offer our first offerings of praise at the first hour of your holy Saturday (sabbath)’.

56 Both places in Dd.12.56 have invitans whereas BnF lat. 2136 has invitat.

57 Dd.12.56, fols. 60v and 144r–v. ‘Hail bride of the Trinitarian God, adorning the marriage with virginity. Let this hymn of the hour of Terce under the order of the Trinity invite to the Saturday (sabbath) feast the intimate advocate that this hour was sent to the apostles once in Jerusalem.’

59 Dd.12.56, fols. 67v and 144v. ‘Hail most worthy Saturday (sabbath) rest that is more fervent in the faith of the bridegroom than in the center of the sun, you seek the one you love at noon, and you find him, having rejected the flock of companions, wandering alone among the lilies of the valley.’

60 Salutat, and also laudat, on fol. 72r.

61 Dd.12.56, fols. 72r and 144v. ‘Hail bright star of God, unknowing you slip towards the setting [of the sun]. Let each of the hours of Saturday (the sabbath) greet you with special praises until, after none, the clock hand lowers with the shadow of the day.’

62 See, for example, Baroffio, Bonifacio Giacomo, ‘Testo e musica nei libri d'ore’, Rivista italiana di musicologia, 46 (2011), 1972Google Scholar. Baroffio argues specifically that Italian books of hours contribute to the knowledge of musical repertoires.

63 Roper, Benedictine Liturgy, 91–2. In several instances the Barking Ordinal makes clear that the commemorative office is moved earlier in the week if a major feast day falls on Saturday. See, for example, the instructions for the Feast of Sts John and Paul (24 June). Tolhurst, Ordinale, 245.

64 For a detailed discussion of the texts for Ethelburg and for the texts themselves, see Yardley, ‘Chants for the Holy Trinity’.

65 I follow the capitalisation in the manuscript source, expand abbreviations and include punctuation where it exists in the manuscript. The punctuation marks used are a punctus with a tail (a full stop in transcription) and a vertical stroke with dots on either side (a semicolon), which I take to be a version of the punctus elevatus (see Figure 1). For the punctus, see especially line 8 after ecclesia and for the punctus elevatus, line 10 after ‘auxilio’.

66 The first three lessons are excerpted from a set of three that appeared together as early as the Worcester Portiforium in the eleventh century (Roper, Benedictine Liturgy, 243).

67 Dd.12.56 has, apparently mistakenly, ‘ceanos’.

68 The lessons from which Lesson 4 is extracted can be found in J.N. Dalton, Ordinale Exon. (Exeter Chapter MS. 3502 Collated with Parker MS. 93), Henry Bradshaw Society (London, 1909, 1909, 1926), 512. There they are credited as ‘de sermone Maximi’. I have not located this sermon elsewhere. Lesson 5 comes from the third lesson in this set. Versions of these same lessons are found in the St Albans Breviary as well as the Winchombe Breviary, both twelfth-century Benedictine manuscripts (Roper, Benedictine Liturgy, 243, 245).

69 CANTUS 007569 and 007569zd.

70 This lesson and Lesson 7 appear to be part of the nine lessons in the liturgy at Sitten/Sion in Valais, Switzerland, appearing as lessons four, five and six in the fourteenth-century manuscript Sitten, Kapitelsarchiv MS. 11. See Leisibach, Josef, Die liturgischen Handschriften des Kapitelsarchivs in Sitten, Iter Helveticum (Fribourg, 1979), 103Google Scholar. The first part of the lesson also appears in the Brevarium Nidrosiense, ed. Ingrid Sperber (Oslo, 2019), 817, available at (accessed 13 March 2021). There is no clear relationship between these sources and the Barking use of the passages.

71 CANTUS 006167.

72 The first half of this lesson is found in a prayer from an eleventh-century French manuscript. Henri Barré postulates that the prayer dates from before that time and has some Anglo-Saxon influence, see Barré, Henri, Prières anciennes de l'occident à la mère du sauveur: Des origines à saint Anselme (Paris, 1963), 200Google Scholar.

73 CANTUS 006171 and 006171a.

74 Brevarium Nidrosiense has the better reading ‘evicta’.

75 I have located this text only in the Nidros Breviary, where it begins with the phrase O sacratissma virgo Maria, see Brevarium Nidrosiense, 818. There are several other additional differences in the text.

76 This responsory seems to be a truncated version of CANTUS 006332. The full version appears later in matins as the second responsory after Lesson 11.

77 CANTUS 007756 and 007756a.

78 These four lessons come from a homily by the Venerable Bede on the scriptural passage in Luke. For Bede's Homily, see,%20Homiliae,%203,%20%20%2058&level=4&domain=&lang=0&id=&hilite_id=&links=&inframe=1 (accessed 16 March 2021).

79 CANTUS 006314 and 006314a.

80 CANTUS 006333 and 006333zb. The CANTUS text gives heriles.

81 Should probably read ‘imperium’.

82 Should read ‘gaudia’.

83 CANTUS 006322 and 001574.

84 This looks like ‘perturit’ (‘parturit’) in the manuscript. The text of Bede's sermon has ‘percutit’.

85 CANTUS 004703.