The liturgical ordines for the consecration of abbesses and abbots offer important repositories of evidence for how the medieval Western church sought to ritually articulate and impress the normative ideals for this office upon those who were elected to it. Though monastic rules and, later, customaries detailed many of the essential qualities and daily roles and responsibilities that an abbess or abbot was to embody, the consecration rite sacralized a vowed religious's transition from community member to leader. All the prayers recited, insignia bestowed, chants sung, and bodily gestures performed were to work in concert to inspire, even fashion, the newly elect into a leader worthy of shepherding the flock entrusted to her or his care.
The consecration of an abbess or abbot was customarily an episcopal rite, performed by a bishop either in his cathedral or at a monastery's church or oratory.Footnote 1 Over the course of the Middle Ages, the rite underwent considerable transformation, evolving from a simple prayer of blessing to a complex ordo composed of multiple prayers, ritual actions, and chants. In many respects, this transformation coincided with the development of the liturgical books that primarily contained the noneucharistic rites performed by a bishop or pontiff.Footnote 2 Prayers of consecration and blessing once found in separate libelli and rotuli, or incorporated into sacramentaries, were relocated to and further elaborated in the books produced for episcopal use, though monastic use cannot be ruled out in some instances.Footnote 3
The principal sources for many of the texts and symbols incorporated into the consecration rite for abbesses and abbots were the words of scripture and the Benedictine Rule, but sometimes prayers and chants from other liturgical rites and feasts were creatively repurposed. In the early stages of the development of the rite, a favored site for textual borrowings was the prayers for the ordination of a bishop, likely because of the many correspondences between the spiritual and temporal authorities of episcopal and monastic leaders. But many of these borrowings were excised from later versions of certain prayers, thus delineating more clearly the authorities deemed to befit bishops, abbots, and abbesses.
Throughout much of the Western church, the consecration rites for abbesses and abbots were the same until the introduction of the ordines found in episcopal books affiliated with the tradition commonly identified by scholars as the Pontifical Romano-Germanique (PRG) in the late tenth or early eleventh century and their widespread transmission during the eleventh and twelfth centuries.Footnote 4 Feminine grammatical endings were simply interlineated above or marginally supplied beside references to the consecrand in prayers and rubrics. But a complete bifurcation of the rite along gender lines occurred when episcopal books in the PRG tradition promulgated distinct ordines for the consecrations of abbesses and abbots. The subsequent popularity of these ordines ensured that this division in the rite proliferated, at least until the beginning of the thirteenth century.
My primary goal in what follows will be to trace the development of the consecration rite for abbesses and abbots from unity to separation. Episcopal books produced in or transmitted to England during the central Middle Ages, from roughly 900 to 1200, will limit this study's scope, though select earlier Frankish sacramentaries will be examined first for the purposes of contextualization. Codicological and textual analyses of extant English episcopal books from this period reveal that there were three stages in the development of the rite. I will detail each stage in turn. My choice of a single geographical location was motivated by the increased awareness among scholars that medieval liturgical practices, in all their particularities and, sometimes, peculiarities, are comprehended most fully on a local level, especially during the time period under consideration here.Footnote 5 As I will show, the forms of the consecration rite for abbesses and abbots in use before the end of the eleventh century differed markedly from one place to another.
The ordo for the consecration of abbesses and abbots has been the subject of more general studies, sometimes inclusive of both Eastern and Western practices, by liturgical and monastic historians, notably Jules Baudot, Pierre Salmon, Robert Somerville, Armand Vielleux, Urbanus Bomm, and Adrien Nocent.Footnote 6 More recently, the consecration rite for abbesses has attracted the attention of scholars interested in tracking the history of women's ordination through the medieval period, such as Gary Macy and Mary Schaefer.Footnote 7 Beyond Schaefer's close textual analysis of the ordines for a woman deacon, monastic abbess, and canonical abbess from the PRG tradition, the development of the consecration rite for abbesses has yet to be studied intensively within a fixed geographical locale and chronological period or comparatively with the rite for abbots. This is the aim of my study. The fundamental questions that I seek to answer are: How did the consecration rite for abbots and abbesses change over time? What historical circumstances prompted these changes? What normative ideals for the abbatial office did the rite articulate? How did the rite's prayers, insignia, chants, and ritual actions construct and impress the temporal and spiritual authorities of abbesses and abbots? How were these authorities constructed and impressed differently when the rite divided along gender lines? And what effect did the new ordo have on the ways in which abbesses of Benedictine monasteries in central medieval England materially fashioned and displayed their own authorities through objects such as conventual and personal seals, monumental sculptures, and burial goods?
The earliest evidence for the consecration rite for an abbess or abbot in the Western church survives in ninth-century manuscripts of the Gregorian Sacramentary.Footnote 8 It consists of only one prayer, “Concede quesumus omnipotens deus,” and it is succinct in its request for the bestowal of God's gift of grace on the recently elected abbess or abbot.Footnote 9 Given the widespread influence that the Gregorian Sacramentary came to exert over Western liturgical rites, this prayer would have an enduring afterlife, often appearing with only slight variation as the opening prayer in the collections of prayers that would constitute the consecration rite in later sacramentaries and episcopal books produced across the Continent and in England.
In eighth- and ninth-century Frankish sacramentaries, the consecration rite “tended to vary and become more complex,” as Adrien Nocent has observed.Footnote 10 The prayers found in the late eighth-century Gellone Sacramentary and the early ninth-century Phillipps Sacramentary illustrate well some of the early additions made to the rite.Footnote 11 The collections of prayers in both sacramentaries are headed by two different rubrics. The first, “oratio ad abbatem faciendum,” precedes the Gregorian prayer mentioned above,Footnote 12 and the second, “oratio quando abbas vel abbatissa ordinatur in monasterio,” precedes three prayers that appear to be alternate forms of blessing, as the second and third prayers are respectively headed by the rubrics, “item alia benedictio” and “item alia.” The first prayer, “Cunctorum institutor deus qui per moysen” could be applied to either an abbot or an abbess, as the appropriate grammatical forms were supplied for both. It opened by recalling the Old Testament patriarch Moses's role in “governing the churches” that God had instituted. God was then asked to help the newly elect shepherd the flock entrusted to his/her care, so that at the end of his/her service, he/she might merit to hear the words spoken by the lord to the two enterprising servants in the parable of the talents: “Well done, good and faithful servant, since you have been faithful over a few things, you will be established over greater things. Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matt 25:21, 23; Luke 19:17).Footnote 13 The prayer's opening association between Moses's and an abbot's/abbess's governance would have recalled a similar comparison made near the beginning of one of the consecration prayers used for the ordination of a bishop found in the Gregorian, Gellone, and Phillipps Sacramentaries.Footnote 14 This textual borrowing suggests a close kinship between the temporal and spiritual authorities envisioned for a bishop and an abbot/abbess. In the Gellone and Phillips Sacramentaries, this kinship would have been strengthened further in the consecration rite's third and final prayer through an allusion to the abbess's cathedra. As we will see, in later episcopal books, the prayers used for the bestowal of the pastoral staff and ring on an abbot/abbess also would have encouraged the affiliation of abbatial and episcopal authorities given their extensive borrowings from the prayers recited during the bestowal of the same insignia at a bishop's ordination. These ritual correspondences likely would not have been lost on those present at an abbot's/abbess's consecration, least of all on the presiding bishop, for he was to invest the elect with an authority made very much in his own image.
The second prayer, “Omnipotens sempiterne deus, affluentem illum spiritum,” also contains feminine and masculine grammatical forms for its recipient, and, like the preceding prayer, the telos of its supplication was that the newly elect prove himself/herself worthy of everlasting rewards. To this end, the bishop asked on the community's behalf that, with the pouring out of God's “overflowing spirit,” the abbot/abbess be endowed with the following virtues: “perseverance in good work, constancy in adversity, tolerance in tribulations, desire in fasts, mercy in impieties, leadership in humilities, hatred in pride, love in faith, vigilance in teaching, continence in chastity, abstinence in luxuries, moderation in vagaries, [and] teaching in morals.” For if he/she embodied these virtues, he/she would surely persevere in his/her ministry, “just as the Levite, holy Stephen, elected by the apostles, merited to endure.”Footnote 15 The prayer's invocation of Stephen as a model for the abbatial office, like the previous prayer's appeal to Moses, is striking in its equal applicability across gender lines: both prayers called abbots and abbesses to lead their communities, by word and deed, in the exact same way, and, with the gracious assistance of the Spirit, they would be able to fulfill their ministries to the same fruitful effect. Also important to note is the prayer's reference to the elect's institution “per manus nostre impositionem.” This reference suggests that the prayer was to be read by the bishop while he was laying hands on the consecrand. If this was the case, then the ritual action of the consecration of an abbot/abbess would have closely mirrored that of the ordination of a deacon, priest, or bishop: all received their orders by virtue of the bishop's laying on of hands.Footnote 16
In “Domine deus omnipotens, qui sororem moysi mariam,” the third and final prayer, the consecrand was scripted exclusively with feminine grammatical forms; thus, only Miriam, the sister of Moses, would serve as a type of the abbatial office for women religious. The prayer is resonant with evocative descriptions of communities of praise: “Miriam, coming through with the other women among the waves of the sea, rejoicing with tympana and choirs” after the Israelites’ miraculous escape from the Egyptians and the “angels, singing new songs” in eternal glory. These communities exemplified the harmonious concord, the “monastic norm,” that the abbess was to uphold and inspire her sisters to achieve. Significantly, and unlike the previous two prayers, this one also includes a potent metonymy of female abbatial authority: the “maternal chair” in which the abbess was to be established “today.”Footnote 17 This reference to the abbess's materna cathedra gives her authority a suggestively episcopal cast as it clearly borrows from one of the two possible consecratory prayers for the ordination of a bishop found in the Gellone and Phillipps Sacramentaries: “Lord, bestow on them [the bishops] the episcopal chair for ruling your church and your entire people.”Footnote 18 Arguably, the feminization of the abbess's cathedra would have asserted a significant distinction between her authority and a bishop's, yet in the other consecration prayers for an abbess, she was encouraged “to govern and rule the church” in much the same way that a bishop would have been: both were to pattern their governance on Moses's example. Though their seats of power oversaw different jurisdictions — one a diocese, the other a monastery — both were essentially pastors, charged with leading their respective flocks to salvation.
Like the Gregorian Sacramentary's “Concede quesumus omnipotens deus,” the three additional prayers found in the Gellone and Phillipps Sacramentaries were also incorporated into the various forms of the consecration rite that were composed and transmitted in sacramentaries and episcopal books produced across the Continent and in England from the tenth through the twelfth centuries. To comprehend better the incorporation of these prayers into episcopal books of English provenance, it is necessary to trace each stage in the development of the rite. As Table 1 shows, from the early tenth to the late twelfth century, the rite underwent three stages in development. In what follows, I will examine these stages in turn to show when and how the rite developed from a collection of prayers into a fully scripted ordo.
Stage-One English Episcopal Books
The forms of the consecration rite attested in English episcopal books that date from the beginning of the tenth century to the beginning of the eleventh century are quite simple in comparison with those that the rite would assume in episcopal books dating to the eleventh and twelfth centuries. As Table 2 shows, they consist of only two to four prayers, and the first prayer is always the Gregorian “Concede quesumus omnipotens deus.” In the Leofric Missal, only one other prayer follows: “Cunctorum institutor deus.”Footnote 19 In the so-called Benedictional of Archbishop Robert and the Egbert Pontifical, two different prayers succeed the first, and they do not appear in earlier sacramentaries.Footnote 20 The first of the two additional prayers is “Deus qui sub tue maiestatis arbitrio,”Footnote 21 and the second is “Super hunc famulum tuum domine quesumus.”Footnote 22 The opening relative clause to “Deus qui sub tue maiestatis arbitrio” borrows from a prayer with the same incipit that served as one of the collects to a mass said in time of war in the Old Gelasian Sacramentary.Footnote 23 This textual borrowing seems to have inspired the martial imagery that dominates the first half of the prayer and culminates in the figuration of the abbot (and the abbess in the Egbert Pontifical) as a military leader, “battling for [God's] majesty,” under the protection of “[God's] peace-giving shield.” Such imagery may have gestured to the temporal dimension of an abbot's rule, possibly even to his military obligations as a feudal lord, but it would have highlighted the instrumental role that an abbot was to perform in battling for the salvation of souls. The abbot had to exercise his power fruitfully for the profit of all, not only to his fellow brothers in the monastery, but also to those seeking his care and counsel from outside the community.
In both the Egbert Pontifical and the Benedictional of Archbishop Robert, “Super hunc famulum tuum” beseeches God to grant the newly elect the gifts of “true knowledge, firm hope, right counsel, and holy teaching,” but in the Benedictional a longer version of the prayer appears, which reminds the abbot of the pastoral burden with which the Benedictine Rule charged him: “He will return an account to our Lord Jesus Christ for all these [souls he rules].”Footnote 24 The Lanalet Pontifical contains only the first two consecration prayers found in the Benedictional of Archbishop Robert,Footnote 25 but all three appear in the Dunstan Pontifical,Footnote 26 along with an additional prayer, “Deus consecrare ut qui ubicumque totus es.”Footnote 27 This prayer more generally asks that God make his presence felt in the very prayers offered.
In all five of the Anglo-Saxon episcopal books discussed thus far, the consecration prayers were included under a simple rubric that only indicates what the prayers were to be used for — “ad abbatem vel abbatissam faciendam” (Leofric), “consecratio abbatis sive abbatisse” (Egbert), “benedictio abbatis” (Dunstan, Robert, and Lanalet) — not when, where, or how they were to be used. The further rubric of “alia” supplied before each prayer copied after “Concede quesumus omnipotens deus” suggests that these prayers were to serve as alternates to the first, selected at the presider's discretion. As the rubrics listed above indicate, only the prayers found in the Leofric Missal and Egbert Pontifical were clearly adaptable for the consecration of either an abbot or an abbess; both prayers in the Leofric Missal and one prayer in the Egbert Pontifical, “Deus qui sub tue maiestatis arbitrio,” are grammatically gendered masculine in the main text with feminine endings supplied interlinearly. Consideration of the intended oral performance of these consecration prayers helps to account for the infrequent appearance of ones explicitly scripted for a female recipient. The prayers that contain only masculine grammatical forms were likely to be feminized extemporaneously by the bishop during the celebration of an abbess's consecration.
Stage-Two English Episcopal Books
In the next stage in the development of the consecration rite, an actual ordo began to emerge, replete with rubrics that supplied directives for the sequence of prayers, the bestowal of insignia (Rule, staff, and/or ring), the singing of chants, and even the celebration of a mass following the consecration rite. Most of the episcopal books representative of this stage in development were produced in the early to mid-eleventh century and thus predate the transmission of the ordines belonging to the PRG tradition to England. Table 3 demonstrates that there is substantial overlap among the prayers that appear in these episcopal books with respect to both their texts and their sequence. Such overlap may be owed primarily to the fact that all of these books were produced at either Canterbury or Winchester, during a time when there was considerable exchange of personnel and manuscripts between the two sees.Footnote 28 And yet, despite many similarities, no consecration ordo is exactly like another. Different arrangements, additional prayers, and changes to texts of prayers all contributed to making the ordo in each episcopal book a unique production.
As Table 3 shows, the ordo found in the Anderson Pontifical opens with the same prayer as the other four episcopal books: the Gregorian “Concede quesumus omnipotens deus.”Footnote 29 This prayer is then followed by a sequence of four prayers: “Deus qui sub tue maiestatis arbitrio,” “Cunctorum institutor deus qui per moysen,” “Omnipotens sempiterne deus, affluentem illum spiritum,” and “Super hunc famulum tuum domine quesumus.” The texts of these prayers correspond closely with those found in the sacramentaries and episcopal books examined above. In the marginal space next to the second and third prayers, additional directives and prayers were supplied for the bestowal of the pastoral staff and ring. Beside “Cunctorum institutor deus,” the scribe added a rubric directing the bishop to give the staff to the abbot as well as to recite the prayer, “Accipe baculum pastoralis officii et monastici regiminis,” which commands the abbot to receive the “sign of holy governance” to good effect so that he “solidify the weak, strengthen the faltering, correct the crooked, and direct the upright on the way of eternal salvation.”Footnote 30 Directions for the bestowal of the ring as well as the accompanying prayer “Accipe anulum discretionis et honoris” appear next to “Omnipotens sempiterne deus.”Footnote 31
Significantly, the prayers to be recited by the bishop during the bestowal of both the staff and ring reiterate, nearly verbatim, the prayers to be offered during the conferral of the same insignia on a bishop at his ordination. The prayer over the abbatial staff is a combination of two alternate prayers that could be used over an episcopal staff, excepting the clause relating the “power of building up the worthy and correcting the unworthy.”Footnote 32 The prayer over the abbatial ring was similarly faithful in copying its episcopal exemplar; it lacks only the relative clauses affirming the powers of binding and loosing.Footnote 33 The differences between the abbatial and episcopal versions of these prayers suggest a distinction between the powers that their beneficiaries were deemed to possess to administer correction and forgiveness: the bishop alone was invested with the same potentia that Christ conferred upon his apostles to bind and loose sins.Footnote 34 However, despite these differences, the abbot was not completely divested of his penitential cura. He, like the bishop, was still charged with the “ministry of reconciliation for the lapsed and penitent.”
All the prayers in the Anderson Pontifical detailed thus far, save the opening two, explicitly account for the possibility of a female consecrand through the interlineation of feminine endings. Like the abbot, the abbess was to be presented with the models of Moses and Stephen to guide her in her rule, and she was also to receive a pastoral staff and ring as visible signs of the spiritual and temporal powers that she was to exercise. Among the four remaining prayers in the ordo, two script male use — “Domine deus omnipotens exaudi preces nostras”Footnote 35 and “Respice domine super hunc famulum tuum”Footnote 36 — and two were flexible for male or female use; feminine endings were interlineated in “Omnipotens clementissime pater,”Footnote 37 and the final benediction, “Aspiciat et benedicat te dominus rector eternus,” does not refer to its beneficiary with any specific gendered nouns or adjectives.Footnote 38 The absence of feminine endings in the first two prayers does not seem to have been the result of scribal oversight, as both prayers appear on the same page as the first half of “Omnipotens clementissime pater tuam omnipotentiam,” which was repurposed for female use.
Read in the Anderson Pontifical, the exclusive appearance of masculine grammatical forms in “Domine deus omnipotens exaudi preces nostras” seems understandable, given that this prayer is found earlier in the manuscript, with only a slightly different incipit, as one of the blessings for use in the ordination of a deacon.Footnote 39 This blessing is found in the Gregorian Sacramentary,Footnote 40 as well as in all the earlier Anglo-Saxon episcopal books listed in Table 1.Footnote 41 Yet, in the Gregorian Sacramentary, the Leofric Missal, and the Egbert Pontifical, this same prayer also could be used in the ordination of a woman deacon.Footnote 42 The flexibility of the prayer's use is further evinced by the fact that, in the PRG tradition, it would not only continue to be used in the ordination of a deacon, but would also be incorporated into the consecration ordines for a woman deacon and canonical abbess. But those responsible for the Anderson Pontifical's production may not have been familiar with the prayer's flexible use, or else they were limited to the script set by their exemplar(s).
The absence of interlineated feminine endings in “Respice domine super hunc famulum tuum” is more difficult to account for, as this prayer borrows nearly the entirety of a prayer that appears earlier in the manuscript, as one of the prayers that could be used for the blessing of a widow: “Deus castorum corporum benignus inhabitor.”Footnote 43 This prayer also appears in the rite for blessing a widow found in the Dunstan Pontifical, the Benedictional of Archbishop Robert, and the Lanalet Pontifical.Footnote 44 In the Gregorian Sacramentary, the Leofric Missal, and the Egbert Pontifical, it is even used for the blessing of a virgin.Footnote 45 The theme of sexual purity and faithful love of God alone resounds throughout the portion of the prayer for a widow reiterated in the prayer for an abbot: “Lord, through the gift of your spirit, may prudent modesty, wise benignity, grave leniency, and chaste freedom be in him. May he burn in charity and love nothing apart from you. . . . May he keep what he has professed so that he subdues the host of ancient [enemies] and purifies the squalor of vices.” Though the virtue of chastity would be commended earlier in the rite in “Omnipotens sempiterne deus, affluentem illum spiritum,” it would be mentioned only in passing within a series of other virtues. The relative paucity of explicit directives to the abbot to preserve his chastity within the consecration ordo may explain why the producer(s) of the Anderson Pontifical chose to adapt the blessing of a widow for an abbot, but this explanation still does not account for the absence of interlineated feminine endings, especially given that women were the original beneficiaries of this prayer, nor does it answer the question of why this adaptation does not appear in any other English episcopal book. Thus this prayer ultimately remains a fascinating, yet perplexing, unicum.
The penultimate prayer in the Anderson Pontifical's consecration ordo, “Omnipotens clementissime pater,” would have highlighted again the virtues that enabled a monastic leader to administer his/her office usefully and meritoriously: sapientia, intelligentia, and discretio, three qualities repeatedly affirmed by the Benedictine Rule as essential characteristics of a good abbot.Footnote 46 This prayer is found in all the stage-two English episcopal books, except in the one now housed in Douai's municipal library. Notably, in Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 44, this prayer is preceded by a rubric that directs the enthronement of the consecrand: “hic mittatur abbas in cathedram et incipiat archypresul antiphonam.”Footnote 47 But it is difficult to determine whether the recitation of “Omnipotens clementissime pater” was meant to signal a similar ritual action in the other episcopal books containing this prayer, given that these books lack the directive for enthronement and that the prayer itself does not refer to the cathedra of the abbot/abbess.
The closing prayer, “Aspiciat et benedicat te dominus,” was also included in nearly all the other stage-two English episcopal books. It contains a series of blessings that recapitulates many of the invocations of God's assistance and mercy found in earlier prayers, but for the first time in the ordo, the participation of those present at the consecration was clearly elicited. After each blessing the assembly was to proclaim Amen. This prayer concludes the entire ordo with a final Trinitarian blessing, likely made with the sign of the cross over the consecrand.
The consecration ordo found in the Samson Pontifical contains many of the same prayers that appear in the Anderson Pontifical and in much the same order, as Table 3 shows.Footnote 48 Even the final prayer in the Samson ordo, “Omnipotens sempiterne deus tuam omnipotentiam,” is nearly identical to Anderson's “Omnipotens clementissime pater tuam omnipotentiam,” save for a few minor lexical changes. But unlike the Anderson ordo, all the prayers found in Samson's explicitly account for the possibility of a female consecrand.
Similarly to the Anderson ordo, Samson's included prayers for the bestowal of the staff and ring on the consecrand, but, in the margin beside these prayers, neumed chant incipits were supplied, indicating the music that was to be sung when the insignia were bestowed. The responsory “Minor sum cunctis” was to accompany the bestowal of the staff.Footnote 49 Typically, this chant appears as one of the responsories for Matins on the second Sunday of Lent. It cites, nearly verbatim, Genesis 32:10–11, which recounts the patriarch Jacob's prayer to God for deliverance from the pursuit of his brother Esau. In his prayer, Jacob mentions the baculum with which he passed over the river Jordan. The reference to Jacob's staff probably inspired the application of this Lenten chant to the consecration rite for an abbot/abbess, for, like Jacob, the monastic leader was responsible for guiding to safety the turme under his/her care.
The antiphons to be sung during the bestowal of the ring, “Dixit autem pater ad servos suos” and “Dedit pater penitenti filio,” would have conjured equally vivid scriptural associations, as both borrow from the parable of the prodigal son found in Luke's gospel. The first chant, often sung on Saturday in the second week of Lent, echoes the words spoken by the father to his servants upon his son's return: “The father said to his servants, ‘Bring forth quickly the first robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet.’”Footnote 50 And the second chant, often sung on the third Sunday of Lent, first describes the father's gifts of the robe, ring, and shoes to his son as well as the great feast held to celebrate the joyous homecoming, but it then provides an allegorical reading of the parable to reveal its baptismal significance for the “we” singing: “We have the first robe and the ring, the sign of faith, in the bath [baptism].”Footnote 51 This second chant's reference to the ring as a signaculum fidei would have created an obvious textual parallel with the prayer that precedes it, but, beyond this concordance, both chants would have served to highlight an important penitential theme latent in the prayer that they frame. While the prayer would have stressed the need for the monastic leader to minister to the “lapsed and penitent,” the chants would have reminded the consecrand that he/she too was, and always would be, despite the elevation in office, a prodigal son, completely dependent on the mercy of God the Father. The reference to the lavacrum of baptism also would have recalled the associations frequently made by earlier and contemporary liturgical ordines and theological writings between baptism and monastic profession, for, by taking religious vows, one underwent a kind of second baptism that absolved all past sins.Footnote 52 In hearing this chant, the abbot/abbess would have been reminded of the “baptismal” promises that he/she made at his/her profession and of the new responsibility that he/she was assuming to inspire those under his/her care to renew their own commitment to the monastic conversatio.
According to the Samson ordo, the entire consecration rite was to open with the antiphon “Exurgat deus ad nostri famulatus” before the prayer “Concede quesumus omnipotens deus” was recited. The neumed incipit to this antiphon was added in the margin next to the opening rubric to the ordo “Benedictio ad ordinandum abbatem.” This antiphon does not appear in earlier or contemporary antiphoners, but it is found in English episcopal books that predate the Samson Pontifical. In the Dunstan Pontifical, the Benedictional of Archbishop Robert, and the Egbert Pontifical, it was listed as one of the antiphons that was to be sung during the dedication of a new church, while the bishop was asperging the walls of the building: “May God rise up at the solicitude of our service and increase the blessing of his holy place.”Footnote 53 By opening the consecration ordo with this antiphon, the producer(s) of the Samson Pontifical (or those who created its exemplar[s]) may have sought to encourage an aural parallel between the consecration of an abbot/abbess and the dedication of a church, for both rituals marked a transition, a new beginning, in the history of a monastic or ecclesial community by setting the new leader or church as the foundation for a faith community's edification.
The final chant supplied in the margins of the Samson ordo was “Beati eritis,” an antiphon frequently sung on the feast of an apostle.Footnote 54 It cites the beatitude from the Lukan account of Christ's sermon on the plain that promises heavenly rewards to those whose faith is met with hatred and reproach.Footnote 55 So hailed by the chant, the abbot/abbess would have been cast as a bold witness to the faith, a successor to the apostles and to their predecessors, the prophets, who foretold Christ's coming. This apostolic and prophetic vocation would have been elaborated further in the benediction that was to follow this chant, “Benedicat te deus conditor celi et terre,” which asks God to bless the abbot/abbess that he/she might find rest in the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, for so graced by the Spirit he/she would surely be able to face the challenges of abbatial rule.Footnote 56 This prayer appears only in two other stage-two English episcopal books: the Claudius II and Douai Pontificals. Notably, the explicit reference to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit is not present in later versions of the consecration ordo for an abbot, but it does resurface in the ordo for the consecration of an abbess found in stage-three English episcopal books.
“Deus lumen eternum qui inluminas” is also limited in its appearance in other stage-two episcopal books; it is found only in the Douai Pontifical.Footnote 57 In the Samson ordo, it was to serve as an alternate prayer to “Cunctorum ordinum institutor deus qui per moysen” and follows the prayer recited during the bestowal of the staff. Much like “Cunctorum ordinum institutor,” “Deus lumen eternum” petitions God to confirm the newly elect, “who through the imposition of our hands is ordained abbot/abbess and pastor of souls with your multifold blessing.” Here again, the imposition of hands was probably to be taken literally, as a cross was added in the interlinear space above “benedictione,” suggesting that the bishop was to make a sign of the cross on the consecrand's forehead.Footnote 58
The most notable addition to the consecration ordo found in the Samson Pontifical was the inclusion of the prayers for a mass to be celebrated after the completion of the rite. This mass also appears in the Claudius II Pontifical and in CCCC 44. In the Samson Pontifical, the mass texts follow immediately upon the consecration ordo and are headed by the rather ambiguous rubric “Missa pro abbate et congregatione commissa,” but, in the other two episcopal books, the mass was identified more clearly as “Missa in consecratione abbatis.” The ambiguity of the rubric in the Samson Pontifical probably derived from its exemplar(s), as the producer(s) of this manuscript may have adapted mass texts from a sacramentary for use in the consecration ordo. In the Old Gelasian Sacramentary, this mass is preceded by the rubric, “Missa in monasterio”;Footnote 59 in manuscripts of the Gregorian Sacramentary, the rubric reads, “Missa pro abbate vel congregatione”;Footnote 60 and, in the late Anglo-Saxon descendants of both sacramentary traditions, like the Leofric Missal, the Winchcombe Sacramentary, and the Missal of Robert of Jumièges, the following rubrics appear, respectively: “Pro abbate et congregatione,” “Pro congregatione,” and “Missa pro abbate eiusque congregatione.”Footnote 61 In all three Anglo-Saxon episcopal books that included this mass in their consecration ordo for an abbot/abbess, the mass was to open with the collect “Omnipotens sempiterne deus qui facis mirabilia magna”Footnote 62 and close with the postcommunion “Quos celesti recreasti munere perpetuo.”Footnote 63 In the Claudius II Pontifical and in CCCC 44, the secret “Hostias domine famulorum tuorum placatus intende” is identical with the version found in earlier sacramentaries,Footnote 64 but, in the Samson Pontifical, it appears with a few minor variants.Footnote 65 The Claudius II Pontifical and CCCC 44 even supplied the incipit to the preface that was to be recited during the canon of the mass: “Vere dignum, eterne deus. Propitiare domine supplicationibus nostris.”Footnote 66 All three episcopal books scripted the bestowal of a blessing after communion. In the Samson and Claudius II Pontificals, this blessing, “Aspiciat et benedicat te dominus rector eternus,” is essentially the same as the one that appears in the Anderson Pontifical,Footnote 67 but in CCCC 44, a different blessing, “Benedicat in te dominus imaginem,” had to be provided because “Aspiciat et benedicat” was to be said at the conclusion of the consecration rite proper.Footnote 68 None of the prayers that appear in these three consecration masses were exclusive of a female beneficiary as feminine endings were thoroughly interlineated.
Claudius II Pontifical
Many of the prayers and chants included in the Samson Pontifical are found in the Claudius II Pontifical, and, discounting the addition and subtraction of a few prayers, the sequence of prayers unfolds in much the same way.Footnote 69 Also like the Samson Pontifical, feminine endings were interlineated throughout all the prayers contained in Claudius II's ordo for use in the consecration of an abbess. Notable departures from the Samson ordo include a rubric directing the bestowal of a copy of the Benedictine Rule with an accompanying prayer, “Accipe regulam a sancto benedicto abbate,” which would have reminded the abbot/abbess of the monastic tradition that he/she had to uphold when “ruling and safeguarding the flock entrusted to [him/her] by God.”Footnote 70 This prayer is found in only one other English episcopal book: CCCC 44.Footnote 71 Claudius II's ordo also contains the unusual “Deus honorum omnium largitor deus,” which asks for the outpouring of God's grace so that “[the abbot/abbess] may wholly accomplish the pastoral care and rule of monastic people.”Footnote 72 Only the Douai Pontifical also includes this prayer, in the same position after the prayer recited at the bestowal of the ring.Footnote 73
Four chant texts were provided in Claudius II's ordo. One corresponds with the chants listed in the Samson Pontifical: the antiphon “Dedit pater penitenti filio,” which was to be sung after the bestowal of the ring.Footnote 74 A different antiphon was supplied for the bestowal of the staff — “Iustus ut palma florebit”Footnote 75 — with an alternate responsory, “Propter veritatem,” added marginally. The responsory was probably to be used instead of the antiphon during the consecration of an abbess, given that this chant text was copied by the same scribe who interlineated feminine endings throughout all the prayers.Footnote 76 This gender distinction between the chants seems to be supported further by their customary appearance within the Western church's liturgical cursus. The antiphon was typically sung on the feast of a martyr, the responsory on the feast of a virgin. Both chants are direct citations of Psalm verses: Psalm 91:13 and Psalm 44:5, respectively. Knowledge of the entirety of the Psalms from which these verses were extracted would have heightened the chants’ gendered associations: the abbot with the iustus of Psalm 91, who is planted and flourishes in the house of the Lord, the abbess with the filia of Psalm 44, who is taken from her family to be splendidly adorned for her nuptials to the king. Significantly, CCCC 44 also scripted the antiphon “Iustus ut palma florebit” as the chant to be sung after the bestowal of the staff, but it was to accompany the consecration of an abbot or an abbess; no feminine alternative was supplied in the main text or marginally.Footnote 77 Thus the Claudius II Pontifical, with the marginal addition of the responsory “Propter veritatem” introduced a gender distinction into the consecration rite that was not present in any other stage-two version of the ordo. Though admittedly a relatively minor distinction, it does presage the division of the consecration ordo according to gender that ultimately occurred in English episcopal books, beginning in the third quarter of the eleventh century.
The fourth chant added to Claudius II's ordo was the antiphon “Sancte benedicte confessor domini.”Footnote 78 In a few antiphoners, this chant imploring Benedict's intercession was reserved for the dies natalis and translatio of Benedict of Nursia (21 March and 11 July). Thus it is fitting that in Claudius II's ordo it was to be sung after the bestowal of the Benedictine Rule. CCCC 44 also included this chant in the very same place in its ordo, but here it was identified as a responsory, not as an antiphon.Footnote 79
In terms of its prayers and chants, the consecration ordo found in CCCC 44 contains many of the texts found in earlier Anglo-Saxon episcopal books, especially those found in its near contemporary, the Claudius II Pontifical.Footnote 80 Both books were produced at Canterbury in roughly the middle of the eleventh century, and their consecration ordines were entirely applicable to either an abbot or an abbess. Despite their many similarities, significant differences between both books’ ordines can be detected. Among the most apparent differences is the explicit application of the prayer “Omnipotens clementissime pater tuam omnipotentiam” to the enthronement of an abbot/abbess, as was mentioned earlier.Footnote 81 The version of this prayer found in CCCC 44 also contains changes to a line found in the middle of the prayer, which would have helped to make its monastic usage clearer. Instead of petitioning God to “grant him a spirit of wisdom, understanding, and discretion in this, your house, so as to act and administer his office enjoined on him for the time,” CCCC 44's version asks, “grant him/her a spirit of wisdom, understanding, and discretion so as to lead and benefit your holy flock and administer the office of abbot enjoined on him/her worthily during his/her time.”Footnote 82
The antiphon “Redemptor mundi” was to accompany the enthronement of the abbot/abbess. This antiphon does not appear in any of the liturgical books containing music for the Divine Office and Mass that have been catalogued thus far by the contributors to the Cantus Database; however, a versicle with the incipit “Redemptor mundi salva nos” is found in a twelfth-century antiphoner from Florence Cathedral for Vespers on the feast of the Image of the Lord (9 November).Footnote 83 It is possible that, as more of the chants in medieval liturgical manuscripts are edited and catalogued, an earlier witness to “Redemptor mundi salva nos” will be discovered.
CCCC 44 also features a new prayer, “Omnipotens piissime et misericordissime domine,” as one of the prayers that could be read after the bestowal of the Benedictine Rule; it was to serve as an alternate to “Deus qui sub tue maiestatis arbitrio” and “Super hunc famulum tuum domine quesumus.”Footnote 84 This new prayer invokes the intercession of “[God's] beloved, Benedict, pious father and our pastor,” so that God would bestow his blessing more abundantly upon the elect and inspire him/her to be clement, prudent, docile, wise, just, obedient, edifying, and beneficial in every way to those souls entrusted to his/her care. The end of the prayer refers to the “multiplied profit of the loaned talent,” recalling the parable of the talents and the closing lines to the prayer “Cunctorum ordinum institutor deus qui per moysen,” which was to be recited after the bestowal of the staff according to CCCC 44's ordo.
A different version of the prayer for the bestowal of the staff appears in this rite. CCCC 44's “Accipe baculum pastoralis cure” retains the earlier version's admonition to balance mercy with righteous anger when correcting vices, but it lacks the series of commands to the consecrand to solidify the weak, strengthen the faltering, correct the crooked, and direct the upright, all of which echoed the related prayer recited at a bishop's ordination.Footnote 85 Notably, “Cunctorum ordinum institutor deus qui per moysen,” the prayer that was to follow, seems to have been adapted from the version found in the Samson and Claudius II Pontificals in order to highlight better the ritual action that was to precede it. In the middle of the prayer, two references to the baculum were inserted, and, in the first, it was described further as a “sign of religion and correction.”Footnote 86
A similar adaptation was made to “Omnipotens sempiterne deus affluentem,” the prayer that was to be said after the bestowal of the ring. Near the beginning of the prayer, immediately following the petition that the newly elected abbot/abbess “never be separated from God's grace,” CCCC 44's version added: “but fortified all around with the integrity of faith by accepting this ring.”Footnote 87 Other alterations were made to the prayer to give it a more discernibly monastic cast. The example of Stephen, the “Levite elected by the apostles,” was replaced with “God's innumerable elected servants [who] were abbots, who merited to serve [God] and endure without end in their holy service according to the institutes of holy father Benedict.”Footnote 88 And rather than the abbot/abbess “be an example and form of justice for governing and ruling the church [ecclesiam] faithfully,” he/she was to “be an example and form of justice for governing and ruling the monastic flock [monasticum gregem] entrusted to him/her.”Footnote 89 Finally, the bishop was no longer to petition that the abbot/abbess be effective in his/her application of “censura discipline” more generally but of “monastice censura discipline” more specifically.Footnote 90 Notably, the same alterations, save the last, also appear in the Claudius II Pontifical's version of “Omnipotens sempiterne deus affluentem.”Footnote 91
The motivations behind the changes made to the prayers found in CCCC 44's ordo are not immediately detectable on the manuscript page, nor is it clear that the producer(s) of this manuscript were the ones who introduced these changes, though it is very common to find this kind of thorough reworking in CCCC 44. At a minimum, the additional references to Benedict, the monastic flock, and the abbatial office reflect a concerted effort to make the prayers and insignia of the rite more unambiguously monastic in their application. Even the version of the blessing “Aspiciat et benedicat te dominus rector eternus” was to end with a final affirmation of Benedict's exemplarity.Footnote 92 Such additions would have been fitting if this manuscript was produced within the monastic scriptorium of St. Augustine's Canterbury, as M. R. James and T. A. M. Bishop claimed. But all these changes may have been introduced to do more than simply clarify the monastic character of the prayers and insignia. Their aim may also have been to dampen the potential resonances between the rites for the ordination of a bishop and the consecration of an abbot/abbess, thereby demarcating more unmistakably the respective temporal and spiritual jurisdictions of these leaders. According to CCCC 44, an abbot's/abbess's domain did not encompass the “church” more broadly but was limited to the monastery, and the censure that he/she was allowed to apply to his/her community was circumscribed by a “monastic” modifier, perhaps suggesting that the discipline that an abbot/abbess could apply was not necessarily “sacramental” in its effect, unless the leader were also ordained to the priesthood.
The defense of vested episcopal prerogatives could have played an instrumental role in introducing the changes found in CCCC 44's consecration ordo, especially if this manuscript was produced for and used by the archbishop of Canterbury, as D. H. Turner, David Dumville, Janet Nelson, and Richard Pfaff have argued. From the late tenth century on, such prerogatives were increasingly being challenged on the Continent by abbots of powerful monasteries like Fleury and Cluny, which sought full exemption from their diocesans.Footnote 93 These bids for independence may have aroused concern among some English bishops and motivated them to remind future abbots and abbesses in their dioceses of their proper place under episcopal control through the very prayers recited at their consecrations. Certainly the form that the consecration ordo came to assume in late eleventh- and twelfth-century English episcopal books emphasized even more dramatically the different powers bestowed on a bishop, abbot, and abbess.
With respect to its date of production, the Douai Pontifical is an outlier among stage-two English episcopal books. It was copied sometime in the first half of the twelfth century at Christ Church, Canterbury, but its ordo for the consecration of an abbot, like many other rites found in this liturgical book, is incongruous with the dating of the manuscript.Footnote 94 All the prayers can be found in versions of the ordo that date to the first half of the eleventh century, though none of them were inclusive of feminine grammatical forms for an abbess. Only the insignia of the staff and ring were to be bestowed on the abbot; no chant incipits were supplied to accompany the bestowal of these insignia, nor was a concluding consecration mass scripted. Compared to the ordo found in episcopal books produced in the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries, the Douai ordo appears quite archaic. Whether it was ever used in practice is difficult to determine; undoubtedly it would have been quickly superseded by the episcopal books newly transmitted from the Continent during this period, likely rendering it a relic of an earlier Anglo-Saxon past.
Stage-Three English Episcopal Books
During the reign of Edward the Confessor (1044–1066), possibly through the travels of Ealdred, archbishop of York (1060–1069), an episcopal book containing the ordines belonging to the PRG tradition was transmitted to England.Footnote 95 London, BL, MS Cotton Vitellius E.xii may derive from the copy that Ealdred carried back with him from his visit to the Rhineland. At least five other Anglo-Saxon manuscripts attest to the dissemination of the PRG's ordines in England: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 579 (Leofric Missal); Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 163; London, BL, MS Tiberius C.i; London, BL, MS Cotton Vitellius A.vii; and, Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 265.Footnote 96 The PRG's consecration ordines for an abbot and abbess were not included, or no longer survive, in any of these manuscripts; however, close textual analysis of the episcopal books belonging to the third stage in the development of the consecration ordines, listed in Table 1, demonstrates a clear dependence on the PRG tradition.
The first manuscript witness to the third stage in development is the Tiberius MS mentioned above.Footnote 97 Later additions were made to this manuscript in the final quarter of the eleventh century at Sherborne and then Salisbury. Among the additions made at Salisbury were the consecration ordines for an abbot and abbess.Footnote 98 These ordines incorporate many of the prayers found in the PRG's ordines, but lexical changes to some prayer texts and the absence of any alia (or alternate prayers) suggest that the Tiberius MS's ordines are distinct and, thus, represent a new stage in the development of the consecration rite. They are nearly perfectly identical with those found in other English episcopal books produced in the late eleventh and twelfth centuries, which include: Dublin, Trinity College, MS 98 (B.3.6); Cambridge, Trinity College, MS B.11.10; Oxford, Magdalen College, MS 226; Cambridge, University Library, MS Ll.2.10; London, BL, MS Cotton Vespasian D.xv; London, BL, MS Cotton Tiberius B.viii; and, Cambridge, University Library, MS Ee.2.3.Footnote 99 Collation of the prayers and rubrics of these ordines reveals very minimal textual variation, suggesting a concerted and successful effort made by English bishops, particularly the liturgists at Christ Church, Canterbury, to regularize the consecration rites for abbots and abbesses. Given the regular appearance of these ordines, I will consider them as a collective in what follows, and Henry Wilson's edition of the Magdalen College MS will serve as the base text for the rubrics and prayers.Footnote 100
Several features of the PRG's consecration ordines had a lasting effect on those that succeeded them. With the dissemination of the PRG's ordines over the eleventh and twelfth centuries, an irreversible split occurred in the consecration rite for an abbot and abbess. They became two independent rituals with markedly distinct scripts: different prayers, a separate interrogation for an abbot, and the bestowal of different insignia — the Rule and staff for an abbot, only the Rule for an abbess. Episcopal books in the PRG tradition even contain different ordines for the consecration of an abbess professing the monastic rule and an abbess professing the rule of canons.Footnote 101 Mary Schaefer has analyzed the PRG's ordines for the consecration of both kinds of abbesses and a woman deacon for their ritual and textual parallels.Footnote 102 Notably, in stage-three English episcopal books, only one ordo for the consecration of an abbess appears, and it includes all the prayers from the PRG's ordo for a canonical abbess, save one. Given the many similarities between the PRG's ordines for an abbot and a monastic abbess, the latter ordo was likely not favored by those who wished to make the male and female versions of the consecration rite distinct; thus, it was ultimately supplanted by the ordo for a canonical abbess, which shares very few correspondences with the ordo for an abbot.
Table 4 compares the ordines for the consecration of an abbot and abbess in the PRG and stage-three English episcopal books. According to both traditions, the performance of these ordines was to take place within the context of the celebration of mass.Footnote 103 However, the opening rubrics to the ordines in stage-three episcopal books state that the consecration of an abbot was to take place before the gospel reading and the consecration of an abbess after it.Footnote 104 This distinction was not made in the PRG's ordines; all three consecration rites were to be carried out before the gospel reading.Footnote 105 At the beginning of the consecration rite proper, both an abbot and abbess were to prostrate themselves before the altar in the company of two or three of their community members,Footnote 106 but in the ordo for an abbot, prior to this ritual act, the newly elect was interrogated by the bishop to test his fidelity to the Benedictine Rule: his commitment to maintain justice in his community, to extend hospitality to pilgrims and the poor, and to foster humility and patience in both word and deed, as well as his willingness to subject himself to the authority of the diocesan and the Roman church with a profession of obedience.Footnote 107
Following the interrogation by the bishop, the abbot was to be clothed in “sacris vestibus,” and then the litany, the Pater noster, and a series of Psalm verses with congregational responses were recited.Footnote 108 The Gregorian prayer “Concede quesumus omnipotens Deus” was to be next, followed by the bestowal of the Rule and staff with their attendant prayers. The prayer read during the bestowal of the staff, “Accipe regulam a sanctis patribus nobis,” is nearly identical to the related prayer found in the Claudius II Pontifical and in CCCC 44, but the explicit reference to Benedict as the Rule's author was replaced with a more general reference to the “holy fathers.”Footnote 109 Similarly, “Accipe baculum pastoralis officii,” the prayer recited during the bestowal of the staff, replicated the first half of the version of this prayer found in CCCC 44Footnote 110 but did not include the second half, likely because this part appears as the prayer offered during the bestowal of the staff in the ordination rite for a bishop in stage-three episcopal books.Footnote 111 Notably, the versions of the prayers for the Rule and staff are also found in episcopal books affiliated with the PRG, apparently indicating that they derive from this liturgical tradition.Footnote 112
Unlike the ordo for the consecration of an abbot in stage-two episcopal books, the ordo in both the PRG and stage-three episcopal books does not include the bestowal of the ring. The removal of this sign of office from the rite may be owed to an increased desire among bishops to sharpen the distinction between a bishop's and an abbot's authorities through outward signs, like the insignia bestowed at their respective inductions into office. The bestowal of the ring, with its accompanying prayer,Footnote 113 demonstrably signified a bishop's authority over his jurisdiction, particularly in matters pertaining to the binding and loosing of sins through the administration of penance. Over the course of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the ring came to be numbered among the pontificalia that bishops alone could wear; the other insignia included the staff, sandals, gloves, tunicle, dalmatic, and miter. Only abbots who received the papal privilege of wearing the ring and other pontificalia could also do so. This privilege often accompanied a monastery's exemption from the jurisdiction of its diocesan because, in wearing any of the pontificalia, an abbot would assume the visible appearance of a bishop, thereby communicating his independence from episcopal control.Footnote 114 The privilege of wearing some or all of the pontificalia was one that was increasingly sought from the pope by English abbots after ca. 1050.Footnote 115 The first abbot ever to be granted this privilege was Egelsin of St. Augustine's, Canterbury (1059–70), who was conceded the use of the miter and sandals by Pope Alexander II (1061–73) in 1063.Footnote 116 In 1071, Baldwin of Bury St Edmunds (1065–97) was the next English abbot to be granted the use of any of the pontificalia, receiving the pastoral staff and ring.Footnote 117 In 1157, Pope Adrian IV (1154–59) issued the bull Religiosam vitam to St. Albans, making Robert de Gorron (1151–66) the first English abbot permitted to wear all seven pontifical insignia.Footnote 118 Such bids for exemption were fiercely contested by English bishops, who wished to keep monastic communities in their dioceses firmly under their jurisdiction. Thus, it would not be surprising if the liturgists behind stage-three episcopal books, most of which were produced at the scriptorium of the archbishop of Canterbury, adopted the PRG's ordo for the consecration of abbots because it omitted the bestowal of the ring. Some semblance of ecclesiastical hierarchy had to be maintained.
In the consecration rite, following the bestowal of the Rule and staff, the prayers “Cunctorum bonorum institutor deus qui per moysen” and “Eterne deus affluentem spiritum tue benedictionis super hunc famulum tuum” were to be recited.Footnote 119 The versions of these prayers in stage-three episcopal books match those first seen in the Gellone and Phillips Sacramentaries and earlier Anglo-Saxon episcopal books, save CCCC 44. They also correspond with those found in the PRG's ordo.Footnote 120 For the second prayer, the use of the earlier version meant that the Levite Stephen would still have served as the primary model of the abbatial office and that the abbot's governance and rule would have encompassed the “church” more broadly, not the “monastic flock” more narrowly. But different from earlier uses of this prayer, within the PRG's and stage-three episcopal books’ ordo, it was to be recited in the manner of a preface to the canon of the mass, and the bishop was to lay his hands on the abbot when he read it.
The closing prayer to the ordo for the consecration of an abbot, “Deus cui omnis potestas et dignitas famulatur,” is a brief petition, asking God to grant prosperity to the abbot's office.Footnote 121 After the completion of this prayer, the mass was to continue in its proper order, resuming with the reading from the gospel.
The opening prayer to the ordo for the consecration of an abbess was to be “Exaudi domine preces nostras et super hanc famulam,” the very prayer included in earlier sacramentaries and episcopal books as well as in the PRG's ordines for the ordination of a male and female deacon.Footnote 122 This prayer also was to open the PRG's ordo for the consecration of a canonical abbess.Footnote 123 Following this prayer, the bishop then was to recite “Omnipotentiam tuam domine humiliter imploramus,”Footnote 124 a prayer yet to be seen in the versions of the consecration rite discussed thus far but found in the PRG's ordo for a canonical abbess.Footnote 125 It asks for God to keep inviolate the “gift of blessing” and the “grace of consecration” that he bestowed on the abbess, “whom [he] deigned to raise up to holy order.”
The next two prayers, “Eterne deus, adesto precibus nostris, adesto votis, adesto famulantibus” and “Accipe regulam sancte conversationis,” are also unique to the PRG's ordo for a canonical abbess.Footnote 126 The first was to be read in the manner of a preface; it recounts at length the virtues and duties envisioned for an abbess's “service … office … ministry.”Footnote 127 Significantly, and unlike any of the prayers in the ordo for an abbot, the bishop was to ask for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit to rest upon the consecrand, as well as for “gravity of action and control of living that she may meditate on [God's] law day and night, keep [God's] commands, obey [God's] teachings, persevere in holy readings, despise earthly and transitory things, and be devoted to good works at all times.” But also unlike the ordo for an abbot, this prayer emphasizes the sex of the consecrand both by praising the “examples of illustrious women” that adorn the church like “diverse flowers” and by identifying her as a “servant from the weaker sex.” The second half of the prayer also commends the abbess's preservation of virginity so that she may be found worthy to join the heavenly wedding feast like the five wise virgins of the gospel parable who were rewarded for their vigilant watch for the bridegroom with oiled and trimmed lamps.Footnote 128 Beyond a merely egoistic concern for her own sexual purity, the abbess had to lead “by the example of her chastity,” presenting a “pure imitation to all who are subject to her.”
A similar concern for purity is expressed in the prayer to be read during the bestowal of the Rule, “Accipe regulam sancte conversationis.”Footnote 129 The Rule and God's grace are offered as the means by which the abbess would be able to lead the flock entrusted to her care to salvation. She must strive to present herself and her fellow sisters “untainted” to God.
The final two prayers, “Domine deus omnipotens qui sororem moysi mariam” and “Famulam tuam N. quesumus domine tua semper gratia,” often appear in stage-three English episcopal books as a combined prayer. The latter prayer is a short blessing, asking God to bestow his grace on the abbess and to lead her to eternal life without fault.Footnote 130 The former prayer was seen earlier in the Gellone and Phillipps Sacramentaries, but not in any of the Anglo-Saxon episcopal books.Footnote 131 It is also found in the PRG's ordines for a monastic and canonical abbess, though there is a slight difference between the versions of the prayer in these two ordines: the monastic abbess is exhorted to uphold the “monastica norma,” the canonical abbess the “canonica norma.”Footnote 132 The version of the prayer found in stage-three English episcopal books is nearly identical with the one in the PRG's ordo for a canonical abbess, except Miriam now accompanies a group of virgines, instead of mulieres, through the waves of the Red Sea.Footnote 133 Recharacterized in this way, Miriam's band of singers and musicians also would have exemplified the ideal of sexual purity for a community of women religious and inspired the abbess, as a new Miriam, to take responsibility for preserving her sisters’ integrity.
The Rule was the only sign of the abbatial office that was to be bestowed on the abbess during her consecration. Like the abbot, she was not to receive the ring, but she also was not to receive the staff. Episcopal books related to the PRG tradition seem to have introduced this distinction in the distribution of abbatial insignia. The reasons why an abbess was not to be given the ring were probably the same as those articulated above for an abbot, but the reasons for why she was not to be given the staff are less apparent. Arguably, if the bestowal of the staff made abbesses appear too much like bishops, then abbots also would have been divested of this sign. More likely, the bestowal of the staff made abbesses appear too much like abbots, for the staff served as an effective, visible reminder that the heads of monasteries, regardless of their gender, possessed the same temporal and spiritual authority. Without the staff, as Felice Lifshitz has pointedly noted, an abbess was “a castrated father, or at least a deformed one”Footnote 134 ; her authority was rendered impotent, or at least less potent than an abbot's. And without the staff and ring, an abbess was clearly distinguished from and subordinated to her immediate spiritual father: the bishop who consecrated her. Within the context of the PRG's ordo for a canonical abbess and the ordo for an abbess found in stage-three episcopal books, this “castration” would have been imperceptible given the prayers’ thorough feminization of an abbess's authority. It only would have been detectable in the PRG's ordo for a monastic abbess, given its preservation of many of the prayers found in the ordo for an abbot. These prayers call an abbess, like an abbot, to imitate the patriarch Moses, the faithful servants in the parable of the talents, and the Levite Stephen, as well as Miriam, thereby gendering her authority both masculine and feminine. But this ordo did not have an enduring impact on the production of medieval English episcopal books; its sister ordo did, thus effacing any residual vestige of the consecration rite that abbesses once shared with abbots.
Self-Fashioning Female Abbatial Authority
As irrevocable as the effect of the PRG's ordines seems to have been on how the English church ritually delineated an abbess's spiritual authority and distinguished it from an abbot's from at least the late eleventh century through the twelfth, the normative ideal commended in the consecration ordo was anything but determinative of how abbesses carried out their office in actual practice during this period. Even with respect to the insignia that they claimed for their office, abbesses often exceeded what was liturgically prescribed. The material remains from several communities of women religious demonstrate that abbesses continued to wield the pastoral staff in the public image that they projected through their communities’ seals, monumental sculptures, and burial goods.
Conventual seals and personal seals of abbesses from Barking, Elstow, Romsey, and Shaftesbury Abbeys, which variously date from the twelfth to the thirteenth centuries, all represent the abbesses figured on them with pastoral staffs in hand. The thirteenth-century conventual seal of Barking features the abbey's early Anglo-Saxon founders, Earconwald (d. 693) and Æthelburh (fl. 664), as well as Æthelburh's successor, Hildelith (fl. ca. 700), under three sculpted arches; all carry pastoral staffs (Fig. 1).Footnote 135 At the base of the seal, under a rounded arch, a veiled abbess appears in half-length; she too holds a staff. On the counterseal, a veiled abbess stands on a footboard with a staff in her right hand and a book, possibly the Benedictine Rule, in her left hand.Footnote 136 The legend gives additional character to the abbess by casting her in a Pauline mold: “GRACIA DEI SVM ID QVOD SVM” (1 Cor. 15:10). The personal seal of Matilda (d. by 1202), abbess of Barking and daughter of King Henry II (1154–1189), which is still affixed to an early thirteenth-century charter, also features the abbess with a staff in her left hand and a book in her right hand.Footnote 137
The conventual seals of Elstow and Shaftesbury Abbeys are very similar to Barking's in their placement of a veiled abbess with a pastoral staff in hand beneath the patron saint(s) of her community. The thirteenth-century seal of Elstow's chapter places an abbess kneeling in prayer, both hands clasped around her staff, beside two of her community members, below the abbey's patron saints, the Virgin Mary and St. Helena.Footnote 138 On the reverse of the thirteenth-century conventual seal of Shaftesbury, a veiled abbess is figured in half length at prayer with both hands around her staff at the base of the seal, beneath Christ's coronation of the Virgin Mary.Footnote 139
The twelfth-century conventual seal of Romsey seems to feature the abbey's first abbess and one of its patron saints, Æthelfleda (d. 959), the daughter of King Edward the Elder (899–924), in full-length frontal view, holding a staff in her right hand and a book in her left hand.Footnote 140 Additional material evidence from Romsey attests to its abbesses’ possession of the pastoral staff. Part of a thirteenth-century sepulchral slab, which likely once covered an abbess's tomb, is still preserved in the north aisle of Romsey's twelfth-century Norman church; it simply depicts in relief a robed arm extended, holding a staff.Footnote 141
At Nunnaminster, among the thirteenth-century burials in the abbey's church, are the remains of a wooden staff with a carved ivory top. It was buried with a woman, who was over forty-five years old at the time of her death, in a stone coffin located in the south aisle of the church. The construction of an enclosed chapel around the coffin indicates the significance of this woman to the Nunnaminster community: she likely was an abbess or a prominent lay official.Footnote 142
Medieval liturgical ordines, like any of the other normative texts produced and promulgated within the Western church, whether penitentials or conciliar decrees, attempted to articulate and effect an ideal vision for the Church and its mission in the world. Rites of initiation, ordination, consecration, and blessing are especially revealing of how some liturgists envisioned leaders and members carrying out their individual and corporate vocations for the Church's continued edification and salvation. Even those vowed to the monastic conversatio, who were governed by the particular rules and customs of their communities, were to be indelibly formed by the rituals that marked their entrance into religious life and their promotion within it. Abbots and abbesses, those specially charged with ensuring the spiritual and material well-being of their communities, officially received their pastoral burdens at their elections, but their consecrations limned the rite of passage from member to leader and dramatically communicated through prayer, sign, chant, and gesture the qualities, roles, and responsibilities incumbent on their office.
The development of the consecration rite for abbesses and abbots has a complex history. Over the course of the early and central Middle Ages, the innovations of different liturgists transformed this rite from a simple collection of prayers into a complex ordo that was initially shared across gender lines but ultimately divided by them. English episcopal books produced from 900 to 1200 provide an illustrative test case for tracing this development. From roughly the beginning of the tenth century until the middle of the eleventh, abbots and abbesses were consecrated according to the same rite, from the prayers recited to the insignia of office bestowed. There was no distinction based on gender between the temporal and spiritual authorities ritually conferred upon the consecrand. But in the second half of the eleventh century, with the introduction of the ordines from the PRG tradition into English episcopal books, the consecration rite once shared by abbots and abbesses split along gender lines into two distinct ordines with different conceptions of abbatial authority. The authority of abbots remained essentially intact, preserving many of the powers received in earlier episcopal books, save those that encroached upon bishops’ jurisdiction. Abbesses, however, were cast into a form of abbatial leadership that was nearly thoroughly feminized and bore little resemblance to the one that they once shared with abbots. The loss of the pastoral staff demonstrated most concretely the diminishment of abbesses’ authority. But as with all normative texts, the consecration ordo for abbesses that came to dominate English episcopal books during the central Middle Ages was limited in its effect on how abbesses actually perceived and performed their office. The material remains from several female monastic communities reveal that some abbesses continued to wield their staffs just as impressively as their male counterparts did.