Session 29 (Free Papers): Musical life inside religious communities

Wednesday, 7 July 2021, 14.30-16.30, Room A224 | Chair: Mary Channen-Caldwell (University of Pennsylvania)

Recent musical discoveries from medieval Riga – The music in the manuscripts of the so-called “singing virgins” of a Cistercian nunnery | Laine Tabora (The Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music of Rome)

Very few liturgical manuscripts have survived from the monasteries and churches in the territory of Medieval Livonia, and even fewer musical manuscripts and their fragments that would testify to the musical-liturgical practice of the Church in medieval Riga.

It is known today that part of the library of the Riga’s Cistercian nunnery has survived in libraries outside the territory of Latvia (in Sweden-Uppsala University Library and in Lithuania – the Wroblewskis Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences). In the historical documents the Cistercian nuns of Riga are called “singing virgins”. Perhaps the validity of this designation is proved especially by the unusual presence of musical elements in manuscripts for private use- breviaries, book of the hours and psalters- which are not choir books, but private prayer books. So far, these are the only manuscripts identified with the monastery. These testimonies provide new and invaluable information about the musical practice inside the walls of the monastery of Medieval Riga. This paper examines whether these musical testaments could reflect the presence of the Cistercian musical tradition, influences of the dioceses or present a local tradition which so far can only be associated with the monastery in question.

Death rituals for women’s communities | Miriam Wendling (KU Leuven)

The needs of women’s communities could differ from those for men’s communities of the same religious orders and this is often reflected in their liturgical books – through changes in gender in the text, the use of vernacular rubrics, or even who performed certain rituals. In this paper I examine the death rituals in manuscripts commonly known as Rituales, Obsequiales and Manuales from several women’s communities associated with religious orders and congregations that had strong liturgical identities – Dominicans, the Windesheim congregation, Cistercians – and were active in Germany and the Low Countries in the late Middle Ages. I discuss the different approaches used by each order and I propose typologies of the differences that arise as rituals are made suitable for use by women’s communities.

Wimple Wars: Music at the centre of controversies at the Monastery of the Glorious Assumption of Our Blessed Lady in Brussels | Caroline L. Elliott (Royal Holloway)

While the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 may have put an end to convents for English women domestically, the 16th and 17th centuries saw the opening of over twenty convents designed specifically for English women seeking a religious life. However, within a generation of the first convent opening its doors in Brussels, it became clear that the task of operating cloistered institutions in a foreign country – where language differences and cultural clashes were impossible to avoid – was potentially more difficult than anticipated. Recent scholarship by Emliie Murphy and Jaime Goodrich has examined the embarrassingly public accusations of emotional, physical and sexual abuse that plagued the Monastery of the Glorious Assumption of Our Blessed Lady in Brussels, with much discussion on the role of language differences within the convent resulting in miscommunication, mistrust, and intense factionalism. However, little attention has been paid to the ensuing struggles that continued to centre around the performance of the Divine Office.

This paper will focus on reports of the violence surrounding Lenten services at the convent. It will focus on how disagreements over who was to sing what, who had the authority to decide singers, and general grudges between the nuns led to attempts on behalf of one faction (including such characters as Dames Aurea James, Lucy Bacon, Mary Phillipps, and more) to intimidate and embarrass the opposing side (including Dames Martha Colford, Marina Draycott, Christina Paris, and more) through disruption of musicking, purposeful misperformance of music, and physical altercations. It will discuss the context of this disruption within the highly liminal space of performance of Mass and the Divine Offices, given the openness of part of the chapel to local visitors, many of whom might have been concerned about the presence of English nuns in their locality. It will demonstrate how the convent’s place in exile and under the jurisdiction of a foreign authority meant the acceptance of behaviour and situations that ordinarily would not have been necessary. Lastly, it will discuss the role of disharmony in an English convent within the wider context of musical performance in exiled English convents in the Low Countries.

Books of hours, musical devotions, and the royal congregations in late sixteenth-century Paris | Geneviève B. Bazinet (University of Ottawa)

Book of Hours, the “bestseller” of the Renaissance, were customarily used for private, individual devotional practices. Past scholarship has focused on the decorative features of the books, and on musical settings of the texts. Recent research has established a sub-genre of the Book of Hours that contains notated music, altering our understanding of Renaissance devotional practices. This paper will explore the use of “musical” Books of Hours in connection with the semi- private devotional practices of Henry III of France’s Royal Congregations in the 1580s: the Penitens de l’Annonciation de Nostre Dame and the Congrégation de Notre Dame de Vie-Saine. Both confraternities observed elaborate musical practices as part of their regular devotional practices. These practices were centred on the Books of Hours printed by the official printer of the congregations, Jamet Mettayer, for the exclusive use of the congregation members. The Books of Hours for the congregations and the statutes printed by Mettayer point to a highly specialised musical devotional practice, one that actively involved the members of the congregations and that followed unique variants of the Use of Rome. At a time of mounting religious tension, the music in these Books of Hours and the musical devotional practices of the congregations can be understood as both affirmations of Catholic Faith and displays of royal independence.