Crusader Feasts in Spain: The Triumph of the Holy Cross

Although in the popular mind to-day the Crusades are mainly conceived as the Christian effort to wrest the Holy Land from the Mohammedan grasp, they were in fact a wide-ranging military enterprise carried out in divers theatres to humble all enemies of Holy Church. The expeditions to the Holy Land proved ultimately to be a noble lost cause, but all was hardly quiet in the western front: the Crusades in holy Spain were an admirable triumph, banishing the spectre of the paynim from the Iberian peninsula for aye—or at least till the advent of modernity.

Taking advantage of the inner turmoil that afflicted the Visigothic kingdom, the Umayyad horde swept into Spain in the 8th century with astonishing celerity. A few Visigothic Christians were able take refuge in the mountains of Cantabria, however, and under the leadership of Don Pelayo struck a memorable victory against the invaders in 722, and began the arduous process of reconquering the peninsula. 

The collapse of the Umayyad Caliphate allowed the Reconquista to enjoy great progress: the old Visigothic capital of Toledo was liberated in 1085 by Alphonse VI, king of Castile and Leon (and the figure principally responsible for imposing the Roman rite on Spain). Alarmed by the Christians’ victories, the petty Muslim chieftains of Iberia called for the aid of the brutal Almoravids, who held a north African kingdom centred on Marrakech. They won an alarming victory over the Christians at Sagrajas in 1086, after which they paraded the heads of the Christian dead around Spain and North Africa. This defeat led several Frankish knights crossed over the Pyrenees to succour their Spanish brethren, and although the Almoravid advance was halted, it was not reversed. Many of these knights would go on to participate in the First Crusade, and indeed the Spanish situation was very probably on the mind of the Blessed Urban II when he delivered that momentous sermon in Clermont, urging Christendom to resist the Muslim infidel.

Although this First Crusade was focused on bringing relief to the Byzantines and recovering the Holy Land, Pope Urban was keenly aware that the Spanish Reconquista was but another front of the same war, and when he learned that a band of Catalan knights was preparing to set off to the Holy Land, he urged to fight the Mohammedans in their own land instead. He specifically directed them to liberate the city of Tarragona, near Barcelona, promising them the same indulgences wherewith he had enriched the military pilgrimage to free Jerusalem, warning that “it is no virtue to rescue Christians from the Saracens in one place, only to expose them to the tyranny and oppression of the Saracens in another”. 

Successive popes continued to encourage expeditions to free parts of Spain, and, in 1123, when Pope Calixtus II proclaimed the Second Crusade during the First Lateran Council, he specifically declared that knights could fulfil their Crusader vows in Spain as well as in the Holy Land. At a council held in Santiago de Compostela, Archbishop Diego Gelmírez declared,

Just as the knights of Christ and the faithful sons of Holy Church opened the way to Jerusalem with much labour and spilling of blood, so we should become knights of Crust and, after defeating his wicked enemies the Muslims, open the way to the Sepulchre of the Lord through Spain, which is shorter and much less laborious.

The Reconquista was not merely a political or military excercise, but an integral element of Spanish religious life. In a letter to King Ferdinand the Catholic, Diego de Valera captures this significance when he declares that “the Queen fights [the Muslims] no less with her many alms and devout prayers than you, my Lord, armed with the lance”. As such, it should not be surprising that certain decisive military victories became fixed in the liturgical kalendars of the various dioceses of Iberia. 

The first victory to be commemorated liturgically was the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa. As the chronicle of Don Rodrigo, Archbishop of Toledo—which was the source of the the Second Nocturn lessons in Mattins of the feast—relates

Alphonse, king of Castille, called the Good, yearned to repair the losses inflicted upon the Christians by the Moors, who held Andalusia and the entire expanse of southern Spain and had once defeated him. He therefore raised a great host, called upon neighbouring kings and princes, and besought the Supreme Pontiff Innocent III to grant that those who should fall in this holy war might not be restrained by any capital offenses from soaring up to heaven forthwith 1.

Alphonse’s armies won a decisive victory on 16 July 1212, and thenceforth the Christians would permanently hold the upper hand in the effort to free the Iberian peninsula.

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The earliest source for the feast of the Triumph of the Cross, from a 13th-century Cistercian lectionary found in the Abbey of Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas.

This victory was commemorated by the feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross in Las Navas de Tolosa (in festo Triumphi Sanctae Crucis apud Navas Tolosae). The name might have been inspired by the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which commemorated Emperor Heraclius’s defeat of the Persians, but the Mattins readings also recall miracles that occured during the battle:

And miracles occurred in this battle. First the paucity of Christian fatalities. A Cross, moreover, was seen in the sky by Alphonse and many others in the midst of the confrontation, when our side seemed most imperilled. Further, the Cross which was by custom carried before the Archbishop of Toledo, was twice carried into the enemy array, with the crucifer, Domingo Pascual, a canon of the church of Toledo, coming to no harm. And finally, a great multitude of Moors was crushed in the presence of an image of Our Lady, which was depicted on the royal standards. Wherefore, and because the Cross was the Christian ensign and emblem, this splendid victory was dubbed the Triumph of the Holy Cross 2.

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From a Missal according to the Use of Plasencia (1554)

This feast was a holy day of obligation in many Spanish dioceses during the Middle Ages, and it was one of the select feasts celebrated with a High Mass, Vespers, and sermon in the Royal Chapel of Castile. Some early liturgical books indicate that the propers of the feast were the same as those of the Exaltation except for the lessons at Mattins and the collect:

Collect: God, who by thy Cross willed to grant to the people who believe in thee victory against thine enemies: grant, that by thy mercy thou mightest ever secure victory and honour to those who adore thy Cross. Who livest and reignest, &c. (Deus, qui per crucem tuam populo in te credenti triumphum contra inimicos concedere voluisti: quæsumus, ut tua pietate adorantibus crucem: victoriam semper tribuas et honorem. Qui vivis et regnas, &c.)

Secret (borrowed from the feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross): Mercifully regard, O Lord, the sacrifice which we offer unto thee: that it might set us free from all the miseries of war; and by the banner of the holy Cross of thy Son, may establish us in the security of thy protection, so that we might overcome all the wiles of the enemy. Through the same Lord, &c. (Sacrificium, Domine, quod tibi immolamus, placatus intende: ut ab omni nos eruat bellorum nequitia; et per vexillum sanctæ Crucis Filii tui, ad conterendas adversariorum insidias, nos in tuæ protectionis securitate constituat. Per eundem Dominum, &c.)

Postcommunion (borrowed from a prayer said at the beginning of Mass in the Mozarabic rite): Hear us, O God, our Salvation, and by the triumph of the holy Cross, defend us from all dangers. Through our Lord, &c. (Exaudi nos Deus salutaris noster: et per triumphum sanctæ Crucis, a cunctis nos defende periculis. Per Dominum, &c.)

Later books, however, contain a proper Mass and Office, albeit compiled from preëxisting propers. Notably, they tended to come from Paschal masses, like the propers of the feast of the Liberation of Jerusalem.

Introit: Venite benedicti Patris mei, percipite regnum, quod vobis paratum est ab origine mundi, alleluia, alleluia. Ps. Cantate Dominum canticum novum: cantate Domino omnis terra. (From Easter Wednesday.)

Gradual: Haec dies quam fecit Dominus: exultemus et lætemur in ea. ℣. Dextera Domine fecit virtutem: dextera Domini exaltavit me. (From Easter Wednesday.)

Alleluia: Alleluia, alleluia. ℣. O quam gloriosum est regnum, in quo cum Christo gaudent omnes sancti; amicti stolis albis, sequuntur Agnum quocumque ierit. Alleluia. (From All Saints’ Day in certain uses.)

Offertory: Dextera Domine fecit virtutem: dextera Domini exaltavit me: dextera Domini fecit virtutem: non moriar, sed vivam, et narrabo opera Domini. (From the Second Sunday of Advent.)

Communion: Benedicimus Deum cæli et coram omnibus viventibus confitebimur ei: quia fecit nobiscum misericordiam suam. (From Trinity Sunday.)

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From the Spanish supplement to the Roman Missal (1753)

There is some variation in the various mediæval versions of this feast, but as fixed in the post-Tridentine books, the Epistle pericope  is the conclusion of St Paul’s letter to the Galatians (6, 14-18), where the Apostle exclaims, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world!”

The Gospel extract—Our Lord’s prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world (Luke 21, 9-19)—might seem odd at first: it appears to be a vision of apocalyptic terror rather than of triumph. Yet it reveals that the Spanish crusaders, like their counterparts in the Holy Land, saw their victories anagogically: despite the horrors of war or the end-times, the Christians will emerge victorious—capillus de capite vestro non peribit—and inherit not merely the kingdom of Spain, but the kingdom of heaven it represents. In fact, the introit is taken from the equivalent account of the apocalypse in the Gospel according to St Matthew: after much tribulation, the sheep shall be separated from the goats, and the everlasting king shall cry, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

The liturgical books of Seville included a sequence for this feast:

Let Spain recall
The new joys of the cross
With happy jubilation.Remember the new grace,
And the new victory,
Under the patronage of the Cross.

He wished to renew
All the ancient miracles
He had accomplished.

And the incredulous peoples
Who spurned the Cross
Fell smitten before the Cross.

The enemy of the Cross,
The impious king, son of hell,
In madness of mind,

Goes forth against Christ,
And utters blasphemous words
Against the Cross.

In his pride he presses against the stars,
He sets his words against the heavens,
Contemning the holy Cross,
Rejecting the Crucified.

While he ponders haughtily,
He stirs the madness of the barbarians
Into a rage
To their own ruin.

For our patron,
Our goodly Jesus,
Hears the prayers,
Of his faithful
And heeds them.

When he sees
That needs must,
He protects his own,
And rules them,
Providing succour.

Behold, the lovers of the Cross
The followers of Christ the king,
Receive the Spirit,

Stirred by Christ the king,
And marked by the holy Cross,
They boldly fight.

For such a victory,
Glory be to Christ. 

Nova crucis gaudia
Recolat Hispania
Laeto cum tripudioNovae memor gratiae
Novaeque victoriae
Crucis patrocinio.

Cuncta qui disposuit,
Renovare voluit
Antiqua miracula,

Et qui crucem sperneret,
Ante crucem caderet
Caesa gens incredula.

Crucis hostis impius
Rex, gehennae filius,
Spiritu vesaniae

Contra Christum nititur
Et in crucem loquitur
Sermones blasphemiae.

Fasta premit sidera
Ponit os in aethera
Crucem sanctam improbans,
Crucifixum reprobans;

Dum superbe cogitat
In furorem excitat
Barbarorum rabiem
Ad suam perniciem.

Nam patronus,
Iesus bonus,
Preces audit
Et exaudit
Suorum fidelium;

Cum necesse
Videt esse
Suos tegit
Atque regit
Conferens auxilium.

Ecce, crucis amatores,
Christo duce sectatores
Spiritum concipiunt,

Excitati Christo duce
Et signati sancta cruce
Alacres efficiunt.

Pro tali victoria
Detur Christo gloria.

The synod of Toledo held in 1536 under Cardinal Juan Pardo de Tavera confirmed this feast’s status as a day of obligation. After the Tridentine reforms, all the Spanish dioceses conformed their liturgical books to the Roman ones, but, at the request of King Philip II, on 30 December 1573 Pope Gregory XIII issued the bull Pastoralis officii permitting the lands subject to the Spanish crown to retain several local traditional feasts, including that of the Triumph of the Holy Cross; during this time the feast is also found in liturgical books from Portugal and the New World. In the course of the centuries, however, it was overshadowed by the increasing popularity of the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, also on 16 July, which was fixed onto the universal kalendar in 1726, although the Triumph continued to be celebrated in some dioceses of Spain until the liturgical reforms wrought in the aftermath of Vatican II.

The events of the Reconquista, then, like the rest of the Crusades, were of such religious import as to be worthy of being incorporated into the liturgical life of the dioceses of Spain, and thereby take their proper place in the history of salvation, themselves harbingers of greater victories to come.


1. Alfonsus Castellæ Rex, cognomento Bonus, cupiens damna Christianis a Mauris (Bæticam, totamque illam Australem Hispaniæ plagam possidentibus) illata resarcire (semel enim ab eis fuerat superatus) magnum conflavit exercitum: reges finitimos ac Dynastas solicitavit; condonationes a Summo Pontifice Innocentio Tertio impetravit, ut in eo pio bello qui caderent, nullis capitalibus commissis præpedirentur, quo minus ad cælos statim evolarent.

2. Miraque in hoc prælio contigerunt. Numerus primum occisorum in tanta paucitate Christianorum. Crux item in medio conflictu, cum nostri maxime laborare viderentur, Alfonso, quam plurimisque aliis visa est in aëre. Præterea Crux, quæ præsulem ante Toletanum de more gestabatur, bis (incolumi signifero Dominico Paschasio Toletanæ Ecclesiæ Canonico) aciem hostium sublata penetravit. Denique ad præsentiam imaginis beatæ virginis Mariæ, quæ in vexilla regiis depicta erat, ingens Maurorum multitudo corruit. Quare, et quod Christianis symbolum ac insigne Crux erat, Triumphus sanctæ Crucis hæc præclara victoria appellata est.

Gemma Animae (49-56): Further commentary on the Roman Canon

“But there are six orders of crosses, because the world is made in six days, and Christ’s body is restored by the same six-fold number.”

This section of Gemma Animae‘s commentary on the Roman Canon is organized around the several sets of signs of the cross made over the offerings. The multiplication of these signs of the cross was a medieval phenomenon that inspired a raft of mystical interpretations and became a stock object of ridicule for critics of medieval liturgy.

Scholars say that the primitive meaning of these signs was indicative, pointing out the offerings as they are mentioned in prayer: Haec ☩ dona, haec ☩ munera, etc. Honorius seems to go far beyond this literal sense, interpreting them through layers of Scriptural themes.

He takes them as place-markers, divisions of the larger plot of the Canon, which he understands as a story, a recapitulation of salvation history in six acts. The life-giving Cross stands at the center of this history, following humanity through every age. Along the way, every generation is united to the Cross (crux) through its cruciform suffering (cruciatus).

Though we might disagree with the way it has been grafted onto the Mass ritual, I think his account of sacrifice is rather theologically astute, not ridiculous at all. The way it integrates the creation, redemption, and passion is deeply Scriptural and soundly orthodox.

As John Behr has observed, from Genesis’s “Let us make man in our image and likeness” to John’s “Behold the Man,” history as the story of God’s creative action reaches its summit in the God-man Christ. In the Canon of the Mass, the Church re-performs this creative action, taking matter from the earth, breathing upon it with the Holy Spirit, and thus making sacramentally present the New Adam, the fairest of the children of men, and along with Him His Body the Church.

From a theological point of view then, our Canon is the daily-repeated completion of God’s creative act in the Church, every day the Incarnation made present and efficacious on the altar. So it makes sense why Honorius sees a special significance in the “Amen”–God’s creative word, the Hebrew equivalent of the Latin “fiat”–that ends the Canon:

We say Amen to confirm the whole sacrament because through this word the world is created. For Amen means fiat, the word God used to create the world when he said: Fiat lux, etc.” (GA, Ch. 99).

Further, Honorius’ historical vision is taken straight from the Book of Revelation: history as the patient com-passion of Christ’s saints in the hope of glory. Honorius makes the connection between the Cross (crux) and the “sufferings” (cruciatus) of the Old and New Testament saints explicit in the chapters below.

Ultimately we are free to dispense with the literal particulars of Honorius’s commentary: the six orders, the five-fold divisions, etc., etc. But in what is most important for theological understanding, I think Honorius has given a deeply satisfying account. What is the sacrifice the priest designates with signs of the cross? Medieval commentary can help us regain a vision of the full cosmological grandeur of the sacrificial act, a vision firmly based in Scripture and the Fathers.

Image result for creation in the cross + painting

Chapter 49
On the Cross

This sacrament (sacramentum tantum) is accomplished through the Cross alone, because Christ hung on the cross as the sacrifice of the Father, where he redeemed the world in a four-fold manner. But there are six orders of crosses because the world is made in six days, and Christ’s body is restored by the same six-fold number. For a blessing is given through an odd number, which cannot be divided into two equals. We make either three crosses, and thus express our Trinitarian faith; or we sign through five crosses, and denote the five-fold passion of Christ. Through these six orders of crosses we comprehend the whole history of the world, expressing it as a unity united through the cross of Christ.

CAP. XLIX. – De cruce.

Hoc sacramentum tantum per crucem fit, quia Christus sacrificium Patris in cruce pependit, et in cruce quadruplum mundum redemit. Sex autem ordines crucum fiunt, quia sex diebus mundus perficitur et senario numero corpus Christi reficitur. Per imparem vero numerum, qui in duo paria non potest dividi, benedicitur; quia corpus Christi permanens non scinditur. Aut enim tres cruces facimus, et fidem Trinitatis exprimimus: aut per quinque signamus, et quinquepartitam Christi passionem denotamus. Per sex ordines cuncta mundi tempora comprehendimus, quae per crucem Christo unita exprimimus.

Ch. 50
On the First Order and the Three Crosses

In the first order we make three signs of the cross at Haec dona, an allusion the first age before the Law, which had three phases: one ran from Adam to Noah, the next from Noah to Abraham, and the third from Abraham to Moses. The just men in this age had faith in the Trinity and made tribute to Christ from afar through their sacrifices, and also bore many terrible sufferings for their faith. For in the first age, Abel offered Christ in the form of the lamb and for his sake suffered the pain of death. In the second age, Melchisedech offered Christ’s Body and Blood in bread and wine and for his faith in Christ he suffered the ravages of war with the kings of the Gentiles. In the third age, Abraham sacrificed Christ in the person of Isaac, slaughtered the ram, and bore various hardships for his faith.

CAP. L. – De primo ordine, et de tribus crucibus

In primo ordine, tres cruces facimus ubi Haec dona dicimus, et primum tempus ante legem innuimus, quod tribus interstitiis distinguimus, quia unum ab Adam usque ad Noe, aliud a Noe usque ad Abraham, tertium ab Abraham usque ad Moysen. In quibus iusti in fide Trinitatis Christum a longe suis sacrificiis salutaverunt, et multos cruciatus in hac fide pertulerunt. In prima quippe aetate, Abel Christum in agno obtulit, et pro eo cruciatum mortis pertulit. In secunda, Melchisedech Christi carnem, et sanguinem in pane et vino obtulit qui cruciatus bellorum a regibus gentium in fide Christi pertulit. In tertia, Abraham Christum in Isaac sacrificavit, in ariete mactavit, qui variatos cruciatus in hac fide toleravit.

 Ch. 51
On the Second Order, and the Five Crosses

In the second order we make five signs of the cross, at Benedictam, ascriptam, portraying the time of the Law, in which the just men portrayed Christ through the five sacrifices of the books of the Law and suffered many torments for their faith.

Five is divided into two parts, three and two, just as this age is divided into two parts. One was from Moses to David, another from David to Christ. The number three signifies the judges from Joshua to David, the kings from David to the Babylonian captivity, and the princes from Zorobabel to Christ. The number two on the other hand signifies the priests and prophets, among them Moses, who immolated Christ in the form of the Paschal Lamb, and according to the Apostle suffered many things for his faith in Christ, whom he preached in the Law (Hebrews 11).

Samuel anointed Christ in the person of David,and both of them expressed Christ in their sacrifices, and as figures of Christ bore persecution at the hands of the unfaithful king Saul. Elijah and the other prophets gave figures and signs of Christ in their sacrifices, words, and writings, and were struck with many punishments for their faith.

CAP. LI. – De secundo ordine, et de quinque crucibus.

In secundo ordine, quinque cruces facimus, ubi Benedictam, ascriptam dicimus, et tempus legis exprimimus, quo iusti per quinque librorum legis sacrificia Christum expresserunt, et multos cruciatus pro eius fide pertulerunt. Quinque namque in duas partes, scilicet trinarium, et binarium solvitur; et illud tempus in duo interstitia dividitur. Unum a Moyse usque ad David fuit, alterum a David usque ad Christum exstitit. Per trinarium, iudices a Iosue usque ad David, et reges a David usque ad captivitatem Babylonis, et principes a Zorobabel usque ad Christum notantur. Per binarium vero sacerdotes et prophetae significantur, ex quibus Moyses Christum in paschali agno immolavit, qui Apostolo teste multa adversa pro fide Christi toleravit, quem lege praedicavit (Hebr. XI); Samuel Christum in David unxit, qui uterque Christum et sacrificiis expressit, et in figura Christi persecutionem a perfido rege Saul pertulit; Elias et alii prophetae Christum sacrificiis, vocibus, scriptis praemonstraverunt, et pro eius fide varia supplicia perpessi sunt.

Ch. 52
On the Third Order

In the third order we take bread in our hands and bless it, signifying the time of grace in which Simon received the new-born Christ into his hands as the living bread and blessed him with great joy. Next we raise the chalice and bless it, portraying the time of the Supper, in which Christ raised up bread and wine in his hands, blessed them, and gave them to the apostles as his Body and Blood. For this reason to this very day when the words of the Lord are recited in this order (in ordine), the bread and wine are changed into his Body and Blood.

CAP. 52. – De tertio ordine

In tertio ordine panem in manum suscipimus, et benedicimus, et tempus gratiae innotescimus, quo Simeon Christum iam natum panem vivum in manus accepit, et gaudens benedixit. Deinde calicem levamus, et benedicimus, et tempus coenae exprimimus, quo Christus panem et calicem manibus elevavit et benedixit, et inde corpus et sanguinem apostolis tradidit. Unde adhuc cum verba Domini in ordine recitantur, panis et vinum in corpus et sanguinem Domini commutantur.

Ch. 53
On the Fourth Order

In the fourth order we make five crosses at Hostiam puram, recalling the time when Christ received five wounds on the Cross and redeemed the five ages [1].

[1] I.e., the three-fold time before the Law, the Law, and Grace.

CAP. LIII. – De quarto ordine, et de quinque crucibus.

In quarto ordine, quinque cruces facimus, ubi Hostiam puram dicimus. Et illud tempus ad memoriam reducimus, quo Christus quinque vulnera in cruce accepit, et quinque saecula redemit.

Ch. 54
On the fifth order and the three crosses

In the fifth order we say three signs of the cross at omnia bona creas, sanctificas, alluding to the Body of Christ, viz. the primitive Church, which received the Trinitarian faith and withstood many torments for Christ.

CAP. LIV. – De quinto ordine, et tribus crucibus

In quinto ordine, tres cruces ubi Omnia bona creas, sanctificas dicimus, et corpus Christi scilicet primitivam Ecclesiam innuimus, quae fidem Trinitatis accepit, et multos cruciatus pro Christo sustinuit.

Ch. 55
On the sixth order and the five crosses

In the sixth order we make five crosses at per ipsum, expressing the Body of Christ, this time the Church gathered from amongst the Gentiles who reverently received the five-fold Passion of Christ and patiently bore various sufferings in imitation of it.

CAP. LV. – De sexto ordine, et de quinque crucibus.

In sexto ordine quinque cruces facimus, ubi Per ipsum dicimus, et item corpus Christi, videlicet Ecclesiam de gentibus exprimimus, quae Christi quinquepartitam passionem veneranter excepit, et eam imitando patienter diversa tormenta pertulit.

Ch. 56
On the five orders of crosses

Thus through five orders of crosses we symbolize the five ages of the world saved by the Cross and by the Body of Christ. Per Christum Dominum nostrum is said five times in the Canon because the world is redeemed through Christ’s five wounds. In the sixth order the chalice is touched with the oblata because in this way Christ is shown to have drunk the chalice of his Passion on the Cross for the sake of all at a certain age in time. When we say Per ipsum, we make four signs of the cross over the chalice with the oblata and a fifth on the side of the chalice, because thereby we make known that Christ received four wounds on the hands and feet and a fifth in his side. When the body of Christ has been confected, we touch the lip of the chalice, and in this way we signify that when the body of the first man had been formed, God breathed the breath of life into his face and from him brought the woman to life (Genesis II). In a similar way God, per quem, cum quo, in quo omnia, breathed the Holy Spirit into the face of the perishing human race and out of it gave life to the Church through his Body. The chalice is touched in four places because the human race, scattered to the four corners of the world and brought to life by the four parts of the Cross, will be raised to life through Christ at the end of the world.

CAP. LVI. – De quinque ordinibus crucum.

Item per quinque ordines crucum, quinque aetates mundi designantur, quae per crucem et Christi corpus salvantur. Unde et in Canone quinquies Per Christum Dominum nostrum dicitur, quia per quinque vulnera Christi mundus redimitur. In sexto ordine calix cum oblata tangitur, quia in certa aetate Christus calicem passionis in cruce pro omnibus bibisse innuitur. Cum Per ipsum dicimus, quatuor cruces super calicem cum oblata facimus, quintam lateri calicis imprimimus; quia Christus, quatuor vulnera in manibus, et pedibus, et quintum in latere suscepisse innotescimus. Confecto ergo corpore Christi, labia calicis tangimus, ac per hoc, quod formato primi hominis corpore, Deus spiraculum vitae in faciem eius spiravit et mulierem ex eo vivificavit (Gen. II), significamus. Et hoc Deus, per quem, cum quo, in quo omnia, in faciem mortui humani generis Spiritum sanctum spiravit, et Ecclesiam ex eo per corpus suum vivificavit. Per quatuor autem partes calix tangitur; quia humanum genus in quatuor mundi partes dispersum, per quatuor crucis partes vivificatum, in fine mundi per Christum ad vitam resuscitatur.

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Two Sequences for the Liberation of Jerusalem

As we mentioned in our previous post on the feast of the Liberation of Jerusalem, it featured a magnificent sequence, Manu plaudant. This was the only new musical proper specifically developed for this Mass: the rest of the propers were lifted from the existing Gregorian repertory (unhappily, none of the surviving manuscripts contain the actual musical notation for this sequence). 

Sequences are closely related to tropes—and indeed first arose as tropes on the Alleluia—and are likewise best understood as exegetical commentaries on the mysteries being celebrated. Manu plaudant is thus a sort of musical version of the sermons and writings of Fulcher of Chartres, Ekkehard of Aura, and William of Tyre, all of whom, as we have seen, interpreted the triumphal entry of the Crusaders into Jerusalem as at once the literal fulfilment of the prophecies of Isaias and the anagogical foreshadowing of our ultimate entry into the heavenly Jerusalem. 

Manu plaudant omnes gentes ad nova miracula
Vicit lupos truculentos agnus sine macula.
Paganorum nunc est facta humilis superbia,
Quam reflexit virtus Dei ad nostra servicia,
O nova milicia!

Paucis multa milia sunt devicta.
Venit hec victoria a Christi potencia benedicta.
Ecce signum est levatum ab antiqua presignatum profecia
Quisque portat signum crucis dum requirit summi ducis loca pia.

Redde Sancta Civitas laudes Deo debitas
Ecce tui filii et filie de longinquo veniunt cotidie
Ad te porta gloriae pro culparum veniam
Ecce honor debitus est pro sepulcro redditus.
Quod profecia presciens sic loquitur et sepulcrum eius honorabitur.

Nunc munus persolvitur
Atque laudum ostia
Crucifixum adoremus
Per quem demonum videmus
Destructa imperia.
Adoremus resurgentem iter nobis facientem ad regna celestia
O imperator unice quod incoasti perfice
Ut sub tua custodia pax crescat et victoria
Fac Christianos crescere et impios tabescere
Ut regna subdat omnia tu omnipotentia. Amen.

Clap your hands, o ye nations, in praise of new miracles:
The lamb without stain hath vanquished fell wolves,
Humbled is now the pride of the paynim
Which God’s puissance hath handed over to our host,
O new knighthood!

Many thousands by few were defeated:
From Christ’s blessed power this victory hath come.
Lo! the ensign is raised aloft, foretold by ancient prophecy,
Each bears the ensign of the Cross, seeking the hollowed places of the most noble prince.

Holy city, render unto God His due praise!
Behold! thy sons and daughters come daily from afar
Unto thee, gateway of glory, for the remission of sins.
Behold! due homage is given to the sepulchre
For the foreseeing prophecy speaks thus: and his sepulchre shall be honoured.

Now discharged is the vow
And the offering of praises:
Let us adore the Crucified one
Through Whom we see destroyed
The empires of demons.
Let us adore the Risen one, Who makes a path for us unto the heavenly kindgom,
O Thou only Emperor, finish what Thou hast began,
That under Thy guard peace and victory might grow;
Make Christians flourish and the infidel pine away,
That Thine almighty power might all kingdoms subdue. Amen. 

The sequence Exultent agmina (Laon BN, MS 263)

Another sequence composed in commemoration of the liberation of Jerusalem, Exultent agmina, is found in a collection of liturgical and para-liturgical music belonging to cathedral of Notre-Dame de Laon. A feast de captione Iherusalem on 15 July was clearly celebrated in Laon at some point, for texts related thereto are found bestrewn in sundry liturgical books, although no single source contains the entirety of the Mass or Office. The celebration of this feast was doubtlessly motivated by the fact that many Crusaders came from this region; indeed, Guibert of Nogent, who penned an important history of the First Crusade, Dei gesta per Francos, lived in a nearby abbey, and himself composed a hymn in memory of the Crusader victory.

Exultent agmina
fidelium cuncta
laudes Deo canentia.Cuius sunt opera
Semper mirifica
Per ampla mundi spatia.Voce celsa,
mente simul defecata,
recolamus gaudia,
que nobis anni orbita
reducit celeberrima.

Cum civitas
Iherusalem gloriosa
effecta est libera
que Sarracenis fuerat
tamdiu tributaria.

Hinc Francorum
pangamus gesta fortia,
quorum probitate
sic est libertate
sub Domini potentia.

Letetur ergo
Christianis reddita,
quibus congaudet,
residens sede sua
iam imperat domina.

Cui tota Francia,
iam flectit genua
nec non Italia.

Iamiamque Grecia
fert ei munera
nec non Arabia.

Egyptus, Affrica
regnaque cetera
transeunt sub ea.

Damascus, Ascalon,
Iope cum Acaron,
Tirus atque Sidon
mittunt ei dona.

Cuius agentes festa
Iherusalem in superna
perfruamur gloria.

Let all the bands
of the faithful rejoice
singing praises to God.Whose works
are ever marvellous
throughout the vast breadth of the world.With lofty voice
and shriven mind
let us recall the joys
which the most renowned course of the year
brings back to us.

For the glorious
city of Jerusalem
was made free,
which had been so long
subjected to the Sarracens.

And so let us record
the valiant deeds of the Franks
by whose prowess
she was thus freed
under the power of the Lord.

Hence let her rejoice,
returned to the Christians,
for whom she rejoices,
sitting on her seat,
now ruling as mistress.

To whom all France
now bends the knee,
and Italy withal.

Now Greece too,
offers her gifts,
and Arabia withal.

Egypt, Africa,
and the rest of the kingdoms
cross under her.

Damascus, Ascalon,
Joppa and Acre,
Tyre and Sidon
send her gifts.

Celebrating her feast,
let us enjoy Jerusalem
in her heavenly glory. 

One of the other liturgical books of Laon containing material for the feast of the Liberation is a 12th-century missal that includes the collect Omnipotens Deus qui virtute used for the feast in Jerusalem itself. In a fascinating footnote to the story of Crusader feasts, after King St Louis’s conquest of Damietta on 6 June 1249, on an empty folio in this missal facing the collect, someone wrote down an adaptation thereof to commemorate the saintly king’s victory. Given the unhappy fortunes that followed, however, the feast of the Liberation of Damietta proved abortive.

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui virtute tua mirabili Damietam civitatem fortissimam ac insanciam Christinissimi regis nostri Ludovici de manu paganorum liberasti et Christianis secondo reddidisti, adesto, quesumus, nobis propitius, et concede ut qui hanc liberationem pia devotione recolimus, ad superne felicitatis gaudia pervenire mereamur. Per Dominum. Almighty everlasting God, who by thy marvellous strength hast torn the most mighty city Damietta by the enterprise of our most Christian king Louis from the hands of the paynims and given it for a second time to the Christians, help us in thy mercy, we beseech thee, and grant that we who with pious devotion celebrate this liberation may deserve to attain the joys of the heavenly happiness. Through our Lord, &c.

Gemma Animae (81): Christ’s Duel with the Devil

Ch. 81
The Battle with the Philistines


Now, as we have already explained, this battle happened before hand when David met Goliath and freed the people from his tyranny (1 Kings 17), because Christ also dueled the devil and saved the people who had been oppressed by him.

The Philistines were making war on Israel, and the host of demons was waylaying the human race; their enemies had sent troops against the people of God, and the devils raised up tyrants against the just; the enemies were protected by a wall, and the demons refined their wiles through the philosophers and poets. Goliath taunted God’s armies, and the devil mocks God’s devout through idolatry. David is sent into battle by his father, and Christ is dispatched into the world to wage his contest. David pastured sheep, and Christ led the flock to the fields of life. David defeated a bear and a lion, and Christ overcame the devil’s temptation. David left his sheep and hasted to the place of battle, and Christ, deserted by his disciples, came into the enemy’s assembly place.

At David’s arrival there was great shouting in the camp, and when Christ came among the Jews the cry went up “He deserves to die!” David puts on Saul’s suit of arms, but takes them off again (I Kings 17), and Christ is dressed in Pilate’s military uniform, i.e. the royal purple and the scarlet mantle, then stripped of them immediately [1]. David carried a staff against the Philistines, and Christ carried the cross against the devil. David took a milk bucket, and Christ took a jar of vinegar. The enemy is toppled by a sling and stone, and the devil is beaten by Christ’s flesh. For we should understand the sling to be Christ’s flesh, the stone his soul, and David his divinity. The stone hurled by the sling pierces Goliath’s skull because Christ’s soul, driven from his flesh by cruel torture, invaded and despoiled the tyrant’s dominion of Hell. He kills him with his own sword, because by his death Christ conquered the author of death. The people rejoice at David’s return, and the faithful people celebrate Christ’s return from Hell. David is received by singing crowds on his way back to Jerusalem, and in Christ’s ascent from Jerusalem into the heavens he is met by the angels singing hymns of praise.

[1] 1 Samuel 17:38-40:

Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet (galea) on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail (lorica). David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them. Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.

Temptation painting.jpg

CAP. LXXXI. – De pugna Philistaei.

Hoc ut dictum est in figura praecesserat, quando David cum Goliath congressus populum a tyrannide eius eruerat (I Reg. XVII), quia et Christus cum diabolo duellum subierat et populum oppressum ab eo eripiebat. Philisthim namque Israel impugnabat, et daemonum caterva humanum genus vexabat; hostes contra populum Dei aciem direxerant, et daemones contra iustos tyrannos incitaverant; hostes se vallo munierant, et daemones per philosophos et poetas errores firmaverant. Goliath agminibus Dei exprobrabat, et diabolus cultoribus Dei per idololatriam insultabat. David a patre suo ad pugnam mittitur, et Christus a Patre in mundum ad certamen dirigitur. David oves pavit, et Christus innocens ad pascua vitae congregavit. David ursum vel leonem superavit, et Christus diabolum se tentantem superavit. David ovibus derelictis ad locum certaminis tendit, et Christus a discipulis derelictus ad conciliabula hostium venit. Veniente David clamor in castris oritur, et Christo inter Iudaeos veniente clamor reus est mortis exoritur. David a militibus armis Saul induitur, moxque eisdem exuitur (I Reg. XVII), et Christus a militibus vestibus Pilati, scilicet purpura et Chlamide coccinea induitur, moxque eisdem exuitur. David contra Philistaeum baculum portavit, et Christus crucem contra diabolum baiulavit. David mulctrum, et Christus accepit vas aceto plenum. Hostis funda et lapide prosternitur, et diabolus Christi carne vincitur, Per fundam quippe, Christi caro; per lapidem, eius anima, per David, deitas intelligitur. Petra itaque de funda excussa frontem superbi penetrat, quia anima Christi, de carne tormentis excussa, regnum tyranni penetrans infernum spoliat. Proprio ense victum iugulat, quia per mortem auctorem mortis vicit. Reverso David populus laetatur, et Christo ab inferis regresso populus fidelium congratulatur. David Ierusalem veniens a turbis cum cantu excipitur, et Christus ab Ierusalem coelos ascensurus ab angelis hymnologis laudibus suscipitur.

Lebrun: The Prayers at the Foot of the Altar


The Public Preparation at the Foot of the Altar


This first part of the Mass contains three things 1. The desire to go up to the altar with confidence in God’s good will. 2. The confession of one’s faults. 3. Prayers to obtain their remission and the grace to ascend the altar with complete purity. These preparatory prayers take place at the foot of the altar, or often at a slight distance from the altar, since they are meant as a preparation for going there. They are mentioned in the Missals only very rarely, and are absent entirely from the first Roman Orders. The six ancient Orders printed by Fr. Mabillon tell us that the bishop, after dressing in the sacristy and signaling the choir to chant the Introit psalm, went first to the head of the choir with all his officers; that he made a bow there,[1] made a sign of the cross on his front, gave a sign of peace to his officers, and stood for some time in prayer before making the sign to the chanter to say the Gloria Patri; that then he advanced to the steps of the altar,[2] and there asks pardon for his sins;[3] that the ministers, except for the acolytes and thurifers, remain kneeling and praying with him; and that he continued to pray until the repetition of the Introit verse.[4]

None of these ancient Ordines describes the prayers of the preparation. In the Latin Church they are not found in writing before the ninth century, being left to the private devotion of the bishops and priests to say them either individually and silently[5] or with the other ministers. No council or pope prescribed the form or terms of these prayers, any more than the moment when they should take place. Some have performed them in a particular chapel, as it is done today at Tours at the tomb of St. Martin; others do it in the choir, as at Laon and Chartres, or at the entrance of the sanctuary, far from the altar, as at Soissons and Châlons-sur-Marne; others at the left or Gospel side of the altar upon entering, as the Carthusians who have taken many of their usages from Vienne and Grenoble; finally, others do them in the sacristy, as at Reims.[6] Various bishops have determined the place they are to be said and used whatever prayers were convenient for their devotion. This is why these prayers differ in their wording and content. Since the ninth century they have been included in some Missals, and more commonly in Pontificals, Manuals, or Ordinaries of the churches. We must look for them there, at least until the 14th century.

These preparatory prayers pertain as much to the assistants as to the priest, and they are said publicly at the foot of the altar, so that no one need assist at Mass without preparation.

Carthusian Rite Confiteor.jpg
Carthusian Confiteor (Source)


[1] Pertransit Pontifex in caput scholae et inclinat caput ad altare, surgens et orans (Ordo Romanus I; Mus. Ital. p. 8) In caput scholae et in gradu superiore (Ordo Romanus II; p. 43); In tribunal Ecclesiae (Ordo Romanus III; p. 56).

[2] Non prolixa completa oratione… annuat cantori ut Gloria dicat: ipse vero ductus a diaconibus pergat ante altare, inclinatisque ad orationem cunctis, stantibus acolythis cum candelabris et thuribilus, etc (Ordo Romanus V; p. 66).

[3] Inclinans se Deum pro peccatis suis deprecetur (Ordo VI; p. 71).

[4] Pontifex orat super ipsum oratorium [prie-Dieu] usque ad repetitionem versus (Ordo I; p. 8). Stat semper inclinatus usque ad versum prophetalem (Ord. II; p. 43).

[5] Pontifex concelebrat interim secreto orationem ante altare inclinatus (Ord. III; p. 56).

[6] See Meurier, writing in 1585, “Sermon 6” and the Ceremonial reprinted in 1637.