A Brief Presentation of the Ambrosian and Eusebian Rites, by Henri de Villiers

A Brief Presentation of the Ambrosian and Eusebian Rites
By Henri de Villiers

This article was originally posted on the website of the Schola Sainte-Cecile, and is translated and published here with the gracious permission of the author.

The Liturgy of the Church of Milan: St. Ambrose and the Origin of the Ambrosian Rite

Extension actuelle du rit ambrosienThe Ambrosian rite, also called the Milanese rite, is the proper liturgy of the Church of Milan and of certain churches that gravitate in its orbit. This particular western rite is currently used by around five million faithful who live in the diocese of Milan (with the exception of some parts of the diocese that have long followed the Roman rite, the most notable being the city of Monza) as well as in certain parts of the neighboring dioceses of Como, Bergamo, Novara, Lodi, and of Lugano in Switzerland. In the Middle Ages, the rite had a slightly larger extension, and there were even attempts to have it adopted in Prague and Augsburg!

The qualifier “Ambrosian” signifies, of course, that the founder and patron of this rite is St. Ambrose (387), the great 4th century bishop of Milan. We know for certain that this saint, one of the four great doctors of the western Latin church, arranged the liturgy of his church. From the witness of St. Augustine (Confessions 9.7) and Paulinus, deacon and secretary to St. Ambrose, we know that the holy bishop introduced antiphonal psalmody into his church, modeled on the Eastern practice that originated in Antioch: two choirs chanting the psalms in an alternating dialogue, verse by verse. At that time St. Ambrose was in open confrontation with the Empress Justina, who wanted to take one of the basilicas of Milan and give it to the Arian heretics. The holy bishop had the people of Milan peacefully occupy the church, organizing chanted offices night and day until the danger had passed. Until then, the Latin west knew only two archaic forms of chant, in directum (all the verses sung one after the other without alternation) and responsorial (a solo cantor sings the verse, to which the people respond with a refrain, the response). Upon founding these night and day offices, St. Ambrose also composed hymns he made his people sing, also on the model of what was done in the East, and this was also a major innovation in the history of the whole western liturgy. Many of these hymns composed by St. Ambroseall in strophes of four octosyllablic lines, in acatalectic iambic dimeter, a simple, lively meter easy to memorize)were later received in the Roman liturgy and are still sung today. For example, the Aeterne rerum Conditor, mentioned by St. Augustine and used by the Roman rite at Sunday Lauds, appears at the beginning of the night office in the Ambrosian Breviary:

Ætérne rerum Conditor,
Noctem diémque qui regis,
Et témporum das témpora
Ut álleves fastídium.

Saint Ambroise de Milan - gravure d'un missel du XVIIIème siècleIt might cause surprise that St. Ambrosewho seems never to have gone to the Eastmade such innovations in the liturgy of his church by taking up customs from Antioch or the East in general. One should also observe that, on the whole, there exist numerous points of contact between the Ambrosian liturgy and the Oriental liturgies, Antiochene and Byzantine. One might also not improbably detect the influence of St. Ambrose’s predecessor, Auxentius of Milan, an Arian heretic imposed by the imperial power, a Cappadocian ordained a priest by his compatriot Gregory of Cappadocia, the Arian archbishop of Alexandria. But this point will always remain a mystery.

In two celebrated treatises, De Mysteriis and De Sacramentis, St. Ambrose explains the sacraments of Christian initiation to catechumens: Baptism, Chrismation, and the Eucharist, and gives incidental details on the manner in which the sacraments were administered in Milan. The current Ambrosian rite conserves numerous traits described in these works. Most particularly, a passage from the 4th book of De Sacramentis gives us the most ancient known text of the Canon of the Mass. This Canon—whose kinship with the Egyptian liturgy is doubtlessly linked to the fact that the evangelist St. Mark preached in Aquileia and then in Alexandria—was adopted by the churches of Italy very early on, and eventually became the famous “Roman Canon,” of which Milan has always used a proper version that is nevertheless very close to that used in Rome. One can also glean from other works by St. Ambrose, especially in his correspondence, numerous details relating to the liturgy or to ecclesiastical discipline in general, such as ordinations, the consecration of virgins (a ceremony on a vast scale), prayers for the dead, and the dedication of churches.

St. Ambrose’s successors continued his work, particularly St. Simplician, his immediate successor, and St. Lazarus (438-451), who established the three Rogation Days after the Ascension (and hence before their adoption in Gaul by St. Mamertus in 474).

Nonetheless, besides these scattered facts drawn mostly from St. Ambrose’s biography, no major document about the Ambrosian rite exists before the 9th century. Let us now see why.

The Struggle for the Preservation of the Ambrosian Rite

Charlemagne had continued the policy of his son Pepin the Short, eradicating the ancient Gallican liturgy from his domains in favor of the rite of the Church of Rome, and wanted to do the same to the Milanese rite. According to an 11th-century chronicler, Landulphus, the struggle for the suppression of the Ambrosian rite was a bitter one, but the people of Milan resisted so resolutely that it was decided to perform an ordeal: the two books, Roman and Milanese, were placed on the altar of St. Peter in Rome, and it was decided that the one that was found open at the end of three days would be the victor. But both books were found open and, thanks to this miracle, the Ambrosian rite earned its right to survive. All the Ambrosian books had already been destroyed, but the clergy of Milan edited a complete handbook for their liturgy from memory. Say what we may about the historicity of these facts as reported by Landulphus, it is nevertheless certain that, unlike the Roman rite, we possess no document of the Ambrosian rite anterior to the reign of Charlemagne, and for this reason, it is very difficult to retrace its ancient history and understand the stages of its development.

Breviarium Ambrosianum : bréviaire ambrosien , édition de 1764 qui suit l'édition de saint Charles BorroméeBut the battle had not been won yet: Pope Nicholas II, who had tried in 1060 to abolish the Mozarabic rite, sought to do the same with the Ambrosian, aided in this unhappy task by St. Peter Damian. But the rite was rescued by his successor, Pope Alexander II. Pope St. Gregory VII (1073 † 1085) repeated the attempt at suppression, but in vain. Branda da Castiglione († 1443), a cardinal and legate of the pope in Lombardy, failed once again to Romanize the Milanese. The survival of the rite would only be definitively assured by the untiring work of St. Charles Borromeo († 1584), the great archbishop of Milan and hero of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, who sedulously strove to put his diocese’s rite into good order. One might compare his work to what was accomplished simultaneously by St. Pius V for the Roman rite in establishing a standard edition.

The Ambrosian Mass and its Principal Characteristics

Messe ambrosienne au Panthéon
Ambrosian Mass at the Pantheon, celebrated by Mgr Amodeo in 2010 for the 25th anniversary of the reestablishment of the traditional Ambrosian liturgy

To begin with, the Ambrosian Mass has preserved a number of archaic features that, in many cases, testify to the practice of the Italian churches of the 4th century. Furthermore, studying it permits us to speculate about the state of the Roman rite before the age of Gregory the Great (6th century).

As in all the churches of the ancient Carolingian domains, the Mass begins with the prayers at the foot of the altar, which permit the celebrant and his assistants to put themselves in the proper condition for the celebration of the holy mysteries. Shorter than in the Roman rite, these prayers consist principally of the confession of sins.

The Mass of Catechumens begins with an antiphon called the Ingressa, corresponding to the Roman Introit. But this antiphon is chanted alone, without a psalm verse or Gloria Patri. (The addition of a psalm to the Introit to fill the time during the long processions of the Roman clergy accompanying the pope appears to be an innovation of Pope St. Celestine I († 432). We retain only the first verse, but the whole psalm would once have been chanted.) This antiphon corresponds also to the antiphon of the Byzantine Little Entrance, imported from the Syrian Rite of Antioch.

The celebrant greets the people with the Dominus vobiscum (these are very numerous in the Ambrosian rite), then the Gloria in excelsis Deo is sung, followed by a first (there will be many others) triple Kyrie eleison (without Christe eleison, a Roman peculiarity unknown elsewhere). The first prayer follows, the Oratio super populum, which corresponds to the Roman Collect (moreover, the two rites share many texts of this prayer).

Next the Mass includes three readings—a prophecy, an epistle, and a gospel—a fact attested by the writings of St. Ambrose and corresponding to the ancient practice of Gaul and Spain. (Rome followed Byzantium in having only two readings.) On the feasts of saints, the prophecy sometimes was a reading recounting the life of the saint. The prophecy is followed by a psalmellus, a showpiece for the chanters, whose responsorial structure corresponds to the Roman Gradual, the Byzantine Prokimenon, the Ethiopian Mesbak, etc. A “Halleluia” (respecting the orthography of the Ambrosian books) with verse is chanted before the Gospel. This chant, especially at the final reprise, is often an occasion for extraordinary developments, with melismas much longer than the Gregorian Alleluias and which recall the jubilus, the rejoicing described by St. Augustine.

Messe pontificale du cardinal Schuster au Dôme de Milan. Les chanoines de la cathédrale de Milan sont mitrés.
Pontifical Mass of Cardinal Schuster at the Duomo in Milan. The canons of the cathedral of Milan are mitred.

After the Gospel the Mass of the Faithful begins with a Dominus vobiscum followed by a triple Kyrie eleison. The choir then chants an antiphon called the Post evangelium but which corresponds to the first part of the Offertory, while the bread and wine are brought to the celebrant (originally by ten old men and ten old women supported at the Church’s expense). This antiphon corresponds to the Great Entrance of the Byzantine liturgy. (On Holy Thursday, the Post evangelium antiphon for the day is the famous Cœnae tuæ, which is also the Great Entrance of that day in the Byzantine rite.)

Then the deacon chants Pacem habete, to which the people respond Ad te, Domine. At this point originally the kiss of peace took place, as in all the Christian liturgies with the notable exception of the Roman and African, which put the kiss of peace after the Canon and before the communion. The priest then says a second prayer super sindonem (over the shroud, the great corporal that covered the oblations as a figure of the burial of Christ). This prayer, which existed in the ancient Gallican rite, corresponds to the prayer of the veil in the eastern liturgies of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.

The choir then chants the Offertorium of the day, whose form is close to the corresponding chant of the Roman liturgy. During this chant, the celebrant presents the oblation of bread and wine, saying in a low voice the offertory prayers typical to the churches of the ancient Carolingian domains and similar to those employed by the Roman rite. He also incenses the oblations, as the Roman rite does in the same place (but the Milanese retain the spectacular ancient 360° rotation of the thurible, without a cover).

Messe solennelle en rit ambrosien : oraison sur les oblats et préface. Notez la position du diacre et du sous-diacre aux cardes (coins) de l'autel.
Solemn Mass in the Ambrosian rite:: prayer over the oblations and preface. Note the position of the deacon and sub-deacon at the corners of the altar.

Having finished the offertory, the celebrant greets the people with a Dominus vobiscum, after which the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Symbol is chanted. The placing of the Symbol corresponds to that of the Eastern rites, just before the Eucharistic anaphora. The Roman rite has—somewhat clumsily—anticipated the Creed before the offertory, thus before the (theoretical) dismissal of the catechumens,  a fact that betrays its relatively late introduction (in the 11th century, when there were no more catechumens). The Milanese Credo differs from the Roman by a slight textual variant: ascendit ad cœlos instead of ascendit in cœlum. After the Credo, the celebrant says a third prayer super oblata, which corresponds to the Roman Secret and is also linked to the Preface dialogue (identical to the Roman) and the beginning of the Canon. As opposed to the sobriety of the Roman Rite after St. Gregory the Great, the Milanese Preface is different for nearly every Mass, as in the Gallican and Mozarabic rites. The Canon, by contrast, is fixed and very similar to the Roman canon, with some variation of details. As we pointed out earlier, the Roman and Ambrosian Canons are certainly two forms of a canon that was widespread in Italy in the 4th century, probably originating in Aquileia.

After the Canon, the celebrant proceeds to the fraction of the Body of Our Lord, while the choir chants an antiphon called the Confractorium. (The text for these antiphons is often found in the Roman Communion antiphons, whose introduction in Rome was rather late: 6th century). Next comes the Pater noster chant. We know that in Rome it was Pope St. Gregory the Great who displaced the Pater and put it at the conclusion of the Canon, before the fraction, in imitation of Constantinople. It is probable that following this reorganisation, the ancient antiphons that had accompanied the fraction of the bread were recycled as antiphons to accompany the faithfuls’ communion.

In imitation of Rome, the Milanese rite also introduced a second kiss of peace at this point, duplicating the one at the beginning of the offertory. As the peace is being passed, the choir can chant an antiphon for the peace (“Pax in cœlo, pax in terra, pax in omni populo, pax sacerdotibus ecclesiarum Dei.”), which is not absolutely prescribed, but has a counterpart in the antiphona ad pacem of the ancient rite of Gaul and the Roman Agnus Dei.

The choir accompanies the faithful’s motion during the communion with a very curious and often very original piece called Transitorium. Its style differs markedly from what is found in the Roman rite at this point, in text as well as music. A final prayer post communionem is chanted by the celebrant. After three Kyrie eleison, the dismissal is made, not employing the Ite missa est but the following responses: V/. Procedamus in pace R/. In nomine Christi. V/. Benedicamus Domino. R/. Deo gratias. The Benedicamus Domino must have been a more ancient formula than the Ite missa est: it is the only form known in the Ambrosian rite and is employed in the Roman office and Roman penitential masses (Advent, Lent), which generally preserve more ancient elements.

Like the Roman Mass, a trinitarian benediction of the faithful by the priest is added after the dismissal, along with the Last Gospel, which is the beginning of the Gospel according to John, as in Rome.

The Ambrosian Liturgical Year

Messe de requiem pour Mgr Amodeo - Abbaye de Meda, 10 novembre 2012.
Requiem Mass for Mgr Amodeo – Abbey of Saint-Victor of Meda (north of Milan, in Lombardy) 10th November 2012

The liturgical year, as in Gaul or Spain, begins with the feast of St. Martin on 11th November. Ambrosian Advent comprises six weeks (as opposed to four in Rome) and begins on 12th November at the latest.

Preceded by Septuagesima, Lent begins on the Monday that follows the first Sunday In capite Quadragesimæ (as was the case also in Rome before St. Gregory the Great anticipated it on Ash Wednesday). The following Sundays are designated by the Gospel read on that day: of the Samaritan, of Abraham, of the Blind Man, of Lazarus, and then Palm Sunday. Holy Week is radically different in structure from the Roman practice. Saturday is not a fasting day, contrary to Rome but in conformity with the East.

There are fifteen Sundays after Pentecost, then five Sundays “After the Decollation” (of St. John the Baptist) and two Sundays of October. The third Sunday of October celebrates the Dedication of the Cathedral, followed by three Sundays “post Dedicationem.” The chant pieces proper to these Sundays are chosen from a common repertoire (“Commune dominicale”) and may be used many times.

The sanctoral cycle includes many Milanese saints, of course, but also many Roman martyrs from the first centuries, many of which are not celebrated by the Roman rite (such as St. Genesius, a Roman martyr whose feast we will sing this coming 25th of August).

The Ambrosian Divine Office

Vêpres ambrosiennes à Saint-André du Quirinal - 1er mai 2010.
Ambrosian Vespers at Saint Andrew’s at the Quirinal – 1st May 2010.

Let us conclude with a quick word about the divine office.

The most ancient structure is that of the night office, which has three Nocturnes joined to an office of Matins, which was formally divided into two distinct parts—under the more modern names of Matins and Lauds—by St. Charles Borromeo. The night vigils of Saturday and Sunday have proper structures and include many canticles from the Old Testament, like the Palestinian office or that described in the rule of St. Benedict. The night office of Saturday uses Psalm 118, as the Byzantine office. The psalms for the other days of the week, from Monday to Friday, are divided into a two-week cycle. Lauds begins with the Benedictus and ends, as in every Christian liturgy, with the daily singing of psalms 148, 149, and 150, to which Milan adds psalm 116.

The other hours (Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline) are similar to the Roman practice, which would have been common in Italy (the rule of St. Benedict is an adjustment of this common practice, with some simplifications—such as the reduction of Vespers to four psalms—to facilitate the monks’ work): psalm 118 is—as in Rome—chanted every day, split up over the little hours. Vespers opens with a Lucernarium responsory followed by five psalms as in Rome (the Vespers of feasts have a much more complex and original structure, with a regular repetition of psalms 132, 133, and 116). At the end of Lauds and Vespers, the singing of select psalm verses is comparable to the Byzantine aposticha (which originate in the liturgy of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem). Compline has six psalms every day (4, 30, 90, 132, 133, 116), somewhat like the Byzantine Great Compline.

The Latin version of Biblical texts employed by the Milanese rite does not follow the usual Vulgate of St. Jerome nor the so-called Gallican Psalter.

Ambrosian Plainchant

The panorama we have quickly sketched of the riches and peculiarities of the Ambrosian rite would be incomplete without also mentioning Ambrosian chant—of such a strange and peculiar taste. Suffice it to note that this chant is obviously more archaic in its modal constructions than Gregorian chant and yet shows many points of resemblance with the so-called Old Roman chant. Gregorian chant is in fact the result of a later reform, a deliberate effort of simplification and systematization, while the Ambrosian and Old Roman chants have manifestly preserved a more archaic form of the ancient cantillation of the churches of Italy.

Antiphonaire ambrosien du XIVème siècle. Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge.
Ambrosian antiphonary from the 14th century. Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge. Vespers of St. Maurice and his companions: Lucernarium and Magnificat antiphon.

A Neighboring Rite: the Eusebian Rite

Reliquaire de saint Eusèbe dans la cathédrale de Verceil.
Reliquary of St. Eusebius in the Vercelli Cathedral

A great friend of St. Ambrose and, like him, a champion in the struggle against the horrors of the Arian heresy, St. Eusebius of Vercelli was bishop of that city in Northern Italy until his death in 371. At that time, this diocese included the whole Cisalpine region and was a suffragan of the archbishop of Milan. Unlike Milan, Vercelli seems not to have been able to maintain its own rite, and Charlemagne seems to have succeeded in imposing the Roman rite upon it, whereas he had failed to do the same to the Milanese liturgy. As in all the other dioceses of the Carolingian empire, the Roman liturgy developed subsequently in an autonomous fashion, so that one may speak of a Roman liturgy of the use of Vercelli, one of the particular uses of the Carolingian domains, alongside the Lyonese rite, the Parisian rite, the rite of Nidaros, of Sarum, etc., etc.

This medieval liturgy of Vercelli was called the “Eusebian Rite” in imitation of the neighboring Milanese rite. It is known to us from the exceptional archives of the Vercelli cathedral chapter, very rich in important manuscripts. Though fundamentally Roman in structure, the liturgy of Vercelli also had numerous borrowings from the neighboring Ambrosian rite and preserved very many unique traits, which either bear witness to an archaic form of the Roman rite or were totally unique, originating before the Carolingian romanization (such as the famous Eastern antiphon Sub tuum præsidium, whose Eusebian text is a Latin translation that differs from both the Roman and Milanese). The late Abbé Quoëx († 2007) understood the great contribution that study of the liturgical books of Vercelli could make for our understanding of the history of the Roman liturgy, and had made a review, classification, and study of them for the École Pratique des Hautes Etudes, but his death brought an end to this project.

Constantin brûle les livres ariens après le Concile de Nicée. Verceil, Bibliothèque capitulaire, MS CLXV (c. 825).
Constantine burns the Arians’ books after the Council of Nicea. Vercelli, Bibliothèque capitulaire, MS CLXV (c. 825).

Only printing its breviary in 1504, Vercelli preserved its own rite until its suppression in 1575. On the one hand, Savoy, who had conquered the territory, wanted to unify the subjects of its states through the common practice of the Roman rite alone, according to the Tridentine books; on the other, like many dioceses in that period, economic considerations were the most important: the publishing and printing costs of all proper liturgical books was enormous for a single diocese, since printers were confronted with a very weak commercial outlet on the very narrow diocesan market, while the Roman books were spreading quickly and were not expensive. Thus the rite disappeared, but certain elements were long preserved by popular tradition for the Feast of St. Eusebius.

Be that as it may, on August 21st we will sing the office of Vespers within the Octave of the Assumption according to the ancient use of Vercelli, the chant having been reconstructed on the basis of the renowned medieval manuscripts of the chapter. We will also use the polyphonies composed by Orazio Colombani, a choirmaster of the cathedral of Vercelli in the 16th century.

Gemma Animae (68 – 71): On Processions

When I was in Jerusalem for Holy Week this year, I joined the Franciscans for their procession to the Cenacle. On the way, in front of the Tower of David, a pair of young Jewish men in kippahs turned the corner from an alley and were startled to run into the crowd of pilgrims. When they recovered themselves, one of them blurted out:

“Wow, it’s like the Exodus, man!”

Either he’s been following the blog, or allegorical commentary is completely natural for a mind steeped in Scripture.

Also see Lebrun’s excellent discussion of pre-Mass processions.


Franciscans and ultra-Orthodox Jews cross paths in Jerusalem (Source)

Chapter 68
On the Procession

Now so that we may bring some sweetness  to the minds of our readers or hearers, we shall say something about the procession.

If Christ’s legation for us in the world was enacted in the Mass, the procession acts out our return to the homeland. In the solemnity of her procession, the Church imitates the joy of the people of God as they went out of Egypt and, liberated through many signs and wonders, finally arrived at Mount Sion. There, having received the Law and built the tabernacle, they wended in a sort of procession toward the promised land. For the armed people went forth by tribe, carrying before them signs and insignia. The Levites bore the tabernacle, the priests blared with their trumpets. The arc of the covenant was carried by the priests, Aaron was appointed High Priest, and Moses, leader of the people, followed with his staff. On their way, Amalech met them with his army and tried to block their way (Exodus 17). But Jesus [i.e. Joshua] came out the victor over him and opened the way for the people toward the promised land. Jesus gave us the norm for our procession when he circled Jericho with the ark and all the people, when the priestly order sounded forth on their trumpets, and the people made a great noise. Jericho fell, and the victorious people gained possession of their kingdom.

Ch. 69
The Meaning of the Procession

Moses delivers the people from Pharaoh, and Christ redeems the Christian people from the devil. They received the tables of the Law on the mountain, and we carry away the books of the Gospel from the altar; the people went out armed, and the Christian people goes forth signed with faith and baptism. Before their companies they carried their signs, and we carry before us crosses and other insignia. A column of fire preceded them, and candle light precedes us. That people was splashed with blood, this one is splashed with blessed water. The Levites carried the tabernacle of the covenant, and here the deacons and subdeacons carry lectionaries and boxes. The ark of the covenant was carried by priests, and the scrinium or feretrum with relics is carried by the fathers. The High Priest Aaron follows in stately array, and among us the bishop, i.e. the high priest, follows in his sacrificial vestments. If the king and ruler of the people is present with his sceptre, he signifies Moses who led his people with a staff. If the king is not present, then the pontiff expresses both: Moses by carrying his staff, and Aaron by covering his head with a mitre. The sound of trumpets is expressed by the sound of the bells.

Ch. 70
The Meaning of a Procession from the Homeland to Another Church

When we make a procession to another church, it is as if we are making our way toward the promised land. When we enter the church singing, it is as if we arrive in our homeland rejoicing. When we carry a scrinium or feretory around the monastery singing and ringing bells, it is as if were walking around Jericho with the ark to the sound of trumpets and the shouts of the people. Jericho falls before us, since in our hearts worldly concupiscence has been dried up. We follow the cross, for we are commanded to follow Christ Crucified in all things, and no one shall reach him unless he crucifies himself to the world with its vices and concupiscence.

Procession of the Holy Blood, Bruges
Procession of the Holy Blood, Bruges, 2014 (Source). Processions with reliquary boxes (scrinia, feretra) were very common in the Middle Ages.

Ch. 71
On the ark

David and also Salomon taught us how to do the procession, for they carried forth the ark of God with hymns and canticles, and David placed it in the tabernacle, Salomon in the Temple under the Cherubim. When we enter the Church with the scrinium, it is as if we are joyfully carrying the ark into the Temple, and with Christ and the Church (for the ark signifies both) we proclaim that we will enter into the heavenly palace. The ark is placed under the wings of Cherubim and the people sing praises because the humanity of Christ is set among the highest orders of the angels, the Cherubim and Seraphim, and by the whole host of angels and mankind is adored with unending joy.

Image result for the lord surrounded by the cherubimImage result for arc of covenant cherubim


CAP. LXVIII. – De processione.

Nunc ut legentium vel audientium mentibus quiddam dulcedinis infundamus, aliquid de processione dicamus. In missa quidem agebatur Christi pro nobis in mundum legatio; in processione agitur nostra ad patriam reversio. Pro processionis itaque solemnitate, imitatur Ecclesia populi Dei de Aegypto egredientis iucunditatem. Qui signis et prodigiis liberatus ad montem Sinai pervenit: ibi, accepta lege et facto tabernaculo, quasi quadam processione ad terram promissionis tetendit. Populus namque armatus incedebat per turmas, et signa et vexilla anteferebant, levitae tabernaculum gerebant, sacerdotes tubis clangebant. Arca foederis a sacerdotibus portabatur, et Aaron summus sacerdos decoratus, et Moyses dux populi sequebatur cum virga. Quibus in via Amalech cum exercitu occurrit, iter armis obstruere voluit (Exod. XVII). Cum quo Iesus pugnans victor exstitit, populo iter ad patriam aperuit. Qui Iesus normam nobis processionis dedit, quando cum arca omnique populo Iericho circuivit, sacerdotalis ordo tubis cecinit, populus clamore personuit. Iericho corruit, et victor populus regnum obtinuit.

CAP. LXIX. – Significatio processionum.

Populus a Pharaone per Moysen ereptus, est Christianus populus a diabolo per Christum redemptus. Tabulae Testamenti a monte accipiuntur, et libri Evangelii ab altari ad portandum sumuntur; populus ibat armatus, et populus Christianus vadit fide et baptismate signatus. Prae turmis illorum signa ferebantur; et ante nos cruces et vexilla portantur. Eos columna ignis praecessit, et nos candelae lumen praecedit. Ille populus sanguine aspergebatur, iste aqua benedicta aspergitur; levitae tabernaculum foederis portaverunt, et hic diaconi et subdiaconi plenaria et capsas gerunt. Arca testamenti a sacerdotibus portabatur; et scrinium vel feretrum cum reliquiis a patribus portatur. Aaron summus sacerdos sequitur ornatus, et apud nos episcopus, summus scilicet sacerdos, sequitur infulatus. Rex si adest cum sceptro rector populi, significat Moysen cum virga ductorem populi. Si rex non aderit, tunc pontifex utrumque exprimit, Moysen, baculum portando; Aaron, mitra caput velando. Clangor tubarum exprimitur per sonum campanarum.

CAP. LXX. – Quid designat processio ad aliam ecclesiam facta de patria.

Dum ad aliam ecclesiam processionem facimus, quasi ad terram repromissionis tendimus. Cum ecclesiam cantantes intramus, quasi ad patriam gaudentes pervenimus. Cum circa monasterium scrinium, vel feretrum cum cantu et compulsatione ferimus, quasi cum arca Iericho cum sono tubarum, et clamore populi circuimus. Iericho coram nobis corruit, cum mundi concupiscentia in cordibus nostris aruerit. Ideo quippe crucem praecedentem sequimur, quia Christum crucifixum in omnibus sequi praecipimur, et nullus ad eum pervenire poterit, nisi qui se mundo vitiis et concupiscentiis crucifixerit.

CAP. LXXI. – De arca.

David quoque, et Salomon ad processionem nos informaverunt, qui arcam Dei hymnis, et canticis produxerunt, et David in tabernaculum, Salomon in templum sub alis cherubin reposuerunt. Cum ecclesiam cum scrinio intramus, quasi arcam in templum cum gaudio portamus, et cum Christo atque Ecclesia (quod utrumque arca designat) coelestem aulam nos intraturos clamamus. Arca sub alas cherubin ponitur et a populo laus concinitur, quia Christi humanitas inter summos ordines angelorum cherubin et seraphin locabitur. Et a turba angelorum et hominum perenni iubilo adorabitur.

The Jubé (2): The Location of the Ambo in Latin and Greek Churches

Chapter 1

Chapter II
The forms of jubés, ancient and modern

Jubés have not always been situated in the same place in the church.

The one mentioned in the Apostolic Constitutions[1] was located between the clergy and the people, in the middle of the Church, in an elevated place: in medio Lector ex loco edito legat libros Moysis, etc.

Cardinal Leo, Bishop of Ostia, speaking about Desiderius, the 37th abbot of Monte Cassino (later pope Victor III), says[2] that he built a very beautiful jubé of wood outside the choir of the Church of Monte Cassino: Sed et gradum nihilominus ligneum eiusdem operis extra chorum in ambonis modum satis pulchrum constituit. He does not mention its location in the nave, and perhaps it was outside the choir in the way that the jubés of French churches are, at the top of the nave and below the choir.

Cardinal Rasponi, once a canon of St. John Lateran, says there were formerly two jubés of marble in the middle of this patriarchal church, close to where the tomb of Pope Martin V is currently situated. Superioribus saeculis in huius navis medio, juxta situm quem occupat iam Martini Papa V sepulchrum, erant pulpita duo marmorea, qua ambones vocant.[3]

The jubé of San Pancrazio in Rome is on the Gospel side of the nave; that of the church of Sant’Ambrogio in Milan, the principal church after the cathedral, is on the Epistle side; and that of San Salvatore in Ravenna is on the same side, as I gather from the Italian voyage of Fr. Chastelain in these terms:

“At 17:00 on Saturday, 20th October 1668, we left for Ravenna where we arrived at midday….I first saw the metropolitan church of San Salvatore….The pulpit on the right side of the nave is flanked by two columns and of very beautiful white marble, with a straight set of stairs on each side. In front and behind I could read the words: Servus Christi Piagnellus Episcopus, hunc pyrgum fecit. The pulpit had been made for a jubé and the Gospel is still chanted from here on certain days.”[4]

Baroque pulpit in St. Nikolai Church, Wismar, Germany : Stock Photo
St. Nikolai Church, Wismar, Germany (Source)

Fr. Morin supposed that all the ancient jubés were built in the same location as found in these three famous churches, i.e. toward the middle of the nave, just like the preacher’s pulpit today:

“The ambo was constructed in the same place where the preachers’ pulpit is built today, since the purpose of both structures was the same.”[5]

M. de Merbes was of the same opinion:

“An ambo was a small, high, and elevated structure usually built in the same place where preachers’ pulpits are erected today.”[6]

For two reasons I am dissatisfied with these accounts.

The first reason is that the jubés of most Western churches are in an entirely different location: separating the choir from the nave, crossing the whole length of the choir, and running perpendicular to the altar. Anyone with eyes can see this for himself.

The second reason is that the jubés of Eastern Churches were nearly all placed in facing the sanctuary, that is, facing the door in the middle of the sanctuary. Simeon of Thessalonica gives evidence of this:

“The ambo in front of the sanctuary reminds us of the stone that was rolled away from the tomb. The ambo is visible from the door of the tribunal: the most holy tribunal is toward the east, and on the opposite side, if the space allows for it, the ambo is placed.”[7]

St. Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople, notes the location of the jubés with greater precision when he says: “The ambo is placed in front of the door to the tribunal.”[8]

Arcudius, a priest of the church of Corfu, also locates them facing the door of the sanctuary in the middle of the nave:

“For the Greeks, the ambo is a raised area just outside the sanctuary. Their custom is to erect several stairs and a flat platform just in front of the Beautiful Gates, where they place the bishop’s seat. These are like the altar stairs in the Latin Church. They call this area the ἄμβων, ambo.”[9]

It was necessary that the ambos be built in the Eastern Churches in this manner because the Pontifical of the Greek Church[10] says that after the deacon, preceded by four other deacons, has ascended the jubé to read the Gospel, the officiating patriarch turns toward the West until the end of the reading; and that the second deacon, who holds the patriarch’s pallium in his left hand, after saying “Wisdom, be attentive, listen to the Holy Gospel,” turns in the same way and looks at the deacon in the jubé:

“The patriarch turns toward the West awaiting the end of the Gospel [….] The second deacon, also looking West, i.e. toward the deacon in the ambo [….].”

If the patriarch and second deacon turn toward the West to hear the Gospel, is this not clear evidence that the jubé which the first deacon ascended is in the same direction, and not to the South or North, the two directions where the preachers’ pulpits are located in our churches today?

It is certain, furthermore, that the jubé of Hagia Sophia, which was the most magnificent of all the jubés, was in the middle of the church facing the great door of the sanctuary. Paul the Silentiary, who lived in the time of the emperor Justinian, renders faithful testimony to this fact;[11] and du Cange, who records it, is of the same opinion when he remarks:

“Hence we can gather that the ambo stood in the middle of the church, and was not fixed to the pillars on either side, unlike the large pulpits of modern churches [….] Thus the ambo stood in front of the large holy door, some little distance away.”[12]

The Greeks of more recent times have usually placed their jubés in the middle of the church, as far as they are able. But when the arrangement of the space does not permit it, they have not hesitated to place it on the left or right side. Fr Goar, an Apostolic Missionary in the East, who has been an eye-witness of this fact, assures us in these terms:

“An ambo was built in the middle of the church or to one side [….] Near the solea, in the middle of the church (although in some churches it stands on the right or left as the space permits) an ambo is erected.”[13]

Thus it seems that jubés were not all found in the same place as modern preachers’ rostra. In fact, I have found seven different locations. This is not to mention the kind that is built above the main portals of certain churches, called a gloria because every year at the end of the Palm Sunday procession the Gloria, laus, et honor is sung from there. There are three of these at Reims, one in the cathedral church between the two towers, another in the Abbey of St. Rémi, and the third in the Abbey of St. Denys.

Seven Locations of the Jubé

1. The Full-Length Rood Loft

Rood Screen 's Hetogenbosh
St. John’s Cathedral, ‘s Hertogenbosch, Netherlands

One type is found between the choir and the nave, crossing the whole width of the choir. These are the largest and most well known of all jubés, especially in the West. It is this type of jubé that Fr. Cabassout treats in his Notice des Conciles, when he said: “The ambo stood between the nave—also called the bosom (gremium)—and the sanctuary. It had flights of stairs running down both sides.”[14]

2. The Double-Ambo

Screen (San Cesario).jpg
Chiesa San Cesareo, Rome

A second type is also between the choir and the nave, on both sides of the main door of the choir, one to the right and the other to the left, but they cross only part of the width of the choir. There are two of this type at Sens in the cathedral church and the parish church of St. Hilaire; in Paris in the parish churches of St. Gervais, St. Jean-en-Gréve, and St. Nicolas-des-Champs; in Milan in the cathedral church and in St. Miniato of Florence. Clement VIII built two similar ones in the church of San Cesareo in Rome, and Cardinal Baronius in the church of San Nereo. There are two in the Santa Maria in Ara Coeli, but a little farther away from the high altar.

Screen (San_Miniato_al_Monte_Florence_Italy).jpg
Chiesa San Minatio, Florence. Perhaps only one of the jubés has survived here, on the Epistle side.
Ambo miniato.jpg
The Epistle ambo, turned toward the north

3. Central Ambo

The interior of the parish church of Ste Cérotte in the 19th century. The ambo Thiers mentions has been removed.

A third type is also between the choir and the nave but in the center of the choir enclosure. They have a door on each side to enter into the choir, one on the right and the other on the left. There are not many of this kind, but there is one in the parish church of Ste Seraute [Ste Cérotte] near St. Calais in Maine. They preach, give announcements, and chant the Epistle and Gospel there on major feast days.

4. An Ambo inside the Choir

A fourth type is at the entrance of the choir and above the seats of the ecclesiastics or religious, on the left side from the entrance. The only ones I know of are in the churches of Chartres and Bayeux, and the abbatial church of Royaumont, seven leagues from Paris. In Bayeux they chant the Lessons of Matins there every day including feast days. The one at Chartres is usually called la Légende, where they also chant the Lessons of Matins for every office except the Office of the Dead, as is done at Royaumont. There was once a second jubé in Royaumont on the right side. It is currently blocked up, and has been so for several centuries.

5. The Single Ambo in the Nave, Epistle or Gospel Side

san pancrazio
A drawing of the ambo in San Pancrazio, Rome, destroyed during the Napoleonic occupation

Another type is near the middle of the nave, either on the Gospel side, as at San Pancrazio at Rome, or on the Epistle side, as at Sant’Ambrogio in Milan and San Salvatore in Ravenna. Fr. Morin and M. de Merbes mention these jubés, but they are not as common as they supposed. They have the same placement as our preachers’ pulpits and there are some of this type in Greek churches today, as we have recently heard from Fr. Goar.

Screen (Torcello)
Chiesa San Torcello, with Gospel-side ambo.

6. In the Schola’s Choir

Screen (San Clemente 2)
Chiesa San Clemente, Rome

Another type are slightly above the schola’s choir and at the top of the nave, as at San Clemente in Rome, where there is one on the left for the Gospel and two on the right, one for the Epistle and the other, lower and smaller, for the Prophecies.*[15]

7. The Eastern Type: Single Ambo in the Center of the Nave

Ambo (Greece, Kalabaka).png
Church of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, Kalabaka, Greece (Source): “Certain features of the Byzantine liturgy are still traditionally done in the middle of the nave, in memory of this ancient arrangement, the most notable being the final prayer, which is still called the ambo prayer.”

The final type are near the middle of the nave across from the only or main door of the sanctuary. We have heard from St. Germanos of Constantinople, Paul the Silentiary, Simeon of Thessalonica, Arcudius, Fr. Goar and M. du Cange, and that is sufficient evidence of this type. The plans that Fr. Goar[16] and M. de Schelstrate[17] have made for us of the eastern churches shows this even more clearly. This is also what M Habert, Bishop of Vabres, had in mind when he places the jubé in the middle of the congregation:

“The ancient situation of the ambo was certainly the same as it is now: outside the sanctuary, outside the βῆμα or sacrarium, separated from the nave by a wall and screen, and in the middle of the congregation.”[18]

Ambo (Western, central)
A reading in the same location, but in a Latin church, in A Sermon on Charity (Source)

This arrangement seems to be peculiar to the churches of the orient, where there was, additionally, a place called in Greek the σωλίας, σολίας, σωλέα, σωλία, σολίω, σωλῶον, σολῶν, and σωλεὺς, and in Latin soleus[19] in the masculine and solea in the feminine.

Screen (Solea)
Marble solea in front of the iconostasis at Moni Arkadiou, Crete (Source)

It is not easy to say precisely what the solea was, nor where it was situated, not only because, according to Fr. Goar,[20] it is found so rarely today in their churches, but also for the reasons M. Allatio notes in the second letter he wrote from Rome to Fr. Morin in 1643, concerning the churches of the modern Greeks.[21] M. du Cange is convinced that it was between the jubé and the sanctuary: “The solea came between the bema and the ambo.” And he refers us to what he said above.

It seems one would not be straying far from the truth to say that the solea was the place immediately outside the choir going towards the nave. This is at least M. Habert’s theory. “The solea,” he says, “is a place built in front of the royal or main central doors of the sanctuary.”[22] “The solea is the area immediately outside the sanctuary before its royal doors.”[23]

And Fr Goar says, similarly, that the solea was the place one first came to when exiting the sanctuary, and was where the bishop or priest distributed Holy Communion to the faithful. This is supported by the accounts of St Jerome and St John Chrysostom:

“The solea is located located immediately outside the sanctuary, either outside the middle sacred door, or the south doors, or the north one across from the prothesis [….] The truth is that the σωλέα is the throne of Christ the Emperor who comes out the sacred doors to the people receiving communion.”[24]

Fr Cabassout agrees with this, writing, “In Greek churches there was a place between the ambo and sanctuary which is called σω[λ]εῖον, σωλεὺς, or σωλία. Its stairs were somewhat higher than the ambo itself or the choir. Those who were prohibited access to the sanctuary (i.e. all the faithful who were not members of the holy clergy or even clergy who on account of some fault have been reduced to the lay state) came just up to this point for communion. The solea thus lay between the ambo and the chancel of the sanctuary, in which are the sacred doors.”[25]

 Since today one exits from the sanctuary or choir of Eastern Churches by three doors—the middle one, which is the main door and the largest; the one on the right; and the one on the left, leading to the Table of Oblation—it seems that the solea extended along these three doors, and might have even crossed the entire front of the sanctuary or choir. And so it was much more extensive than the jubé. In any case, it was necessary for the jubé to be at a considerable distance from the doors of the sanctuary, since between the jubé and the sanctuary there stood not only the throne of Jesus Christ, solea, but also the place for the faithful and that for fourth-degree penitents, as we shall describe hereafter.


[1] Book 2, Chapter 57: “In the middle, let the reader stand upon some high place: let him read the books of Moses, of Joshua the Son of Nun, of the Judges, and of the Kings and of the Chronicles, and those written after the return from the captivity; and besides these, the books of Job and of Solomon, and of the sixteen prophets.”

[2] Chronic. Cassin. Book 3, Chapter 20.

[3] In De Basilica et Patriarchio Lateranensi, Book 1, Chapter 7. He continues: “Qua forma supersunt, hodieque in basilicis quibusdam Romanis antiquis, et in ecclesia praesertim sancti Clementis, in iisque tum Epistola, tum Evangelium recitabatur [….] Inter eadem duo pulpita erat chorus canonicorum cum altari, in quo ipsi sacrificium missae celebrabant; nam super aram maximam solus Romanus Pontifex, aut cardinales episcopi eius permissu sacra faciebant. Quae omnia sustulit Martinus Quintus, cum novum pavimentum consterneret.”

[4] Vol. 1, pg. 149.

[5] De Poenit., Book 6, Chapter 1, n. 11.

[6] Sum. Christ., vol. 2, Dissert. 4 de Poenit., q. 74.

[7] Liber de Templo et Missa; Liber de Sacram.

[8] Theoria rerum Ecclesiasticarum.

[9] Book 6, chapter 2 of De Concordia ecclesiae occidentis et orientis.

[10] P. 4 Liturg. ordin. de consecrat. Episc. p. 72.

[11] Description of Hagia Sophia, n. 74. Cited in Du Cange.

[12] Unde colligi videtur ambonem media in aede exstitisse, neque ut hodie maiora ecclesiarum pulpita, utramque pilam attigisse [….] proinde exstitit ambo ante portam sacram maiorem, etsi ab ea aliquanto longius distaret.

[13] Not. in eucholog. in ordin. sacri minist. p. 13 et 19.

[14] Notit. Concilior. in 8 (1668). Diatrib. de V. stib. eccles. sit. par. & for. p. 351.

[15] The supposed “prophecy ambo” of San Clemente was adduced as proof that the Roman rite anciently had three readings. In fact, it was an ambo for the leader of the schola cantorum. The eminently erudite and learnèd Mr. Gregory DiPippo, Esq., pontificates imperiously upon the matter here.

[16] Not. in Eucholog., pg. 21

[17] Dissert. 4 in Concil. Antioch., Chapter 4, n. 5 inter, pg. 186 and 187.

[18] Ad part. 6 Liturgia Ordin. Observat. I p. 57.

[19] Ed. note: Du Cange is not actually quite sure about this term, making it a place in front of the confession, perhaps a synonym for ambo.

[20] Not. in Ord. sacri minist., pg. 18.

[21] Pg. 170-173.

[22] Solea locus stratus ante januas regias seu principes et medias sacrarii (Nota margin. ad part. 9 Liturg. ord., pg. 179.)

[23] Solea, locus statim extra Sanctuarium ad illius januas Regias (Not. margin. ad Coronat. Imperat., 1, 606).

[24]E Sanctuario egressis, sive mediis sacris foribus, sive porta australi et dextra, sive boreali, quae prothesi opposita est et sinistra, confestim Soleas occurrit…veritas σωλέαν, solium Christi Imperatoris ad populum pro communione recipienda extra sacras fores prodeuntis esse asserit.”Not. Concil. diat. de vet. eccles. sit. part. et for., pg. 352.

[25] In Ecclesiis Græcorum locus erat Amboni et Sanctuario intermedius, qui nunc σω[λ]εῖον, nunc σωλεὺς legitur appellatus aut σωλία, eratque ipso Ambone, seu choro gradibus aliquot altior. Atque eo usque procedebant ad Eucharisticam communionem illi qui Sanctuarii prohibebantur ingressu, scilicet quicumque fidelium non erant de sacro Clero, vel ipsi etiam sacri Clerici qui ob aliquam culpam redacti fuerant ad Laïcam communionem. Solea itaque interjacebat inter Ambonem et Sanctuarii Cancellos, in quibus Cancellis apud Græcos erant sancræ portæ.

Treatise on Jubés (1): Etymology

Chapter I

The various Latin names and uses of the jubés. The origin of the word ambo.

Screen (Clemente).jpg
The 12th-century screen of San Clemente, Rome, (Source)

In French we often confuse jubés with tribunes.[1] To tell the truth I have found no difference between them except that the jubés are large tribunes and tribunes are small jubés.

Screen (Tribune).JPG

Our older authors called them pulpits (pupitres) rather than jubés or tribunes, and very often they are still so-called because of the pulpits or lecterns (lutrins) that are built in the jubés to hold the books for the reader or chanter.

Screen (I Frari).jpg
The screen of the Franciscan Frari Church in Venice. Notice the pulpits at either end (Source)

Meurisse, Bishop of Madaure and Suffragan of the Church of Metz, calls them lectriers because lectors use them.[2] In Flanders where they are very numerous, they are called doxales, perhaps because the ecclesiastics sitting in choir behind them have them at their backs (dos; dorsum) when they face the altar; perhaps because tapestries are hung on them, and tapestries were called dorsale, dossale, and doxale in Late Latin;[3] or finally, perhaps from the Greek word δόξα which means glory, either because the jubés are places of glory on account of the ornate ceremonies that take place there, or because we read announcements there and the Gospel, which in St. Paul’s words is “the glorious gospel of the blessed God.”[4]

Be that as it may, the words jubé, tribune, and pupitre are from Latin. Pupitre comes from pulpitum, tribune from tribunal; jubé is the imperative form of the verb iubeo, because when the deacons or readers made their submission to the bishops or priests, asking their blessing before singing the Gospel and other readings of the divine office at the pulpit, they said “Jube domne benedicere.”

Pulpitum is from St. Cyprian[5] and St. Isidore of Seville,[6] as is tribunal;[7] it seems entirely clear that the name jubé was given to tribunes and pupitres for the reason I will explain.

Screen (Giotto, ambo).JPG
Notice the ambo situated in the rood loft, accessed by a stair, surrounded by candles.

The Latins also gave other names to the jubés. Sometimes pluteus and pluteum, lectricium, lectorium, and legitorium, analogius and analogium, which technically refer only to a pulpit or a lectern, but by transference also refer to a jubé or pulpitum because, as we noted above, pulpits and lecterns are often built into the jubés and that is where readings and chants are performed.

Exedra, suggestus, suggestum, dicterium, and auditorium mean the same as tribunal: an elevated place, a place for speaking or listening, a pulpit, a preacher’s rostrum, and finally a jubé, because formerly preaching was done from the jubés and is still done today in several churches, as we will show later on.[8]

Dic[i]torium and auditorium are found in the Latin translation of the Life of St. Thecla,[9] written in Greek by St. Basil, bishop of Seleucia, and the word ostensorium is also employed there to designate a jubé, because someone standing on the jubé is in plain sight, exposed to the eyes of everyone in attendance.

Screen (Berven)
Screen at the chapel of Notre-Dame de Berven, built in 1601. (Source)

Absis or absida,[10] which often signify a vault or arcade because often there are vaults or arcades in the semi-circle of the apse in the back of the choir, is also used for jubé in the Code of the Canons of the Church of Africa,[11] in the Letters of St. Augustine,[12] in the miracles of St. Stephen reported by Evodius,[13] in the Capitularies of Charlemagne and Louis the Fair.[14] The reason for this use is that in certain churches there were jubés elevated on supporting vaults or arcades.


Screen (F61-59_Casentino-PresentationOfChristChild_front)

Pyrgus also refers to a jubé in the inscription on the Cathedral Church of St. Savior in Ravenna: Servus Christi Piagnellus Episcopus hunc Pyrgum fecit. We will explain why later. Paul the Silent gave the name πύργος, meaning “tower,” to the jubé of the Church of Holy Wisdom in Constantinople, which he described in heroic verse.[15]


Screen (Church of the Evangelists, Philadelphia)
Church of the Redeemer, Philadelphia. Here the ambo is partially separated from the rood screen, but if you look closely, it can only be accessed by passing underneath the screen from the choir. (Source)


But the most usual name given to the jubés is ambo. Walafrid Strabo,[16] Alexander of Hales,[17] William Durandus, bishop of Mende,[18] Jean-Étienne Duranti,[19] M. Bellotte Dean of the Church of Laon,[20] and many other authors believe that this word comes the Latin ambire, which means “to encircle or go around,” either because the jubés are surrounded by steps on all sides, or because they surround whoever is inside on all sides. But it certainly comes from the Greek ἄμβων, which means an elevated place, a place one mounts, according to Onufrius Panivinus,[21] Scaliger,[22] Casaubon,[23] Saumaise,[24] Hospinien,[25] Vossius,[26] Fr. Morin,[27] and M. du Cange[28] who derives it from the verb ἀμβαίνω or ἀναβαίνω, which means to mount, because one has to mount several steps to get into the jubé.


Screen (Wadrau)
Screen of the Church of Sainte-Waudru at Mons, destroyed during the French Revolution. Notice the “apse-like” vaults. (Source)



Screen (Sienna).jpg
The ambo at the Duomo of Sienna. It certainly merits the name pyrgus (tower)!  (Source)


[1] Ed. note: The Latin root is tribunal, which in ancient times referred to a raised platform where magistrates and judges sat, or merely an elevated place (Cf. L&S; for the influence of Roman juridical ceremony on Christian ritual, see here). In medieval Latin, tribunal meant a reading pulpit or even a synonym for “sanctuary.” Fr. Thiers is claiming that in 17th century French usage, by extension, it could also designate the screen itself (cf. Ducange), into which the ancient ambo had by then been assumed.

[2] Book 2 of Histoire des Eveques de Mets, pg. 163.

[3] In English, a doxale is a curtain hung behind the altar, all that remains in a later age of the four curtains that once veiled the ancient ciborium on all sides.

[4] 1 Timothy 1:2.

[5] Epistle 33: “4. When this man, beloved brethren, came to us with such condescension of the Lord, illustrious by the testimony and wonder of the very man who had persecuted him, what else behooved to be done except that he should be placed on the pulpit, that is, on the tribunal of the Church; that, resting on the loftiness of a higher station, and conspicuous to the whole people for the brightness of his honour, he should read the precepts and Gospel of the Lord, which he so bravely and faithfully follows?” (New Advent) (Latin: PL).

[6] Etymologiae, Book 15: “Pulpitum, quod in eo lector vel psalmista positus in publico conspici a populo possit, quo liberius audiatur. Tribunal, eo quod inde a sacerdote tribuantur praecepta vivendi. Est enim locus in sublimi constitutus, unde universi exaudire possint. Alias tribunal a tribu denominatum, quod ad illud tribus convocetur. Analogium dictum quod sermo inde praedicetur; nam LOGOS Graece sermo dicitur; quod et ipsud altius situm est [ut in eo lector vel psalmista positus in publico conspici a populo possit, quo liberius audiatur].”

[7] Cyp., Epistle 34.

[8] In chapter 4.

[9] (PG LXXXV, 614A): “ […] in dicterio comperui, hoc est, in loco unde verba facturi cernendos se exhibent; sive ambonem, sive suggestum, sive auditorium appelles [….].”

[10] Ed. note: I am not entirely convinced by Fr. Thiers’ examples here, though it is true that the word apse classically had various meanings, one of which could designate the ciborium or the entire sanctuary (Cf. Du Cange): “The term is sometimes applied to a canopy over an altar; a dome; the arched roof of a room; the bishop’s seat in old churches; a reliquary; a recess, semicircular in plan, covered over with a vault in the shape of a semi-dome or any other description of roof” (Catholic Encyclopedia).

[11] Can. 43: “That to penitents the times of their penance shall be assigned by the will of the bishop according to the difference of their sins; and that a presbyter shall not reconcile a penitent without consulting the bishop, unless the absence of the bishop urges him necessarily thereto. But when of any penitent the offence has been public and commonly known, so as to have scandalized the whole Church, he shall receive imposition of the hand before the apse.”

[12] Epistle 23 ad Maximin. Episc.: “In futuro Christi iudicio, nec absidae gradatae [….]” (but Du Cange interprets this as a reference to the bishop’s seat); and Epistle 125 ad Albinam: “Dicebam ego quibus poteram, qui ad nos in absidem honoratiores et graviores ascenderant [….]. (Also ambiguous).

[13] Book 1, Chapter 3.

[14] Book 5, art. 53: “In consilio Carthaginensi, de eadem re praecipitur, ut si cuiusquam poenitentis publicum et vulgatissumum crimen est, quod universam commoverit Ecclesiam, ante absidem manus ei imponatur.”

[15] Ed.: Descriptione S. Sophiæ n. 75. Other examples by Du Cange.

[16] De rebus Ecclesiasticis, Chapter 6

[17] Sum. Theolog. p. 4 q. 10; Tractatus de Officiis Missae.

[18] Rationale, Book 1, Chapter 1.34: “Analogium etiam dicitur, quia in eo verbum Dei legitur et enuntiatur. “Λόγος” enim graece, verbum, vel ratio dicitur. Quod dicitur etiam ambo, ab ambiendo, quia intrantem ambiet et cingit. De quo in quarta parte sub titul. DE EVANGELIIO dicetur.” Book 4, Chapter 24.17

[19] De Ritibus Ecclesiae Catholicae, Book 2, Chapter 23.13.

[20] Observationes ad Ritus Ecclesiae Laudunensis rediv., p. 424, col. 1, n. 22.

[21] In interpret. vocum Ecclesiast. quae obscura vel barbara videntur.

[22] Conjectan. in Varr.,

[23] Animadv. in Athen.

[24] Exercitat. ad Solin

[27] De Poenitentia, Book 6, chapter 1.9

[28] Glossarium, V. Ambo

Whatever Happened to French Rood Screens? Fr. Thiers’ Dissertation Ecclésiastique sur les Jubés

Interior Jules Victor Genisson, Vue intérieure de l'eglise de Saint- Gommaire
Jules Victor Genisson, View of the interior of Saint- Gommaire Church

On the heels of Monday’s post on the jubé/rood screen we now introduce a new translation, Fr. Jean-Baptiste Thiers’ Treatise on Jubés, a polemical treatise written in protest of the widespread destruction of rood screens and ambos led by the Gallican episcopacy and canonical chapters during the 17th century. Interested readers should also see our post on the ancient Roman origins of the chancel screen.

Fr. Thiers’ treatise is one of the first systematic attempts to understand the origin, development, and use of the rood screen. Like his other works On Altars and On Choirs, its aim is to explain and defend the Gothic ecclesiastical architecture of France against an aggressive “Baroquification” that often destroyed the ancient elements that once separated the sanctuary and the nave and defined the liturgical experience of Christians for most of history.

The Dissertation seems to have been a source and inspiration for Pugin’s own Treatise on Chancel Screens and Rood Lofts, which makes frequent mention of “the learned Fr. Thiers.” Pugin’s title introduces the difficulty involved in translating the French term jubé. A fuller etymology follows in the treatise itself, but suffice it to say that jubé is not entirely equivalent to our English rood screen, since it also refers to other types of screens, walls, ambos, and pulpits. A more cumbersome rendering of this title could be: Treatise on All Manner of Screens, Pulpits, Lecturns, Lofts, and Ambos. 


Dissertation ecclésiastique sur les jubés


A Treatise on Jubés

by Fr. Jean-Baptiste Thiers

(Coignard, 1688)


Author’s Preface

The liberties that have been granted in recent times to destroy the jubés from a number of French churches can proceed from only two sources: either that the people involved do not understand the uses for which the jubés are made, or because they have no affection for the ancient practices of the Church.

This lack of understanding and of affection have resulted in the low view that is generally taken of jubés. They are regarded as useless ornaments, irregular protrusions, and inconvenient obstacles which rob the faithful of a view of the holy altars and prevent them from contemplating the most august Mysteries at their leisure. In this conception, it is not enough merely to abolish them from our memory. Rather, it has now become an honorable thing to raze them to the ground.

But in this we have not had sufficient regard for the reverence due to sacred antiquity and have distanced ourselves from the spirit and tradition of the Church.

That is what I attempt to show in this treatise, where after explaining the names, locations, forms, usages, and antiquity of the jubés, I will show the error involved in destroying them and the obligation we have to rebuild those that have been taken down and to preserve those that are still standing.

In these pages I often call those who burn, smash, and destroy the jubésambonoclasts.” This word is my own coinage and I am rather hesitant to suggest it, since I have no authority to introduce new words into our language. But it has seemed to me so expressive that I prefer to be criticized for being its author that not to have made a try of it, if only to avoid the paraphrase that I would have been obliged to make. Granted, the word is not as common as iconoclasts, but it is founded on the same analogy. For iconoclast comes from the Greek ἐικὼν which means image, and κλάειν which means break, smash. Ambonoclast comes from the Greek ἄμβων, which means jubé, and from the same verb κλάειν.

All the learned men I have consulted about this word have agreed with me that it is proper and acceptable. It has even pleased one man of the Realm who knows the genius and character of our language, one M. Ménage, so much that I have been assured that he will include it in the new edition he is preparing of Origins of the French Language.[1]

Rood Screen


[1] A promise that M. Ménage seems not to have kept, since the entry appears neither in the 1694 edition nor the 1750 edition, though the latter has an entry for “ambo.”