Wine-Tasting Party during the Gradual in the Rite of Lyon

The experimentum vini

Pontifical Mass in the Lyonese use features an interesting ceremony that takes place between the epistle and gospel: while the Gradual and Alleluia are sung, the chalice is prepared in a separate chapel by a group of clerics. In the 17th century, the gustatio of the wine during this ritual caused some scandal, as Archdale King recounts in his description of the Lyonese rite:

An interesting ceremony connected with the offertory takes place between the epistle and gospel—the ‘administration’ and testing of the wine (experimentum vini). Neither the 12th-century statues of Archbishop Guichard (1164-81) nor the 13th-century ordinary (St. John) make any reference to the rite, but it is mentioned in the 14th century ordinary (Barbet of St. Just). It was not, however, peculiar to Lyons, and a somewhat similar ceremony was performed at a side altar in the cathedral churches of Amiens, Soissons, Chalon-sur-Saône, and Tours before the Revolution. This rite was formerly conducted in the church of the Holy Cross, and today in the chapel of the Holy Cross, which was known at one time by the name of Notre Dame du Haut Don.

The participants in the ceremony include the acolytes, subdeacons, deacons, a priest in a cope, the first ‘perpetual’ [chaplain], another in a mozetta, and the sacristan (manilier). It was formerly the custom for five acolytes to take part, while the other two stayed behind in order to hold the ‘tablets’ before the canons who were singing the gradual, but, as the chant is now conducted by petits clercs, it is possible for all seven to assist at the ‘administration’.

The senior subdeacon carries the empty chalice with the paten and host, covered with a veil (pavillon); the senior deacon, the cruet of wine raised in his right hand; while the priest in mozetta brings the burse and corporal. On arrival in the chapel, the acolytes and ministers form two lines, with the senior acolyte in the middle near the entrance. The priest in a cope goes up to the altar, where he unfolds the corporal, places the vessels on it, and, extending his hands over the host, says: Dixit Jesus discipulis suis, etc. The deacon then presents the wine, which the manilier tastes, an bonum et conveniens sit.


The wine was formerly provided by the collegiate churches of the city, which seem to have been generous in their gift, and in the 17th century we find not only the manilier, but also the clerks and clergeons tasting the wine. With such an arrangement, abuses were inevitable, and writers of the time accused the authorities of organizing a miniature ‘drinking party’: Ils ont une espèce de beuvette derrière l’autel de Notre Dame de Haut Don. The scandal was brought to an end by the chapter in 1621, when it was decided that the surplus of the offering should be given to the sick.

A small handbook, describing the ceremonies of the pontifical Mass at Lyons, gives a reason for the ‘tasting’ other than the traditional fear of poison. It says that it is useful for the purpose of making certain that water has not been put into the cruet instead of wine, as the mistake ‘would singularly complicate the ceremony, when at the Communion of the pontiff he should perceive his error’!

[Footnote: Cf. the suspicious incident at the Cistercian abbey of Trois-Fontaines, recalled in one of the letters of St. Bernard. Guy, the abbot, discovered at his Communion that there was no wine in the chalice, whereupon he added the wine and ‘sanctified’ it by placing a particle of the Host in the chalice. There is no mention of water, although it seems probable that this had been added at the offertory.]



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