Voyages Liturgiques: The Cathedral Chapter of Rouen (1)

Following the chapter on Vienne, we continue with the Voyages Liturgiquess account of Rouen, the longest and richest in the work, it being the hometown of the author.

Rouen, the capital city of the Second Lyonnaise, also known as the Province of Neustria, called Normandy ever since the Normans made themselves its masters, is situated on the bank of the River Seine (ad Sequanam). It is one of the most beautiful cities of the Realm. In Latin it is called Rotomagus and sometimes the ancients called it Rotomus and Rodomus.

Image result for pissarro old market at rouen

The Cathedral Church of Notre-Dame of Rouen

In the city and its outskirts there are thirty-six parish churches and about fifty religious houses of both sexes, and in the diocese twenty-six abbeys, a number of priories, chapels, and sick-houses; ten collegiate churches of canons, and 1,388 parishes or curacies distributed among six archdeacons and twenty-seven rural deans all under the dean of the curates of the city and suburbs, who is called the Dean of Christendom (Doyen de la Chrétienté), in Latin Decanus Christianitatis. He is named by the archbishop and must be a curate of the city intra muros and not from the outskirts. He does not have a seat in choir among the canons of the cathedral, but he has the right to wear the habit of a canon.

The church of Rouen has always been highly distinguished. From the 4th century onward it flourished in piety, according to the testimony of St. Paulinus in his letter to St. Victrix,[1] where he speaks very highly of the people of Rouen. In the 12th century it was the most famous of all the churches, not only in Normandy but even of England and Aquitaine, according to Richard II, King of England and Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine. It was called holy, sancta Rotomagensis Ecclesia by the kings of France and England and many prelates. One more sign it was so impressive for its piety in the 12th century is that St. Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury, recommended himself to the prayers, fastings, and other good works of this church and of the whole people of Rouen.

The nave of the cathedral church is quite large and stately, with galleries that run all the way across under stained glass above. In total it is four hundred eight feet long: the nave two hundred ten feet, the choir one hundred ten, and the Chapel of the Virgin 88 feet. The crossing is 164 feet long. The whole is very well proportioned and paved with large liais stones. There is one aisle on each side of the choir and nave, and beside it another which is entirely occupied by chapels on each side. They are very beautiful and well-kept, and were decorated and furnished thirty or forty years ago through the generosity of many canons who also took pains to make the church much more clear than it had been.[2] Currently, the chapels are used for Low Masses. Since Low Masses were never said in the time when this church was built, these places were probably once used for those who wanted to pray and meditate alone, outside the time of the divine offices, as well as to bury persons who were important for their piety or rank, as we see in the 32nd letter of St. Paulinus who had several churches built in Nola which bear a very close resemblance to our own. There we see that the high altar was under a large conque or cupola, and that on each side there were two smaller cupolas, one serving as a sacristy, as it still does in the cathedral church of Rouen, and the other for keeping the holy books and writings of the Fathers.


Only major canons can serve as subdeacon and deacon, and say Mass at the high altar; not even the King’s Almoner could say a Low Mass there in the presence of His Majesty, unless he were a bishop that the chapter had invited.

The chapter is composed of ten dignitaries and fifty one canons counting the archbishop who is also a canon, and in this capacity has a voice in the chapter, where he holds the first place and presides. All the canonries and all the dignitaries of the cathedral church are his to nominate, except the High-Dean who is elected by the chapter.

In addition there are eight minor canons who receive fifteen marks and fifteen pounds, have no voice in chapter, and sit in the second row of stalls with the chaplains, cantors, and musicians.*

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Los Monaguillos, José Alcázar Tejedor

There are also four colleges of chaplains and cantors. One of them, called Alban, was founded by Pierre de Colmieu, Cardinal of Albano (and formerly archbishop of Rouen) for ten cantors, of which four are priests, three deacons, and three subdeacons, all of whom must live together in the same house or under the same roof and live in community. Only fifty years ago they were still living this way and doing table readings.[3]

The statutes forbid them to frequent taverns, jeux de paume,[4] boules,[5] and other public places, or to play brelans or berlans;[6] to bring dogs into the church under pain of monetary fine; to rent their rooms in the college; to carry Breviaries or other books to choir,[7] nor to read during the Office; or to begin a verse until the other side had entirely finished singing its own.[8]

They are obliged to know the Psalter and chant by heart, for the chanting is done from memory in this illustrious church, as in Lyon. There is only one book for the Lessons, and another for the Short Chapters and Collects. The major canons, even those who chant four or five Responsories on semi-double and greater feasts, and who wear copes on double and triple feasts, are obliged to know by heart everything they chant, and the musicians as well, unless they are chanting a Mass sur le livre.[9]

In the church of Rouen, Second Vespers are always less solemn than First Vespers, no matter the feast. Apparently, this is because immediately after Second Vespers the solemnity of the feast ended, and afterward it was permitted to do servile labor again. This was the practice already at the end of the 11th century, as I gather from the Benedictine scholar Dom Godin, in his Notes on a Council of Rouen[10] held in 1072, from the councils of Compiègne and Lyon, from the Capitularies of Charles the Bald and Louis the Fair, which made it obligatory to stop manual labor beginning with First Vespers in imitation of God’s command to the Jews: A vespera ad vesperam celebrabitis Sabbata vestra (Lev. 23:32). Though this policy with regard to ceasing from manual labor has changed, and is now only observed from midnight to midnight, nevertheless this church has always retained its ancient practice in the celebration of Sundays and feasts, beginning to celebrate them with First Vespers.[11] I do not know precisely when this practiced changed as a public expression in Normandy. It could not have been very long ago, because the very old women in the Norman countryside still refrain from spinning on Saturday afternoon. Moreover, in Rouen even the artisans of most trades do not dare to work on the evenings of solemn Vespers after the first sounding of First Vespers, according to their statutes. If they are found working by the guards or judges of their trade, who purposely make their visits on those days, they are charged a fine. I have observed this many times in Rouen. On the principal feats the city gates are closed except for a little gate.

Here are some customs and ceremonies taken from the ancient Ordinal and Ceremonial of Rouen, which is nearly six hundred fifty years old.[12]

The canons of Rouen lived in community, at least around the year 1000 and were called Brothers (Frères). From the epitaph of Guillaume Bonne-ame (d. 1110), we can see that they had a cloister:

Fratribus hanc aedem cum claustro composuisti.

They said Vespers at the beginning of night, imminente nocte, as formerly in the church of Paris. Hence this office is called Lucernarum or Lucernalis Hora, because in fact they made use of light to chant the prayers. (See “Bourges” and “Lyon.”). For the same reason they bring candlesticks, lighted candles or bougies. This office is when they light their candles.

The altar was incensed during the versicle before the Magnificat. The versicle Dirigatur oratio mea sicut incensum is apparently the literal reason for this. Furthermore, this versicle is not said on ferial days when there is no incensation. Outside of Sundays and feasts, after the Magnificat antiphon, they always said the preces before the collect, as the Carthusians still do and the famous Church of Lyon. After Vespers they still busied themselves with manual labor.

Before Compline they had a reading from the Conferences of Cassian or the Dialogues of St. Gregory, or other works containing examples of the saints suitable to encourage one to good actions. In Completorii hora nos contra noctis insidias munientes…quam lectio praecedit de exemplis Sanctorum Patrum excitandas in in bono animas fratrum.

They rose at midnight (as they still do in Paris) to say the Vigils or Nocturns, later called Matins. This lasted in Rouen until 1325, when they began to be said later on account of certain night terrors which troubled them at that time, according to the Chronicle of St. Lô. In other manuscript memoirs, however, one finds that in 1324 there was a statute made in the church of Rouen decreeing that Matins would no longer be said at midnight because one canon had been killed by a thief on his way to Matins.

They began with Domine labia mea aperies, according to the ancient Ordinal of Rouen: Quia somno dominante hucusque conticuimus, Dominum deprecamur, ut labia nostra ad laudem suam pronuntiandam aperire dignetur. I also read in Amalarius: Congrue juxta consuetudinem Romanae Ecclesiae, a somno surgentes dicimus primo, Domine labia mea aperies. Elsewhere this verse is called Versus apertionis, because it is with this verse that they first opened their mouths immediately after rising to sing God’s praises. Properly speaking, the Domine labia mea aperies is a preparation for saying the Office. What certain devout people think should be said before this is nothing but a preparation for the preparation, which is against the axiom of philosophy, non datur dispositio dispositionis.[13] Lauds have the same ritual as Vespers.

Every time they chanted the Gloria Patri the canons and other ecclesiastics turned toward the altar and bowed, as the canons of Lyon and the choir boys in all cathedral churches still do.

The antiphon of Prime was taken from one of the psalms, like that of Compline, no matter what feast day it might be. This was changed only one hundred years ago.

After Prime during the year, and after Terce in Lent, the canons went to chapter where they held the reading of the Martyrology (they still do this currently outside of solemn feasts) then the Necrology or Obituary, and finally the Rule of Canons.[14] Inde recitetur lectio Regulae Canonicalis. Deiinde culpae examinentur, examinatio canonicaliter exerceatur. They held an examination of faults and punished them as they deserved, as we still find in a 450-year-old Ordinal, where it is written: Post haec solent recitari marantiae[15] et offensae diei et horarum praecedentium, et ibi puniri.

The canons did not venture to leave the choir without the Dean’s permission, nor the other ecclesiastics without the permission of the cantor.


At that time in Rouen the Mass was said almost exactly as at Lyon. On ferial days there was only one candle-bearer as at Tours, Orléans, etc. On feasts there were two. The celebrant with his ministers left the sacristy at the Gloria Patri of the Introit as in Lyon. After the Confiteor the celebrant kissed the deacon and subdeacon. After a collect the celebrant bowed to the deacon, the deacon to the subdeacon, and the subdeacon to the choir, with reciprocal inclinations. Then the celebrant went up to the altar and the deacon as well who, after kissing the two corners of the altar, presented the Gospel Book to the celebrant to be kissed. The celebrant also kissed the middle of the altar. Then the priest went to the right side of the altar followed by the deacon who stood who remained standing until the priest gave the sign to sit. They sat when the Kyrie eleison began. Note that the celebrant did not read the Introit or Kyrie at the altar.

The candle-bearers, placed at the southern corner,held their candles up toward the north. At the beginning of the Kyrie they put them down in the same place. They held them up in the same place while the priest chanted the collects, and very probably faced that direction to give light to the celebrant.

Sometimes they added a third candle, apparently on double feasts. On major feasts there were seven candle-bearers. After the collect they placed them from East to West.

When the deacon is not performing a function at the altar he was in the choir, as in the church of Lyon.

At the Gloria in excelsis the celebrant incesed the altar. Currently he does it during the Kyrie (while the acolyte incenses the clergy during the Gloria in excelsis and Credo).

When the subdeacon began the Epistle, the celebrant sat and made the sign to the deacon to sit as well. Incipiente subdiacono Epistolam, sacerdos iuxta altare sedeat, et diacono in loco suo sedere innuat. From this we can tell that the priest did not read it at the altar (nor elsewhere, since there is no mention of it). The Epistle and Gospel were chanted from the jubé on feast days, as well as the Gradual and Alleluia, which were chanted per rotulos as in Lyon, on ivory tablets.[16] This may be what the ancient Ordinal calls tabulas osseas quas tenent in manibus.

When the deacon and subdeacon use folded chasubles, i.e. on Ember Saturdays and during all of Advent and Lent (except feast days), the subdeacon took off his chasuble before reading the epistle and put it on again after reading. Immediately before reading the Gospel the deacon wrapped his chasuble around over his left shoulder, tying it under his right arm. He wore it this way until the Communion, when he put it back on as at the beginning of Mass. (This is also the practice observed currently.)

When it was time to go to the jubé, the celebrant put incense in the thurible and incensed the altar (he no longer incenses at this moment, but when he has ascended to the altar during the Kyrie). Then the deacon, having asked and received the priest’s blessing, went to the jubé carrying the Gospel book resting on his left shoulder, preceded by a subdeacon who held a pillow, by candle-bearers and a thurifer. (It is the same today, except that the subdeacon does not carry a pillow.) The deacon, standing in the highest part of the jubé between two candles, chanted the Gospel toward the North, after having incensed it. They come back from the jubé in the same order they went to it.

After the Gospel they extinguished the candles.

The celebrant was incensed after the subdeacon had presented the Gospel Book for him to kiss. The deacon kissed it thereafter, and on Sundays and feasts the subdeacon would then take it to be kissed by the clergy. This is still done today, except that the deacon does not kiss it. I do not see the reason for this: he used to kiss it before. The subdeacon kissed it last of all.

The Offertory antiphon always had verses, as at Lyon, and they are still preserved in some Sunday Masses, and especially in Masses of the Dead. A more modern Ordinal of the church of Rouen forbade their omission under pain of anathema, unless the priest was ready to say the Preface. Statutum est in ecclesia Rotomagensi per totum annum versus Offerendarum secundum suum ordinem cantare, et sub anathemate jussum ne dimittantur propter cleri negligentiam, nisi presbyter fuerit promptus ad Per omnia. And so some [viz. the longer ones] were omitted.. When this happens in Lyon, the verses are not omitted. Instead the last verses are sung more quickly, as I have seen done on the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, when there were four verses to the Offertory with the repetition of the antiphon or first verse only after the asterisk, as they do for the Offertory of the Mass for the Dead.[17]

The subdeacon gave the bread and wine to the deacon, and the deacon to the priest, like today. On major feasts the cantor gave the water, covered with a towel, to the deacon, who poured it into the chalice, as the cantor still does in Angers on the most solemn feasts, which they call jours de Fêtage.[18] On other days it was the acolyte who gave the water, as he still does at present.

The chalice was not placed in the middle of the corporal as today, but to the right of the host and on the same line. The same arrangement is found in the Ordo Romanus, Amalarius, the Micrologus, and Radulphus of Rivo. The chalice was covered not by a pall but by the corporal, just as they do today in Lyon and among the Carthusians, who have not innovated in this matter.

Next the priest incensed the offerings and gave the thurible to the deacon, who after incensing around the altar incensed the celebrant, then gave the thurible to the acolyte who proceeded to incense the clergy and the people.

The deacon took the paten from the altar and gave it to the subdeacon, and the subdeacon gave it, wrapped in a veil, to an acolyte if there was one,[19] as in Paris and Tours. Otherwise he held it himself, as is done in Rouen today.

I have said that it was the deacon who took it from the altar, because the subdeacon was not allowed to take anything sacred from the altar. Non licet enim, says the ancient Ordinal, quidquam sacri ab altari auferre alicui nisi Diacono vel Sacerdoti. This is still diligently observed in the Cathedral church, where the subdeacon even brings the chalice with both his hands covered by a veil, and takes it back to the sacristy during the last collects of the Mass in the same way, after the deacon has purified it and helped him place it in the large veil. Thus, the subdeacon never touches it at all, which he was prohibited from doing by Canon 21 of the Council of Laodicea.

Everything else until the Canon has nothing particular.

During the canon the deacon, thurifer, and candle-bearers stood bowing behind the celebrant, but the subdeacon was bowed in front of the priest, facing him as at Lyon. Note that at that time there was no retable or altarpiece above the altar, which was a simple table entirely unattached to anything else, without a retable, like the arrangement today in the cathedral churches of Lyon, Chalon-sur-Saône and Blois, and the morning Mass altar in Bourges and Mâcon. On solemn feasts with seven subdeacons, they stood in a line behind the altar facing the priest; the seven deacons stood also in a line behind the priest.

Neither in the ancient Ordinal of Rouen, nor in the Ordo Romanus, nor in any of the ancient authors or interpreters of the divine offices is there any mention of the elevation of the host and chalice separately, but only of one elevation immediately before the Pater or during the Pater.

It is marked in the 1516 Missal of Rouen that at the prayer Supplices te rogamus, the priest bowed profoundly before the altar, his hands not joined like today but crossed (right over left) until ex hac altaris participatione. The same is found in the three missals of England and Scotland before their separation from the Catholic Church, in the missals of Orléans (1504), Vienne (1519), Lyon (1530), and (I believe) in all the missals of France until the time of Pius V who made this change in his missal that has been followed almost everywhere.

At Per quem haec omnia, Domine, the deacon approached the altar and took the corporal from the chalice, which he uncovered with the priest.

There is a note that the priest touched the four sides of the chalice with the host: Oblata quatuor partes calicis tangat. This is also found in the ancient Ordo Romanus and in Ivo of Chartres, Letter 233. (The new rubricists make it a matter of great scruple for the priest, and insist that he must take care that the host does not touch the chalice while he says sanctitas, and the rest. This is certainly because they do not know the real reason for this practice.)

After breaking the Host in three parts, the priest put the smallest particle in the chalice and the two others on the paten, as today. He, the deacon, and the subdeacon took communion from the larger of the two particles, while the other was reserved for the viaticum of the dying, tertia, viaticum morientis. […]

The priests and ministers of the altar received communion under the two species separately. The priest received as priests do today. The deacon and subdeacon received the priest’s kiss, they they kissed his hand when he presented them a particle of the Sacred Host. Then the priest took a bit of the Precious Blood with a small particle of the Host and gave the rest to the deacon and subdeacon to drink, as they do today at Cluny and Saint-Denys in France.[20] […]

After communion the priest did not do an ablution. Rather, while the ministers took communion from the chalice, an acolyte brought another vessel to wash the priest’s hands, as observed today in Lyon, Chartres, and among the Carthusians, and as they did in Rouen until a century ago. The purpose of this form of ablution is so that the priest is not obliged to drink what is rinsed from his fingers

The subdeacon helped the deacon purify the chalice and paten. (Only the deacon does this today in the cathedral church of Rouen and in Lyon, while the subdeacon carries the book to the other side of the altar.) An acolyte received the chalice and paten wrapped in a large veil.

It is not said that the priest read the Communion antiphon, but only the [Postcommunion] prayer preceded and followed by Dominus vobiscum and then the Ite, missa est or Benedicamus Domino chanted by the deacon. Clero respondente Deo gratias, officium finiat. The Mass and all the divine offices finished in this way. What has been added on later [i.e. the Last Gospel] is very modern, from a century or century and a half ago, as we can see in the old books. The people of Rouen are not even accustomed to it yet. When the priest has given the blessing, everyone leaves. Finally, if Sext is to be said, the choir begins the Deus in adjutorium immediately without any regard for the priest, if he is reciting the Last Gospel. We have already seen that the celebrant does not recite it at High Masses in most churches of France.


[1] Letter 18. Des Marettes edited a collection of St. Paulinus’ writings.

[2] Perhaps referring to the removal of altars and other elements in the nave, which accelerated in the late 17th century. The appeal to “clarity” was often used to justify clearing away objects, such as rood screens, that impeded a clear view of the choir and nave. See Fr. Thiers’ work on the history of jubés in France.

[3] By the High Middle Ages, most cathedral chapters no longer observed the full community life. Canons lived in their own houses in town (with other clerics and choir students) or within the cathedral compound, attending offices but not dining or reading in common. Their vicars and the chaplains of the cathedral, however, often organized into chapters to live the community life that the canons themselves were failing to uphold. To observe that the Alban chapter was “doing table readings” is to say that they were not only eating together but keeping the ancient monastic rule of silence during meals.

[4] A ball-and-court game, precursor of tennis.

[5] Any of a number of games, like bocce, that involve throwing balls at small targets.

[6] Three-person card games

[7] Perhaps because they were to have the office memorized.

[8] Another sign of careful observance: as less-than-enthusiastic communities would have sped through the required psalms.

[9] Abbé Jean Prim, “Chant sur le Livre” in French Churches in the 18th Century,” Journal of the American Musicological Society, vol. 14, No. 1 (Spring, 1961), pp. 37-49; Jean-Paul Montagnier, “Le Chant sur le Livre au XVIIIe siècle: les Traités de Louis-Joseph Marchand et Henry Madin,” Revue de Musicologie, T. 81, No. 1 (1995), pp. 37-63.

[10] Recueil des décrets des Conciles et des Synodes de l’église de Rouen; actually published by Dom Pommeraye.

[11] Under canon law liturgical days began to be considered to take place from midnight to midnight, so it was licit to continue working after first Vespers. Similarly, pre-Vatican II fasts were midnight-to-midnight

[12] Several liturgical books from the period survive from this period. See the Usuarium database.

[13] He is criticizing the prayer “Aperi, Domine, os meum…” which was never obligatory but extremely common until John XXIII removed it from the editio typica of the breviary and suppressed the indulgences attached to its recitation.

[14] I.e the rule of St. Augustine.

[15] Du Cange; MARANCIA, Dolor, qui concipitur ex aliquo damno, vox a Marrire, et Marritio deducta : unde postmodum traducta ad ipsas mulctas aut pœnas, quæ præ levioribus delictis, vel pro defectibus seu absentia irrogatur : nostris vulgo Marance.

[16] See the post on Vienne.

[17] The issue is long Offertories that lasted longer than the Offertory ritual. In Rouen, the verses are dropped if the priest was ready. In Lyons, they just sang the verses more quickly, and repeated part of the response (after the asterisk) rather than the whole response. There were always varied customs about what response to sing: all of it or part of it, and which part. Different MSS say different things, or do not mark it at all.

[18] This is an ancient aspect of the Roman rite, as seen in the Ordo Romanus I. See also Gemma animae 1.38.

[19] In the Ordo Romanus I, the acolyte holds the paten.

[20] On the Greek Mass of St. Denis.

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