Voyages Liturgiques: Lenten and Rogation Processions in Rouen (6)

Processions in Rouen

Here I give, in abbreviated form, the most remarkable of the major processions of the year, taken from the about 200-year-old Ordinal, and which is still performed today except for some small details that I will be sure to point out.

alter servers 14 (cesare-auguste detti (cesare auguste detti), the confirmation procession)
Cesare-Auguste Detti (Cesare Auguste Detti), The Confirmation Procession

1) Lenten Stational Processions

On all Wednesdays and Fridays of Lent after None, the clergy with subdeacon, deacon, and priest in albs, maniples, and stoles go to a stational chapel in procession while chanting the Litany of the Saints in a sorrowful tone. When they have arrived, the Litany is broken off to say the Prayers and Suffrages. Formerly they lay entirely prostrate during these Prayers. Today they do the same, but in an even more humiliating way: there are several curved benches over which the clergy all bend, and additionally kneel during the Prayers. We will see this elsewhere too; it is called protratio super formas or se incurvare super formas. This is similar to the ancient prostration. When the Prayers and Collects are finished, the two chaplains take up the Litany where they left off and continue it until everyone has gone back to their places [in choir]. Then they ended it and immediately began the Mass. On these two days the stations included longer prayers and more austere fasts.

Processions in Rouen are carried out with great seriousness and pomp. There are five or six that are so beautiful, that we must mention them here.

On Palm Sunday they do a very unique procession called The Procession of the Sacred Body (La Procession du Corps Saint). The ritual is as follows. Between three and four in the morning the sacristan of the cathedral church lets down the suspended pyx and places the sacred Ciborium in a sort of tabernacle or half-cut lantern of wood and glass attached to a litter. He places this close to the southern door of the choir on a table decorated with a rug and two chandeliers with lighted candles. There it is exposed for the veneration of the faithful who come there from all parts of the city to accompany the sacred Body of Jesus to the place where it is to be carried. Meanwhile, Matins is said and toward the end of Lauds at around 5:30, two chaplains of the Commune vested in albs approach, and at the sound of the great swinging bell they carry the litter on their shoulders, surrounded by twelve great torches provided at the archbishop’s expense and bearing the prelate’s coat of arms. An unbelievable number of people attend, but none of the clergy besides these two chaplains, because the gentlemen of the chapter, so zealous for ancient custom, even refused a benefice to accompany the procession with a number of the clergy. They go by the large rue des Carmes to the church of St. Godard, which is adorned with the most beautiful tapestries in the city. They put down the litter in the middle of the choir on a rich dais, where it stays until 9:00. In the cathedral, at 7:30, after Terce and the sprinkling, the celebrant, deacon, and subdeacon, vested without chasuble or tunicle, preceded by an uncovered crucifix and lighted candles come down into the nave with the clergy who line up in two lines in front of the crucifix while the celebrant and his ministers ascend the Altar of the Cross (better known as the Altar of St. Cecile)[1] and there blesses the palms for all the canons, who each get one, and branches for the cantors, chaplains, and choir boys. For this blessing a dry Mass is said, composed of an antiphon, Collect, Epistle chanted at the jubé by the subdeacon who wears a tunicle and faces the people, a Gradual, Gospel Cum appropinquasset, etc. also chanted at the jubé by the deacon in a dalmatic, another collect, Preface, three[collects, and finally two antiphons and a final collect.[2]

Le reposoir de la Fête-Dieu, devant la résidence du Dr. Joseph Woods, coin Sussex et Cathcart, juin 1927. Photo : originale dans la collection de Jean Woods. Université d’Ottawa, CRCCF, [b]Fonds Jean-Robert-Woods[/b] (P178), Ph57-2.
An altar of repose for Corpus Christi, Ottowa, Canada, 1927 (Source)
After the distribution of the branches by two priests in surplices, everyone goes in procession, carrying their palms or branches in hand, to the church of St. Godard, ad sanctum Gildardum, chanting responsories and antiphons. When they arrive there, there is a sermon (today) in the neighboring church of St. Laurent; formerly it took place in a large cemetery that is between these two churches. For the event, in the cemetery on the side of the Rue de l’École, they used to construct a large wooden tribune of 20ft² for preaching in the midst of such large crowds of people. I have seen it several times, and it was canceled only forty years ago due to the uncertainty of the weather, which was such that the preacher always caught a cold or was inconvenienced in some other way. As a result they currently hold the preaching in the church of St. Laurent, which is nearby. When the sermon was finished, the clergy of the cathedral church return to St. Godard, where five chaplains stand before the tabernacle of the Blessed Sacrament and sing some verses or antiphons to which the ministers and the choir respond in alternation. The celebrant kneels with his ministers and incenses the Blessed Sacrament.

Related image
An altar of repose for Corpus Christi, Geispolsheim Village, France (Source)

After the antiphon Hosanna filio David, the Cantor begins the antiphon Coeperunt omnes turbae, and the procession returns in very pompous array. The roads it passes through are strewn with tapestries. The most wealthy bourgeois of the city and a crowd of people follow the procession, and the Fiftiers (Cinquanteniers) and the one hundred arquebusiers are there on the edges of the procession so there is no confusion. When they arrive to the place where the ancient city gate once stood, the Gate of St. Apollonia, patroness of the nearby church of the Carmelites (and sometimes also called the Gate of the Great Bridge) they hold a station at an altar of repose; the choir boys and musicians go up to a nearby room (formerly to one of the gate’s towers) cum Processio ad portam civitatis ornatam venerit, sex pueri turrim ascendant and sing the verses of Gloria, laus et honor.[3] While the archbishop sings the Gloria, laus with the Cantor, the vested ministers and the choir, he continually incenses the Blessed Sacrament in the altar of repose. When the verses are finished, the Cantor begins the Responsory Ingrediente Domino in sanctam civitatem, and the procession enters the city (in the words of the Ordinal), by which it means the old boundaries of the city. When they enter the parvis or forecourt of the church, the Cantor begins the Responsory Collegerunt Pontifices.

alter servers 14 (jose gallegos)

Four priests vested in black copes (formerly red and green) sing before the church door the Versicle Unus autem ex ipsis. Finally, two vested priest-chaplains carry the litter upon which the Body of Our Lord rests inside the lantern across the door, and hold it firmly, such that all the clergy and people enter the church passing under the Blessed Sacrament.

Immediately thereafter, they uncover the great crucifix and the Archbishop, the Cantor, the deacon, and the subdeacon kneel and sing Ave Rex noster, which the choir repeats. Finally they enter the choir and, if the Archbishop is present, he blesses the people. The Blessed Sacrament is again reserved, and the Mass begins.

2) Rogation Processions

On Rogation Monday after Sext, says the Ordinal, they prepare the procession, which the clergy and the people of the city are obliged to attend and do attend, carrying their reliquaries, crosses, and banners. They come together in the Metropolitan Mother Church: ad metropolitanam et matrem Ecclesiam convenire tenentur. While the processions from the other churches make their way thither, the reliquaries of the saints are taken from the church treasury and placed on the High Altar one after the other by two chaplains of the Commune vested in albs. The relics are escorted to the sanctuary enclosure by two choir-boys carrying candles, the deacon and subdeacon with their usual vestments except the tunicle, the officiating hebdomadary or journeyeur also in an alb, stole, and purple maniple, who incenses each reliquary from the treasury until the entrance to the choir, while the cantors sing an antiphon proper to the saint whose relics are borne. After the antiphon is done, the officiant stops with his ministers, and sings the versicle and collect proper to the saint whose relics are being carried, and places them on the High Altar. When all the reliquaries have been placed upon the altar, and the clergy of the city is assembled, the procession begins from the Cathedral church at about 9:30 in the morning, that is to say at the hour when Sext begins.[4] They are not so delicate as to fear the blazing sun, and in other places where, to avoid it, they begin the procession at 7 in the morning, interpreting the rubric post Sextam as meaning after 6 in the morning.

First go the reliquaries of three or four parishes with their clergy under their banners, and three or four reliquaries of the Cathedral church with two torches or candles flanking each one. Then follow all the crosses and banners of all the other parishes. The cross and banner of the church of St. Maclou, the biggest parish in the city, is the one under which walks all the numerous clergy of all the parish churches of Rouen in a straight line, in two rows, with the parish priests of the city that walk last.

After them walk the canons regular of the church of La Madeleine and St. Lô, who take their place in choir together with the canons of the Cathedral on one side. Then come Benedictines, both the reformed and those of the ancient Royal Abbey of St. Ouen. They also have their place on the other side of the choir with the canons of the Cathedral. These churches have a common association, as I shall say in its proper place.

Then comes a beadle of the Chapter carrying the great banner of the Cathedral church, and after him comes an acolyte who carries the processional cross with a small banner attached, under which walks all the clergy of the Cathedral church, composed of the choir-boys, a great number of chaplains, and the cantors who are also considered chaplains.

saint romanusBetween the cantors, according to the Ordinal, walked the Lord Cantor preceded by the two parish priests of the churches of St. Denis and S. Vigor, holding white batons in their hands to keep the procession of the chaplains in line both going and returning. Then come the canons, the last of which are the deacon and the celebrant. After them come two great dragons which the common folk call Gargouilles  (similar ones are carried in other churches of France, such as Paris, Lyon, etc.) and which follow the reliquaries (or fiertes, from the Latin feretrum) of Our Lady and St. Romanus between players of various musical instruments. Then come the richest merchants of the city and the people. When the procession passes in front of the door of a church, and the door of the stational church, the clergy is incensed by the parish priest or the vicar.

The batons which the two parish priests of the churches of St. Denis and S. Vigor carried to keep the order of procession were not unique to the church of Rouen. We have also seen them in Lyon ad defendendam or custodiendam processionem, that is, to protect the way of the procession, to indicate that free passage be given, and to prevent confusion. The other parish priests of the city and many other clerics have them too, and the dignités and elder canons as well. But, since all things degenerate with time, they were later shortened to 2 feet or 2.5 feet. Finally they have had the audacity to carry them uncovered and adding flowers on the top, and then in the middle of the baton.

Formerly the Benedictines of Bec going to these three Rogation Processions carried batons  or canes to support themselves, or to remove from the way anything that might obstruct the path, since these processions used to be carried out barefoot, as one can see in the Roman Ordinal (and, as I have remarked, in Lyon). Since the Abbey of Bec belongs to the Diocese of Rouen, it is not very far from the city, and followed a good part of the rites of Rouen, it is possible that the batons carried today by part of the clergy—all the ones that receive or buy them—used to be longer and thicker, and employed for the same reason as the Benedictines. Each of the monks of St. Martin-des-Champs of the Congregation of Cluny in Paris still carry a baton during the Rogation Processions, and likewise those of St. Benigne in Dijon, Lisieux, and the entire Order of Cluny. This helps confirm my conjecture. Further evidence is the fact that in Rouen on Rogation Tuesday they process to the church of St. Gervais outside the city, and must go uphill. The same was the case on Rogation Wednesday, when they went to the Abbatial Church of the Mount of St. Catherine, which is a very high mountain, very tough and painstaking to climb. Batons or canes would have been very helpful for climbing up and down. I leave the matter to those learned in the rubrics to decide.

Let us resume the course of our Monday procession. It goes to the parish church of St. Eloi.

After the procession enters the church, they have a sermon, which apparently used to take place after the Gospel of a dry Mass celebrated there, perhaps like in Metz in Lorraine, for the subdeacon, deacon, and celebrant vested as for saying a ferial Mass, except for the chasuble. (In Vienne the celebrant walks in procession with the chasuble.) After the end of the sermon, they say the preces kneeling (formerly everyone prostrated himself) in front of the altar. Then, three cantors or chaplains sing the Litany of the Saints until they go back into the choir of the Cathedral church, where they finish it.

The Ordinal of the Cathedral church adds: Nota quod qualibet die trium dierum processionis Religiosi S. Audoeni tenentur mittere per suos servitores ad domum Cantoris Ecclesiae Rotomagensis vel ejus locum tenentis, hora prandii unum panem magnum, unum galonem boni vini, honestum ferculum piscium, et unum magnum flaconem de pinguedine lactis, sicque in duobus diebus reportantur vasa, et in teria die dimittuntur, et pertinent Cantori.   (“Note that on each one of these three days of the procession, the religious of St. Audoenus must send their servants at lunch time to the house of the Cantor of the Church of Rouen or his locum tenens bearing a large loaf of bread, a gallon of good wine, a large helping of fish, and a large flagon of cream. The dishes are brought for two days and returned on the third.”)

On Rogation Tuesday the Procession goes to the church of St. Gervais with the same ceremonies as yesterday. There is a sermon, and after it is over, they say the preces kneeling (formerly everyone prostrated himself in front of the altar), and then they sing the Responsory O constantia martyrum. When that is over, three canons sing the litany that begins with Humili prece et sincera devotione ad te clamantes  Christe exaudi nos, which the choir repeats after each couplet or combination of stanzas, each of which are composed of a verse in hexameter and one in pentameter, containing the names of the saints in order. The text is as pitiful as the chant is charming.


The procession goes to the edge of the dry moat in which there are towers, arrow-slits and vaults, and much echoing that resounds with this beautiful chant and its cadences. Nothing is more pleasing or charming to the ear. The cantors continue the Litany until they entered the choir of the Cathedral church, where they finish it with two final stanzas, the last of which is in Greek.

On Rogation Wednesday they go in procession to the church of St. Nicaise (formerly to the Abbatial Church of the Mount of St. Catherine before it was destroyed) at the same time and with the same ceremonies as on Monday, and also with a sermon. On their way back three cantors first sing the Litany Ardua spes mundi,[5] which is repeated after a stanza composed of a verse in hexameter and one in pentameter, which contain the names of the saints in order. The text is not beautiful, and neither is the chant. But when they reach a certain crossroad, three priest-chaplains begin another litany with a beautiful chant, and which produces quite a beautiful effect with its refrains. This is its order: the three priest-chaplains begin by singing Rex Kyrie, Kyrie eleison, Christe audi nos. The choir repeats the same. Then the three priest-chaplains in the middle of the procession sing Sancta Maria ora pro nobis. After that, three deacon-chaplains sing Rex virginum Deus immortalis. Three subdeacon-chaplains add, Servis tuis semper miserere. The choir sings, Rex Kyrie, Kyrie eleison, Christe audi nos. And thus they all take the Litany up anew all the way unto the choir, where they finish. Upon their return they say None, and then go to lunch, for it is well after midday.

To read more from the Voyages Liturgiques about the liturgy of Rouen, see

Part (1): The Cathedral Chapter of Rouen
Part (2): Major Feast Days
Part (3): Ordinations and Saints Feasts
Part (4): The 15th Century Ordinal of Rouen
Part (5): Public Penance
Part (7): The Privilege of St. Romanus


[1] In the jubé.

[2] The same structure as the pre-Pius XII Roman rite, except that the latter has six collects after the Preface (the use of Rouen lacks the collects Petimus, Domine; Deus, qui dispersa; and Deus, qui miro present in the Roman rite.

[3] De Vert, Explication…., vol. 2, pg. 90.

[4] Because the little hours are anticipated on fasting days.

[5] “This rhymed verse litany is actually much more ancient: it was composed by the monk Ratpert of Saint Gall († 884) to be chanted in the Sunday processions of that famous Swiss abbey. It is one of many witnesses to the extraordinary intellectual, artistic, and scientific flowering of St. Gaul, one of the spearheads of the Carolingian Renaissance. Due to the great influence of the chant school of St. Gaul, Ardua spes mundi like many other pieces from the liturgical repertoire composed for the use of the famous abbey, was rapidly taken up by a number of churches in the West, and even received the approval of Pope Nicholas III († 1280). (Cf. Schubiger, Die Sängerschule St Gallens, p. 37). It is often found assigned to Rogation processions (in the diocese of Trèves it is sung on Tuesday of the Rogations).”

Cette litanie  versifiée et rythmée est de fait beaucoup plus ancienne : elle fut en effet composée par le moine Ratpert de Saint-Gall († 884) pour être chantée aux processions dominicales de cette fameuse abbaye suisse. C’est un témoin parmi bien d’autres de l’extraordinaire efflorescence intellectuelle, artistique et scientifique, qui caractérisa Saint-Gall, alors l’un des fers de lance de la Renaissance carolingienne. En raison du grand rayonnement de l’école de chant de saint Gall, Ardua spes mundi, comme bien d’autres pièces du répertoire liturgique composé pour l’usage de la fameuse abbaye, fut rapidement reprise dans de nombreuses Eglises d’Occident, et reçut même une approbation du pape Nicolas III († 1280) comme litanie (cf. Schubiger, Die Sängerschule St Gallens, p. 37). On la retrouve souvent assignée aux processions des Rogations (dans le diocèse de Trèves, elle est ainsi chantée le mardi des Rogations). []

8 thoughts on “Voyages Liturgiques: Lenten and Rogation Processions in Rouen (6)

  1. I would be very grateful to know which liturgical books you are working from for the Palm Sunday service! I was there two years ago and am preparing a comparative discussion between French and English cathedrals’ use of the choirboys in particular on the <> but since I can’t get back now, I can’t check my sources! (I have photos but want to be sure I’m comparing the right books and pages…) Many thanks for all your work!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This page is a part of our translation of the Voyages Liturgiques (1718). Unfortunately, the author does not identify his sources with any more precision than an approximate age of the mss. In this case, he’s working from a Rouen Ordinal “about 200 years old,” i.e. from the late 15th or early 16th century. If you can identify his source, please tell us!


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