Officers in the Cathedral Chapter of Rouen (9)

Dignities (Officers) of the Rouen Chapter

altar server 5

The High-Dean (Haut-Doyen) is the first dignity of the chapter after the archbishop, and when he is present at Prime and Compline it is he who makes and receives the Confiteor, and sprinkles the holy water in Lent at the end of Compline.

The Cantor (Chantre) officiates in cope with his baton at the High Masses of Triple and Double Feasts and at solemn funerals. He is in charge of making sure no one talks in choir, and has the right of light correction over the clergy, which means he can give at most one blow. He has the right to run or set up chant schools.

The Chancellor (Chancelier) is the Intendent or Master of Schools. In other churches he is thus called the Capiscol, Ecolâtre, or Scholastique. He is in charge of making the chronological table that is placed in the Paschal Candle, to keep the Matricule, [Ed.: the register of clerics, based on which he assigns each to his place]. He must also rehearse the Matins readings with the choir boys and other clergy [and also with the three subdeacon-canons who sing the lessons of the first Nocturn at Matins on great feasts] and he must listen to all of them when he is required to do so.

The Penitentiary (Penitencier) gives the sermon on Holy Thursday and he performs the reconciliation of the public penitents.

Unlike others, this illustrious church does not have perpetual Vicars (Vicaires perpetuels), Semiprebenders (Semiprebendez)[1]or canon-serfs[2] to perform the duties of Hebdomadary for others. The worthy canons of Rouen conduct themselves with such honor that would allow, not for anything in the world, that a subdeacon, deacon, or priest who is not a major canon should celebrate or serve Mass at the high altar. They would rather not have a deacon or subdeacon.

There is so much respect given to the Hebdomadary in the Cathedral church of Rouen that when a canon performs his role according to the set order, no other canon dares to pass in front of him, either in the middle of the choir or to reach their chairs, taking another way to their places instead. This distinction is not given to any other of the canons. I have been assured that formerly, during the week of his service, the Hebdomadary lived and slept in a room next to the Sacristy, separated from the society of men so as to be more united to God, and to be in a better state to offer his prayers and sacrifices for the people.

There is one more thing. In accordance with a very ancient practice, the Hebdomadary was obliged, on Saturday before None, to come to the middle of the choir and prostrating himself on the floor he humbly gave thanks to God and asked forgiveness for the omissions and faults he may have made in his office that week. Sixtus IV made this obligatory under threat of excommunication, if the Hebdomadary refused to do this, though the chapter can absolve him of this after he has made satisfaction. In the year 1409, the Dean and the chapter wrote to Pope Innocent VIII to modify this practice, arguing that this prostration could consist in a simple genuflection and profound bow, and not lying down flat on the pavement in the middle of the choir [which at that time was not carpeted in winter]. They alleged that the former custom was vulgar, difficult, and dangerous to old men and the infirm, and that in place of this kind of prostration in the middle of the choir, it could be done before the high altar. This is how it is practiced today. The Hebdomadary leaves his place in choir just as None is finished and Vespers of Saturday is starting, and going up to the high altar he remains kneeling and slightly bowed on the predella during the first Psalm while he prays. When he finishes his prayer he kisses the altar and returns to his place.

The Hebdomadary is the only one who has a candle in choir in the winter, in an absconse or dark lantern, in order to read the absolutions and benedictions at Matins, and the chapter and collect at Lauds.

Besides this dark lantern there is another very large lantern of silver, with a candle that is kept lit during the winter and during the summer for the three nocturns. At the first or second Psalm of Matins, an older choir boy holds it up high in the middle of the choir or in the jubé before a chaplain or acolyte cantor or subdeacon, who carries the great Lectionary or book of lessons. The fact that this lantern is used in both summer and winter to read the lessons, and even on the Vigil of the Assumption, the only day of the year when Matins is said after Vespers, is a sign that the canons of Rouen have never forgotten that Matins should be said at night.

alter server 12 (vicente boras)

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 (6): Lenten and Rogation Processions
Part (7): The Privilege of St. Romanus
Part (8): The Corpus Christi Procession and 40 Hours for the King


[1] Benefices for clerics (usually priests) who in theory substituted for a canon holding a prebend, due to the latter’s illness or another indisposition. In places they came to be treated as permanent positions or stepping stones to more prestigious offices.

[2] There was a distinction within many French cathedral chapters between “free” canons (chanoines francs) and “serf” canons. The former, usually drawn from the nobility or high bourgeoisie, had more freedom to be absent from their choir than the latter, who were strictly obliged to be present, and thus bear the larger part of the burden of the office, while they also did not have a voice in chapter. In 1769, the Parlement confirmed this internal hierarchy but removed restrictions on absenteeism for this lower class of canons. Cf. here.

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