On the Canonical Chapter of Lyons

The Cathedral of St John the Baptist in Lyons

The canonical chapter of St John’s Cathedral in Lyons long distinguished itself as one of the most powerful and most liturgically dedicated cathedral chapters in Christendom. It was principally due to the efforts of these canons, who had to learn the entire Office by heart in order to be accepted into the chapter, that the mediæval Lyonese use survived until the 18th century. In this extract, the eminent liturgist Archdale King describes the characteristics of the Lyonese chapter:

The Church of Lyons has been distinguished through the centuries for its loyalty to liturgical tradition. St. Bernard (ob. 1153) in his reproof to its canons for their adoption of a new feast (Conception of our Lady) reminds them of their customary conservatism: ‘Among all the churches of France the church of Lyons is well known to be pre-eminent for its dignity, sound learning, and praiseworthy customs. Where was there ever so flourishing strict discipline, grave conduct, ripe counsels, and such an imposing weight of authority and tradition? Especially in the offices of the Church, has this church, so full of judgement, appeared cautious in adopting novelties, and careful never to permit its reputation to be sullied by any childish levity.’

A similar homage was paid to the Church of Lyons in the 17th century by Cardinal Bona (ob. 1674): ‘A Church which knows nothing of novelties, clinging tenaciously, in the matter of chant and ceremonies, to ancient tradition.’

This laudable conservatism was due in great measure to the unprecedented authority exercised by the canons. In the 12th century, they numbered seventy-two in remembrance of the disciples of our Lord, but after a certain amount of fluctuation their numbers were reduced to thirty-two by a charter of King Philip V in 1321. This arrangement was confirmed by a bull of Clement VI (1342-52) in 1347. In 1173, the canons of the primatial church of St. John had been granted the temporal jurisdiction of the city by Guy, count of Forez, and at the same time the title of ‘count’ was conferred on them. Lyons came under the control of the king of France in 1312, but Philip the Fair expressly maintained the nobility of the canons, who, in 1745, were authorized by Louis XV to wear a cross of white enamel over their mozettas. This qualification of ‘count’ ceased with the Revolution, but the cross is still worn. Spiritual authority was in no way impaired by the loss of temporal power. In 1230, the chapter even defied the Pope by declining the proposal of Gregory IX (1227-41) that Peter of Savoy should become one of their number. Peter, however, accepted the non placet of the canons, and consoled himself with marriage! When Innocent IV (1243-54) in 1244 expressed his intention of appointing personally to certain of the prebendal stalls, the canons told him that his nominees would be thrown in to the Saône, if they presented themselves.

Other officers in the primatial church included four guardians (two for the parish and two for the cathedral), representing the four evangelists; seven knights for the Apocalyptic ‘seven spirits of fire’ [1]; thirteen perpetual chaplains in place of Christ and the apostles [2]; forty assistant priests; twenty inferior clerics; and twenty-four altar and choir boys. In addition to these, the statues of 1330 mention one hundred and twenty supernumeraries. There were altogether one hundred and thirty persons in the choir.

The archbishop ranked as a ‘perpetual’, and, although accorded reverence by reason of his office, his powers were limited. He pontificated no more than four times in the year—Christmas, Holy Thursday, Easter, and Pentecost. Like the canons, he took an oath to keep, respect, and defend the rights and privileges of the chapter, and, although the dean vacated his stall for him, the primate, when in chapter, did not appear in pontificals. It was the capitular cross, not that of the metropolitan, which was carried before him at ceremonies. A cleric had taken the archbishop’s cross at the threshold of the cloister, and ‘hidden’ it behind the altar, until such time as he had quitted the primatial church. The archbishop exercised authority over the chapter in the time of Leidrade and Agobard, but by the 13th century he was no more than the first of the perpetual chaplains [3], and he was to be little more than a ‘guest’ in his own cathedral church until the 18th century. Attendance at choir was strictly enforced, and an absentee was precluded from assisting at the capitular Mass on the following day. When the archbishop pontificated, it was necessary for him to officiate at first Vespers, and, if he failed to do so, the dean took his place at the altar. In 1743, on the occasion of the jubilee of the church (St. John), Cardinal de Tencin went to see a display of fireworks, and in consequence absented himself from Matins on the following day without the permission of the chapter, whereupon the canons refused to allow him to assist at either Mass or Vespers. So late at 1757, it was the chapter, not the archbishop, who gave faculties for the hearing of confessions in the churches of St. John, St. Stephen, and Holy Cross.

The jealous attachment to rights and privileges, with a constant fear lest they should be infringed by the archbishop, is signified by the two crosses which may be seen today against the wall behind the high altar: ‘When the archbishop raises his cross, the canons raise theirs on the other side.’ This must surely be the explanation of the two crosses, rather than a reminder of the union of the Western and Eastern Churches at the second council of Lyons in 1274, when the Latin and Greek crosses were set up behind the altar during the solemn Mass celebrated by Pope Gregory X. In the last quarter of the 18th century we find a denial of the privileges of the chapter, and they were also rescinded by the Parliament of Paris. About this time also, the archbishop, Mgr. de Montazet, substituted the neo-Gallican missal of Paris for the authentic Roman missal of Leidrade and Agobard.

[1] These knights were incorporated into the ranks of the clergy in the 16th century.

[2] The perpetual chaplains had charge of the chant and ceremonies, and also the maintenance of the secular traditions of the church. They were at one time removable, and a change in this respect may have caused them to be styled ‘perpetual’.

[3] Tredecim capellanos perpetuos inter quos et praecipuus Archiepiscopus, qui representat Dominum Jesum Christum inter apostolos existentem. Stat. 1337.

Archdale A. King. Liturgies of the Primatial Sees. Longmans, Green and Co, 1957, pp. 18-21.


Gemma Animae (6): De curru Dei

Ch. 6

On God’s Chariot.

ezekiels-vision-of-chariot-in-sky-c614-bc-bible-ezekiel-ii9-one-modern-D96B29While the choir sings, the bishop goes forth as if driven on a chariot, for it is written that the chariot of God is attended by ten thousands, and the bishop’s retinue is divided into ten orders, namely: the first order are the porters; the second, the lectors; the third, the exorcists; the fourth, acolytes; the fifth, the subdeacons; the sixth, the deacons; the seventh, the presbyters; the eighth, the cantors; the ninth, the laymen; the tenth, the women. Thus Christ came into the world, while the choir of prophets sang, driven on the chariot of Scripture, accompanied by the orders of saints.

The cantors welcome the bishop as he enters with the Gloria Patri, and the angels received Christ as he was born with the Gloria in excelsis. The two choirs sing praises together, because two peoples—to wit, the Jews and the Gentiles—ran to meet Christ with praises.

In the Introit chant, the Church’s praise is taken up by the Jews; in the Kyrie eleyson withal, the Church’s praise is taken up by the Gentiles. In the Gloria in excelsis, however, both sing praise together faithful to the Trinity in order to secure a dignity equal to that of the angels.

In the Introit, too, we are shown the order of patriarchs, who foretold the coming of Christ. The prophetic verse signifies the order of prophets, who signalled the birth of Christ. The Gloria Patri commemorates the order of apostles, who preach that Christ has already come, and who expound the Trinity to the Church. The repetition of the Introit alludes to the order of doctors, who announce that Christ will come again as a judge.

Further, the Kyrie eleyson proclaims the peoples of diverse tongues by whom Christ is praised, together with the angels, in the Gloria in excelsis.

De curru Dei.

Interim dum chorus cantat, episcopus quasi in curru vectus ad solemnitatem vadit, quia currus Dei decem millibus multiplex legitur, et comitatus episcopi decem ordinibus distinguitur, scilicet: Primus ordo, sunt ostiarii; secundus, lectores; tertius, exorcistae; quartus, acolythi; quintus, subdiaconi; sextus, diaconi; septimus, presbyteri; octavus, cantores; nonus, laici; decimus, feminae. Ita Christus mundum intravit, dum prophetarum chorus cecinerunt, curru Scripturae vectus, sanctorum ordinibus comitatus. Cantores venientem episcopum cum Gloria Patri excipiunt, et angeli Christum advenientem cum Gloria in excelsis susceperunt. Duo chori laudes concinunt, quia duo populi scilicet Iudaei et gentiles Christo advenienti cum laudibus occurrerunt. Per cantum Introitus, accipitur laus Ecclesiae de Iudaeis; per Kyrie eleyson vero laus Ecclesiae de gentibus. Per Gloria in excelsis autem utriusque concors laudatio in fide Trinitatis pro adipiscenda aequalitate angelicae dignitatis. Per introitum quoque ordo patriarcharum nobis repraesentatur, per quos Christus venturus praefigurabatur. Per versum propheticum ordo prophetarum insinuatur, per quos Christus nasciturus pronuntiabatur. Per Gloria Patri ordo apostolicus commemoratur, per quos Christus iam venisse praedicatur, a quibus et Trinitas Ecclesiae insinuatur. Per introitum secundo repetitum ordo doctorum notatur per quos Christus adhuc venturus ad iudicium narratur. Porro per Kyrie eleyson diversarum linguarum populi declarantur, a quibus Christus in Gloria in excelsis cum angelis collaudatur.

Gemma Animae (5): De campanis significatio

Ch. 4

On the Meaning of the Bells

english-bishop-costume-14-thm-graphicsfairyThe bells are the prophets. The bells rang because the prophets heralded the coming of Christ. The pontiff enters the temple, and Christ enters this world, that is, the Church. The vested bishop comes from the sacristy, and Christ came from the virgin’s womb clothed with beauty as a bridegroom from his bridal chamber.

The deacons, subdeacons, and acolytes who precede the bishop symbolize the prophets, wise men, and scribes who announced to the world the coming of Christ in the flesh. The deacons signify the prophets, for they preach to the people that Christ has already come and will still come again, and announce from the Gospel the life to come,

The subdeacons with lectionaries represent the wise men who proclaimed the fulness of the Divinity in the embodied Christ. Wisdom, that is, the subdeacons go in the midst of young damsels playing on timbrels, that they might instruct the timbrel-players whom they ought to praise. The timbrel-players are the cantors sounding praises. The young damsels are the new churches praising God, having subdued the flesh.

The acolytes with candles are a type of the scribes, who furnished the light of wisdom to the faithful by expounding the Scriptures.

Thus each group numbers seven, for the sacraments of the Mass are accomplished through the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost.

The priors with the chaplains, who follow them, represent the twelve apostles. The three acolytes, who carry thuribles with incense, are the three magi, who brought gifts to the newborn Christ.

The Gospel book is carried before the bishop because by Christ’s teaching the way toward life is provided to us. The bishop is escorted by two people, and Christ was brought into the world by two Testaments through the prophets and apostles. A multitude of people accompanies the bishop, because the faithful people strive to follow Christ towards heavenly things. While this ceremony [officium] is carried out, one does not sit in church, for those who are called to worship God are delegated to the work of Christ.

De campanis significatio.

Campanae sunt prophetae. Campanae sonabant, quia prophetae Christi adventum praenuntiabant. Pontifex templum ingreditur, et Christus hunc mundum, id est Ecclesiam, ingreditur. Episcopus de sacrario ornatus procedit, et Christus de utero virginis decore indutus tanquam sponsus de thalamo processit. Diaconi, et subdiaconi, et acolythi, qui episcopum praecedunt, designant prophetas, et sapientes, et scribas, qui adventum Christi in carne mundo nuntiaverunt. Diaconi prophetas significant, qui Christum iam venisse, et adhuc venturum populo praedicant, et ex Evangelio futuram vitam nuntiant. Subdiaconi cum plenariis sapientes praeferunt, qui plenitudinem Divinitatis in Christo corporaliter retulerunt. Sapientia, id est subdiaconi vadunt in medio adolescentularum tympanistriarum, ut doceant, quem tympanistae laudare debeant. Tympanistae sunt cantores laudes resonantes. Adolescentulae sunt, novae Ecclesiae Deum laudantes edomita carne. Acolythi cum luminibus typum Scribarum gerunt, qui lumen scientiae Scripturas exponendo fidelibus ministraverunt. Qui ideo singuli septem decernuntur, quia per septem dona Spiritus sancti sacramenta missae perficiuntur. Priores cum capellanis, qui eos sequuntur, duodecim apostoli accipiuntur. Tres acolythi, qui thuribula cum incenso ferunt, sunt tres magi, qui munera nato Christo obtulerunt. Evangelium ante episcopum portatur, quia per doctrinam Christi nobis via ad vitam paratur. Episcopus a duobus deducitur, et Christus a duobus Testamentis per prophetas et apostolos mundo invehitur. Turba populi episcopum comitatur, quia Christum populus fidelium ad coelestia sequi conatur. Dum praesens officium agitur in Ecclesia non sedetur, quia labori Christi deputantur qui ad cultum Dei vocantur.

Liturgical Trial by Combat

The traditional Mozarabic rite in Hispania was suppressed and substituted with the Roman rite principally through the efforts of Alphonse VI, King of Leon, Castile, Galicia, and Portugal, soi-disant Emperor of all Spain, with the support of Pope St Gregory VII and the Cluniac congregation. Such a liturgical revolution was by no means easily achieved, however, as is evident in the chronicle written by Bishop Roderic of Toledo:

The clergy and people of all Spain were troubled, for they were compelled to take up the Gallican [i.e., Roman] Office by the legate [Richard] and king [Alphonse]. On the appointed day, when the king, the primate, the legate, and a great multitude of clergy and people were assembled, there was a long quarrel: the clergy, the knights, and the people firmly resisted any change in the Office, whereas the king, counselled contrariwise by the queen, thundered terrible threats. Finally, on account of the obstinacy of the knights, it was decided that this dispute would be settled by combat. Two knights were chosen, one by the king that he might fight for the Gallican Office, the other by the knights and the people to fight for the Office of Toledo. The king’s knight was defeated forthwith, and the people rejoiced because the victor was the knight of the Office of Toledo. But Queen Constance persuaded the King not to abandon his designs, saying that the duel was not lawful. The knight who fought for the Office of Toledo was of the house of Matanza, near Pisorica, and his family still exists to-day.

[…] clerus et populus tocius Hispanie turbabatur, eo quod Gallicanum officium suscipere a legato et principe cogebantur; et statuto die rege, primate, legato, cleri et populi maxima multitudine congregatis, fuit diutius altercatum, clero, milicia et populo firmiter resistentibus ne officium mutaretur, rege a regina suaso, contrarium minis et terroribus intonante. Ad hoc ultimo res peruenit militari pertinacia decernente, ut hec dissensio duelli certamine sedaretur. Cumque duo milites fuissent electi, unus a rege, qui pro officio Gallicano, alter a milicia et populis, qui pro Toletano pariter decertarent, miles regis ilico uictus fuit, populis exultantibus quod uictor erat miles officii Toletani. Set rex adeo fuit a regina Constancia stimulatus, quod a proposito non discessit, duellum iudicans ius non esse. Miles autem qui pugnauerat pro officio Toletano, fuit de domo Matancie prope Pisoricam, cuius hodie genus extat.

Roderic of Toledo, De Rebus Hispanie, book VI, chapter XXVI

Gemma Animae (4): De processione episcopi

Ch. 4

On the Bishop’s Procession

Bishop Perry Process

After the bells have sounded, the vested pontiff proceeds, seven acolytes with lights preceding him and seven sub-deacons coming after with lectionaries [cum plenariis] [1]. And after these seven deacons advance, followed by twelve priors. After these three acolytes come with thuribles bearing incense. After these the Gospel book is borne before the bishop, who follows it walking between two others, accompanied by the princes and the people. As they enter the choir, they are met with the verse Gloria Patri sung by the cantors, to whom the bishop extends the peace. Then he goes to the altar and when the chant is finished he says the prayer [oratio] and then goes to his seat. Some of the ministers sit with him, and others wait on him: [all of] this is to demonstrate the presence of Christ for us.

De processione episcopi.

Postquam campanae sonaverint, pontifex ornatus procedit, quem septem acolythi cum luminibus praeeunt, post quos septem subdiaconi cum plenariis incedunt. Item post hos septem diaconi gradiuntur, quos duodecim priores sequuntur. Post hos tres acolyti cum thuribulis vadunt, qui incensum gerunt. Post quos Evangelium ante episcopum fertur, quod ipse inter duos ambulans sequitur, eumque principes cum populo comitantur. Qui, dum chorum ingreditur, a cantoribus cum versu, Gloria Patri, excipitur, Quibus ipse pacem porrigit, deinde ad altare vadit, finito cantu orationem dicit, et tunc sedere pergit. Quidam de ministris cum eo sedent, quidam ei assistunt: hoc quasi praesentiam Christi nobis exhibet.

[1] Plenarium refers to a liturgical book containing the entirety of something, such the gospels or epistles (cf. Du Cange).