Monday, November 15, 2010

The German Choral Dialect and a Jewel on the Rhine: St. Valentine, Kiedrich

On Sunday, 31 October 2010, H.E. The Most Rev. Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, Bishop of Limburg, celebrated Pontifical Mass in the parish church of Saints Valentine and Dionysius in Kiedrich, a small vinicultural village in the Rheingau district of the German state of Hesse. The occasion was the elevation of the church to the dignity of a papal basilica minor by Pope Benedict XVI. And the reasons for this elevation, small as the village may be (it has less than 4,000 inhabitants), are manifold.

First among them - even before the church itself and its furnishings - is the unique choral tradition which is cultivated at this church. Every Sunday, since at least 1333, Mass is sung by the local boys' choir - the Kiedricher Chorbuben - in Latin chant in the so-called German choral dialect, a gothic variant of Gregorian chant which differs from the Roman variant chiefly in its interval structure, written in horseshoe-nail notation (if you read German, you can learn more about ther German choral dialect here). Kiedrich is actually the only place where this choral dialect has survived (although it has been partly revived by the Swiss Benedictines in 1943).

Only then comes the church and its furnishings. Built as a pilgrimage church to St. Valentine in the 14th c., whose skull came to Kiedrich from the nearby Cistercian monastery of Eberbach at that time, the nave and chancel, as well as the rood-screen which is of great importance for the accoustics of the choral singing, are from the 15th c.

The church also boasts complete original gothic furnishings, including very rare pews from 1510, and the organ from 1500, one of the oldest playable organs in the world. You can read more about the church here.

St. Valentine at the main entrance:

The church before the beginning of Mass:

Note the relics of St. Valentine on the right side altar:

The organ from 1500:

Entrance procession of the bishop (I attended Mass from one of the galleries):

The decree of elevation to the dignity of a basilica minor is read (in Latin) by the Vicar General:

The lesson is sung (in German) by one of the choir boys:

A view into the chancel with the choir and clergy (the men wearing the black mantles are familiars, i.e. lay members, of the Teutonic Order):

After Mass, the papal coat of arms, which is mounted at every basilica, was blessed by the bishop:

I then had the opportunity to take some additional pictures of the church:

The cemetery chapel of St. Michael, built from 1434 to 1444:

In the church yard is buried the great benefactor of the church in the 19th c., Sir John Sutton, Bt., who made a generous foundation to support and guarantee the future of the choir boys, and also was responsible for the restoration of the organ, as well as other restoration of the church and charitable works in the village. Sir John, who converted in 1855, had before that been involved in the restoration of Jesus College Chapel in Cambridge - in fact it was he who brought his close friend A.W.N. Pugin there - and designed and purchased the organ of that chapel (cf. here).

To round out our exploration of this exceptional church, here is a video I took during the Pontifical Mass. The first part is an excerpt of Perosi's "Tu es Petrus", while the rest is the gradual of the Mass, "Locus iste":

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