Saturday, October 16, 2021

A 17th Century Vesperal from the Abbey of St Gall

Today is the feast of St Gall, a disciple of the great monastic founder of the later 6th and early 7th century, St Columban. He was born in Ireland, educated under Columban at the abbey of Bangor, and accompanied his teacher to the continent, where he assisted him in the founding of the important abbeys at Annegray and Luxeuil. From there, they made their way to the area around the Swiss lakes of Zurich and Constance; when Columban went to Italy, Gall remained behind, and having preached and gathered a group of disciples who lived under Columban’s rule, died sometime around 645 AD. The great Swiss abbey of San Gallen is named after him, since it was built over the site traditionally said to be that of his hermitage, about 70 years after his death. (Further details of this are given below in connection with the founder St Othmar.) 
This abbey is the home of one of the most important libraries in the world; among other things, it houses several of the oldest manuscripts of Gregorian chant. Much of the collection is now free to consult via the website, which also includes links to the digital collections of numerous other Swiss libraries. Here is a book from San Gallen which I recently discovered while perusing the site, a magnificently illustrated Vesperal made for the Prince Abbot of San Gallen at the end of the 17th century. This book contains only the intonations of the antiphons and hymns, which were made by the celebrant and dignitaries of the choir, such as the prior and subprior etc. The celebrant’s other parts (the chapter and orations) would be sung out of a different book called a capitularium.
Here are all of the decorated pages of the book; I have cropped those on which the decorations are confined to the margins. (Cod. Sang. 1452B; all images CC BY-NC 4.0) The complete book can be seen by following the links at the following url:

The First Sunday of Advent. The book is not very large, about 14½ by 11 inches; for the intonation of the second antiphon, a server would carry it to the next dignitary of the choir, then to the third, and so on.
The O antiphons. The style of note is known in German as “Hufnagelnotation – hoof-nail notation”, from the resemblance of the notes to a common kind of nail for horse-shoes.
Christmas. At top, the Holy Family turned away from the inn; at the upper right margin, the appearance of the angel to the shepherds.
In the margin of the next page, the angelic choirs sing over the stable at Bethlehem.
Decoration from the following page, with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, and angels adoring the Christ Child as He sleeps in the manger, which is shaped like the Cross. Below, Ss Stephen and John.
On the next page, the Massacre of the Holy Innocents, and the Circumcision.
The Epiphany, with the three mysteries celebrated in the feast in the right margin: the Adoration of the Magi, the Wedding at Cana, and the Baptism of the Lord.
The Ascension
Trinity and Corpus
The feast of St Andrew, at the beginning of the proper of Saints.
The Immaculate Conception
St Agnes
The Purification
St Agatha; I confess that I cannot figure out why the entombment of Christ is depicted at the bottom of this page.
St Benedict, 
The Annunciation
St Notker the Stammerer, a monk of San Gallen who lived from 840-912, and is traditionally said to have invented the Sequence of the Mass. Depicted here is the legend that one night he encountered the devil in the form of a demonic dog, and gave him such a thrashing that he broke his staff. 
The Apostles Philip and James, whose feast is on May 1st, the Benedictine nun and martyr St Wiborada, whose feast is kept on May 2, and St Helena, holding the Cross, for the feast of the Finding of the Cross on May 3rd. Wiborada was a scion of a noble family from the German area of Swabia, whose brother, a priest named Hatto, became a monk of St Gallen ca. 900 AD. After the death of their parents, she joined her brother at the abbey, where she became an anchoress. In 926, when the Magyars attacked the abbey, she was killed with an axe; she is traditionally venerated as a martyr since she refused to flee from her cell.
St John the Baptist, for the feast of his birth on June 24th.
Ss Peter and Paul
A Guardian Angel; at San Gallen, their feast was kept in mid-July (the precise date is not given in the book.)
St Lawrence
The Assumption
The Birth of the Virgin Mary
Two legends of St Gall depicted on the first page of his Office. When he had come to Switzerland, in the area where the abbey stands now, as he was warming himself at a fire, he was charged at by a bear. The Saint rebuked the animal, which became his pet for the rest of its days. The second episode is not clear.
The Dedication of the Abbey, the day after St Gall; note the depiction of the abbey and its extensive conventual buildings. A plan of the abbatial complex drawn up ca. 825, and preserved in the library, is literally the only architectural drawing surviving in the West from between the fall of the Roman Empire and the 13th century.
The feast of St Othmar, the first abbot of San Gallen, on November 16. He was given charge of St Gall’s hermitage by Charles Martel, the grandfather of Charlemagne, and undertook the first building of the abbey, sometime in the first half of the 8th century. He is shown with an abbot’s crozier and the palm branch of martyrdom, since he was exiled from the abbey because of calumnies made against him by two local noblemen. Next to him is a wine barrel, a reference to a legend that when his remains were brought back to San Gallen over the lake of Constance by rowboat, the rowers became extremely thirsty, but no matter how much wine they drank from the barrel they had with them, the quantity within it did not diminish. Below him is shown the small chapel dedicated to him on the island of Werd in the lake of Constance, where he lived in exile and died.  
The feast of all the relics of the monastery of St Gallen, which is celebrated on the Sunday after the feast of St Mary Magdalene.

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