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les Enluminures

Noted Pontifical [Pontificale GUILLELMI DURANDI]

In Latin, decorated manuscript on parchment with musical notation
France (Central or Southern), c. 1350-1400

TM 521

154 folios on parchment (flesh-side white and slick, hair-side darker or yellowed and speckled), original foliation in roman numerals, center upper margin, 1-151, with f. 142 bis, and with two unnumbered folios at the beginning, modern foliation in pencil, top outer corner recto following original foliation, the last quire now ends imperfectly, and the table of contents lists at least 54 additional folios, now missing (collation, i2 [two unnumbered folios] ii-xx8), quires 2-10 include horizontal catchwords with elaborate pen-work decoration (described below), remaining quires include vertical catchwords, quires signed in modern pencil, very bottom inside margin, beginning with quire 2 on f. 1, quires 2-12, ff. 1-88v, ruled in red ink with the top and bottom two rules full across, and with single full-length vertical bounding lines, quires 13 to end, beginning on f. 89, ruled in brown ink with the top two and bottom one horizontal rules full across, and with single full-length vertical bounding lines (justification 145-140 x 107-104 mm.), copied in a formal gothic bookhand in sixteen long lines or with up to five four-line red staves and five lines of text per page, red rubrics and liturgical directions, flourished majuscules within the text, beautiful cadel initials, many with faces and other grotesques, most found in the text accompanying the music, paragraph marks in red or blue, one-line red and blue initials, two-line alternately red and blue initials with black or blue pen decoration respectively, three-line parted red and blue pen-work initials, or one color initials with decorative void spaces within the initial, six-line initial, f. 1, parted red and blue with detailed red infilling and with red and black pen decoration, elaborate decorated catchwords (described in detail, below). In very good condition apart from cockling, two leaves at the beginning before f. 1, worn, with partial loss of the lower corner, some original holes and unevenly shaped leaves, ink is blurred and smudged on some folios, although text remains legible, likely original due to poor ink and slick parchment. Bound in 15th-century (?) wooden boards covered with brown leather, blind-tooled with a central panel of small round stamps with fleur-de-lis, surrounded by borders of small diamond-shaped stamps with the “agnus dei,” groups of small round stamps with stars, and an outer border of three double fillets; spine with four raised bands, five brass bosses, upper and lower boards, and two brass clasps and catches, fastening back to front; rebacked in later leather tooled in a grid, and with small round stamps; in solid condition, but the covering on both boards is quite worn, and the tooling is no longer distinct. Dimensions 241 x 167 mm.

Reproducing William Durand’s original text very closely, this Pontifical differs in the chapters included, as well as other features. Of special interest is the inclusion of the Greek alphabet in the ceremony for the Dedication of a Church. Less common than Missals and Breviaries, Pontificals were often expensive, illuminated volumes; this book, in contrast, constitutes a more practical volume suitable for traveling. This is a very charming, unusual volume, with musical notation on at least eight-two folios, exceptional illustrated catchwords and cadel initials, and an early binding.


1.The evidence of the script and decoration support an origin in central or southern France in the second half of the fourteenth century, making this a relatively early copy of this text. It reproduces the litany found in William Durand’s pontifical almost exactly (discussed in detail below), and thus the inclusion of saints venerated in the diocese of Bourges probably reflects the original text, rather than the diocese where this was copied. Nonetheless, we may also add that its decoration and script do not rule out the possibility that it may in fact have been copied somewhere in that region. Arguing from negative evidence is very weak, but we may also note that the Visitation, a feast established for the whole church in 1389, is not included in the Benedictions for major feasts at the end of the table of contents.

2. Top margin, first unnumbered leaf, “De Nostre Dame de Grace,” s. XIX (?).


[Two unnumbered folios before f. 1] Secuntur rubrice istius pontificatus, incipit, “De crismandis in fronte pueris, i; De psalmista faciendo, iii, De clerico faciendo … De altaris portalis consecratione, cl, … Ordo ad vestiendum et deuestiendum episcopum pontificalibus, ccv”;

Table of contents; the manuscript now ends on f. 151v, so the last chapter included is “De altaris portalis consecratione”; the table of contents includes thirty-three additional chapters no longer found in this manuscript; the last chapter listed would have begun on f. 205.

ff. 1- 151v, incipit, “Pontifex pueros in fronte crismare uolens paratus cum amictu …. De oleo sancto cathecuminorum in eiusdem//”;

Pontifical of William Durand; critical edition by Michel Andrieu, Le Pontifical Romain au Moyen-Age, III. Le Pontifical de Guillaume Durand, Studi e Testi, 88, Vatican City, 1940, pp. 327-683. The manuscript begins with the chapter, “De crismandis in front pueris,” and now ends imperfectly in the chapter, “De altaris portatilis consecratione,” (Andrieu, 1940, p. 500, line 2 [=Book II, IV.9]).

William Durand (c. 1230-1296) studied law in Bologna, and became bishop of Mende in 1286. He is probably best known as the author of the Rationale divinorum officiorum, a comprehensive treatise on the liturgy. His Pontifical, composed in 1292-5 while he was bishop of Mende, proved to be extremely influential, and it was the basis of the first edition printed in Rome in 1485. Andrieu based his edition on twenty-one manuscripts, which reproduce Durand’s work to varying degrees. Local liturgical requirements and the influence of other Pontificals often resulted in variations in the contents of particular copies.

Although the Pontifical described here does not include all the texts found in Durand’s Pontifical (details follow), the texts that it does include are very close to Durand’s original text. Indeed, many of the local liturgical details and personal references, written for Durand’s own diocese and often changed in copies of his text, are retained in this Pontifical. The litany, here on ff. 16-18, faithfully reproduces Durand’s litany, written for the author’s church in Mende (Andrieu, ed., pp. 350-353). The only exception is the replacement of St. Enimia, found in Durand’s Pontifical, with St. Eugenia. In the chapter on the ordination of a Bishop (book one, chapter 14), this Pontifical also retains the reference to Durand’s own work, the Speculo iudiciali in section six (ed., p. 375), and the reference to the Bishop of Bourges, “episcopi Biturciensi” in section 19 (ed., p. 379; Mende is in the province of Bourges). The Greek and Latin alphabets, traced on the floor of the Church during the dedication of a church, are written in full in this manuscript on f. 95 (cf. Andrieu, ed., p. 464).

Even when this manuscript was complete, and included all the chapters listed in the table of contents, numerous differences from the text in Andrieu’s edition are apparent; it lacks the author’s prologue, and is not divided into books (Durand’s work is in three books). In book one, the following chapters are lacking: chapter 4, “De barba tondenda,” chapter 16, the ordo for the ordination of the Pope, chapters 20-27, pertaining to nuns, (Benediction of an Abbess, deaconess, consecration of virgins, and widows), kings, emperors and new knights.

Compared with book two of the edition, this manuscript includes additional chapters on the Benediction of water and the translation of relics following the second chapter on the Dedication of a Church. Numerous Benedictions in book two of the edition are not listed in the table of contents, including chapters 18, 19, 23-25, 27-29, 32-35, and 37. Many of these are short texts, and since these folios are no longer included in the manuscript, it is impossible to tell if the omission reflects the actual contents of the original manuscript, or inaccuracies in the list of contents.

Book three of the edition and the original text of this manuscript as described in the table of contents are notably different; lacking are the first eleven chapters; followed by “Ordo ad visitandum parochiis,” included in the edition, and then a series of chapters not found in the edition, including Benedictions for different feasts, beginning with “Benedictio maioris misse natiutatis domini,” and continuing with Epiphany, Purification, Annunciation, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Assumption of Mary, Nativity of Mary, and All Saints. The last entry is “Ordo ad uestiendum et deuestiendum episcopum pontificalibus .”

A Pontifical is the liturgical book that includes the ceremonies reserved specially for a Bishop. Richard Kay’s Repertorium (Online resoruces, below), lists 1,249 Pontificals and Benedictionals (his criteria for inclusion in this list is very broad, and many different types of liturgical manuscripts are included). Since Pontificals were books reserved for the use of bishops, they were never as common as Missals and Breviaries. They include not only the text of the prayers, but also either the opening words of the chanted texts, or, as in this manuscript, the full text of the chants with musical notation. They also include complete liturgical rubrics (written in red), that is instructions that tell the participants how to perform the liturgy correctly. This combination of preserving both liturgical texts and music and very complete descriptions of the liturgical ceremonies makes them an invaluable source for liturgical historians. Moreover, the numerous accessible and fascinating texts included in Pontificals make them sources that should be more familiar to historians of the Middle Ages in general.

The ceremony for the Dedication of a Church, for example, includes the curious practice of writing the Greek and Latin alphabets with the point of the pastoral staff in ashes which have been sprinkled on the floor of the church. Some Pontificals do not include both alphabets; others include only the names of letters in the Greek alphabet. Other Pontificals, however, including the one described here, include both the Greek and Latin alphabets, a fact of interest to historians studying the knowledge of Greek in the Latin West during the Middle Ages. Among the other liturgical occasions included in Pontificals are confirmation, clerical ordination (the ordination each of the seven orders of clerics, from the minor orders that include porters or doorkeepers and lectors, to deacons, priests and bishops), numerous blessings for various occasions, and the consecration of altars.

The evolution of the Pontifical was a gradual process, beginning with informal collections of texts for the Bishops, which were often found in Sacramentaries or other liturgical books, followed by the tenth-century Romano-Germanic Pontifical, which originated c. 950–62 in Mainz, the Roman Pontificals of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and the Pontifical compiled (c. 1293-1295) by William Durand, bishop of Mende, represented in this manuscript. Durand added material to earlier Pontificals, but eliminated all rites not proper to the episcopal office. Agostino Patrizi de Piccolomini and Johannes Burkhard revised Durand’s work for the first printed edition of the Pontificale romanum (Rome 1485).


The manuscript includes numerous handsome cadel initials, some with detailed faces copied within the initial, used in the text accompanied by musical notation (for example, ff. 2rv, 4v, 5, 40v, 50v, 57, 59, 60v, 67, 107v, 108, 109v).

Although these are all rather fine, the pen-and-ink drawings used to decorate the catchwords in quires 2-10 are really exceptional, showing an active sense of humor, as well as careful draftsmanship:

f. 8v, an animal, with a long beak, holding a scroll; a tower on its back;

f. 16v, a hybrid man-animal holding a flag;

f. 24v, two animals;

f. 32v, two storks (?), with their necks intertwined;

f. 40v, eagle heads with a bishop’s crosier;

f. 48v, hybrid man-animal with a tower on its back;

f. 56v, human and bird head;

f. 64v, animal, holding its tail, inscribed “ames moy belle ames”;

f. 72v, crouching goat.


Andrieu, Michel. Le Pontifical romain au Moyen-Age, Città del Vaticano, Biblioteca apostolica vaticana, 1938-1941.

Brückmann, John. “Latin manuscripts Pontificals and Benedictionals in England and Wales,” Traditio 29 (1970), pp. 1175-6.

Leroquais, V. Les pontificaux manuscrits des bibliothèques publiques de France ... Paris, Macon, Protat frères, imprimeurs, 1937.

Palazzo, Eric. L'évêque et son image: l'illustration du pontifical au Moyen Age, Turnhout, Brepols, 1999.

Rasmussen, Niels Krogh. Les pontificaux du haut moyen age: gènese du livre de l'évêque, Louvain, Spicilegium Sacrum Lovaniense, 1998.

Vogel, C. and R. Elze. Le pontifical romano-germanique du dixième siècle, Vatican City, 1963.

Vogel, C. Medieval Liturgy: an Introduction to the Sources, Eng. trans., rev., Portland, Oregon, 1986.

Online resources

Joseph Dyer, et al. “Liturgy & liturgical books,” in Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online

Jean-Baptiste Lebigue. “L’organisation du culte Rites et sacrements,” in Initiation aux manuscrits liturgiques, Paris-Orléans, IRHT, 2007

“Christian Use of the Alphabet,” in the Catholic Encyclopedia vol. 1, New York, Robert Appleton Company, 1907

Introduction to liturgical manuscripts
“Celebrating the Liturgy’s Books”

Richard Kay, “Pontificalia. A Repertory of Latin Manuscirpt Pontificals and Benedictionals”