Praying for kings and bishops in late tenth-century northern France

There is a tendency amongst medieval scholars to leave the evidence of liturgical books to liturgical specialists, and scholars of the post-Carolingian world are no different in this respect. There are good reasons for this: surviving medieval liturgical manuscripts are not simply service books, compiled to support the minister in the delivery of rites, but rather storehouses of archaic as well as current materials accumulated for study and reflection as much as use. The relationship between written record and lived ministry was therefore complex. Nevertheless it is worth investigating the contents of such manuscripts for the light they can cast both on their compilers’ attitudes to the past and upon contemporary developments.

One example I’ve been investigating recently is the sacramentary benedictional, now London, British Library, Ms Additional 82956.  Internal textual evidence suggests that it was made for the bishop of the northern French see of Noyon in the late tenth century. Its main text is based on a version of the Hadrianum Gregorian Sacramentary supplemented by the Carolingian reformer, Benedict of Aniane, in the early ninth century which circulated widely across later ninth- and tenth-century Frankia. As was normal, various changes have been made to reflect the interests and needs of the community which owned it. Thus it includes blessings for both Saints Médard and Eligius, two bishops who played an important role in Noyon’s early history. Médard was the bishop who established the seat of the see at Noyon in the sixth century; he was also co-patron, with Mary, of the cathedral in the city itself. Eligius was a seventh-century bishop of Noyon and patron of a religious house just outside the walls of Noyon. For much of the tenth century St Eligius’s was a house of canons, but it was restored to monastic use under Liudolf, Bishop of Noyon, sometime between 979 and 986. New liturgical collections are often associated with reform  initiatives so that this may well have been the moment when this manuscript was produced. That this sacramentary was intended for use by the community of St Eligius is underlined here: in the generic Hadrianic text for the Mass ‘for the martyr or confessor to whom the church is dedicated’ the name of the patron is usually left blank, but here Eligius is specifically named as the confessor to be addressed, and his name is highlighted in red. That the manuscript was used by a community closely associated with the bishop also seems likely because someone has taken the trouble to amend the conventional Hadrianic text for a votive mass for a dead bishop to insert above the line the plural endings to that it becomes a mass for dead bishops. Various supplementary texts added in an eleventh-century hand also relate to rites which were an episcopal prerogative.

In its appearance the manuscript differs markedly from other sacramentaries copied elsewhere in the province of Rheims at this time. It is a tall, very narrow, book, measuring some 38mm by 15.5 mm, a shape often classified as a processional book. But all the other surviving north French sacramentaries from this period are much squarer. The Noyon sacramentary is also written in an archaic script, a sort of monumental half uncial; the other surviving contemporary sacramentaries are copied in a more conventional, albeit careful, minuscule. How far are these physical features a reflection of the book’s intended use, or its compiler’s desire to affiliate themselves with an earlier past through imitation?  

A ‘square’ sacramentary and copy of the other similar text of daily mass for a king (in this case, kings…): Paris, BN, Ms lat. 12052, f. 29r (‘Ratoldus Sacramentary’, Corbie, s. x3/4). Image is in the Public Domain.

There are other features of the manuscript which are more innovative, not to say unique. Amongst the various votive masses copied from the Hadrianum is a daily mass for the king, ‘Missa cotidiana pro rege’. This mass text was routinely included in copies of the Hadrianum made between the ninth and eleventh centuries. But in the Noyon Sacramentary someone has gone through and added an interlinear gloss above the line in all the prayers for this mass so that it becomes a daily mass for kings, plural. This is a feature unique to this manuscript. The closest parallel I’ve found so far is the change in the rubric in the late tenth-century sacramentary-pontifical copied for Ratoldus, abbot of Corbie to ‘missa cotidiana pro regibus’ but there the actual prayer texts are given only in the singular. Why were these particular changes made in the Noyon Sacramentary?  

Here it is worth remembering that Hugh Capet was crowned at Noyon on 1st June 987, and only subsequently anointed at Rheims; his son, Robert the Pious, was crowned as king some 6 months later in Orléans cathedral on 30 December 987. It is therefore possible that this amendment was made in a see closely associated with the Capetians sometime between Robert’s coronation and Hugh Capet’s death on 24 October 996. But palaeography is not an exact science and it is equally possible that the reference to kings plural relates to the association of one of Robert’s sons with his rule: Hugh was formally crowned king at Pentecost 1017 at nearby Compiègne, and after his death, Henry was crowned in 1027.   The bishops of Noyon were present at the coronation of all these coronations. But as other texts added to the Hadrianic text can be associated with the monastic reform of the house of St Eligius in the 980s, it seems more likely that these glosses should be linked to the first two Capetian kings. And, as Robert-Henri Bautier suggested, Noyon was probably chosen as the site for Hugh Capet’s acclamation as king in June 987 because it had been the site of Charlemagne’s initial coronation in 768.  

The charter evidence reveals that the bishops of Noyon were closely connected to the early Capetian kings, explains how they came to assume local secular lordship in this period.

But it is striking that a church which owed a good deal of its proximity to the West Frankish Crown sought to capture the nature of that royal power in the late tenth and eleventh centuries so accurately in its liturgy.