The Heroic Age

A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe

12 (May 2009)  |   Issue Editors: Larry Swain

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Liturgical Readings of the Cathedral Office for Saint Cuthbert

Karmen Lenz
Macon State College

© 2009 by Karmen Lenz. All rights reserved. This edition copyright © 2009 by The Heroic Age. All rights reserved.

Abstract:  The tenth-century rhymed Office of Saint Cuthbert incorporates language from Bede's poetic Vita Sancti Cuthberti. The liturgical meditation recreates the reflective quality of Bede's poetry and further realizes its figural significance to instruct laity in interpreting Cuthbert's life. The newly composed chants incorporate poetic, liturgical, and Biblical sources to prompt personal meditation on the divine and venerate Cuthbert as England's national saint.

§1.  The tenth-century Office of Saint Cuthbert for Vespers and Matins provides a medieval reading of Bede's poetic Vita Sancti Cuthberti (VCM). The Divine Office magnifies the allusive quality of Bede's poetry by integrating liturgical and Biblical sources with Bede's poetic diction into versified chants. One of the earliest extant witnesses to the Divine Office is preserved in Corpus Christi College 183 at Cambridge. The cathedral Office, possibly written at Chester-le-Street, is preserved in the Cambridge manuscript along with Bede's prose and verse renditions of the Life of Saint Cuthbert.1 As the first king to reign over all England (927–939), King Athelstan presented the manuscript to the monastery at Chester-le-Street between 934 and 939 in an attempt to unify northern and southern England through common veneration of St. Cuthbert.2 Cuthbert, whom Mechthild Gretsch calls the "pan-Northhumbrian Saint," had iconic significance as England's saint.3 As indicated in the Mass preceding the Office in Corpus Christi College 183 at Cambridge, the service was conducted on March 20 in celebration of Cuthbert's spiritual birthday in 687 and on September 4, around 830, the date of one of his translations (Hohler 1956, 155). CCCC183 presents liturgical items unique to Cuthbert's life that form the Proper of each Office. This study examines the significance the Office might have had for the secular canons who performed it to celebrate Cuthbert's spiritual birthday, March 20. Bede's poetic Vita establishes commentary on the moral significance of Cuthbert's life through didactic verse that the chants enlarge upon. The liturgical adaptations further draw out the meaning embedded in Bede's poetry to form a sung verse commentary on Bede's poetic Vita. As one of the earliest rhymed Offices, the Divine Office of St. Cuthbert presents newly composed chants. That is, the liturgical text adapts hagiography and combines it with traditional chants and Biblical material to place the saint within ecclesiastical history. As a result, the chants enhance the allusive quality of the poetry in Bede's VCM to align Cuthbert more firmly with the Old Testament prophets. Newly composed chants integrate traditional chants that celebrate Christ's birth with praise for Cuthbert's holiness. While Bede's VCM is the primary source, these Biblical and liturgical elements magnify the allusive quality in Bede's poetry to emphasize the sacred within Cuthbert's life. As an amalgamation of poetic, liturgical, and Biblical sources, the tenth-century rhymed office is twofold in its purpose: it is designed to prompt personal meditation on the divine and to unify England in veneration of Cuthbert as its national saint. Common praise for Cuthbert's holiness among the worshippers would have created a common bond among them and prompted their desire to imitate his steadfastness, no matter how culturally disparate their individual communities might have been. Athelstan's dedication of the Divine Office for the cathedral community would have linked Wessex with the northern cult even further.

§2.  Numerous manuscripts contain Cuthbert's hagiography to attest to his widespread veneration. Cuthbert's popularity on the Continent is well documented in hagiography, the Mass, and the rhymed Office, ranging from the eighth to the fifteenth centuries. Michael Lapidge (1995, 129–30) identifies several manuscripts of Bede's VCM that were made on the Continent at monasteries in Fulda and Tergensee, St. Gall Monastery in Switzerland, and Paris, dating from the eighth to the twelfth centuries. In addition to the VCM, copies of Bede's prose vita made in Lorsch, Bobbio, and Dijon have been identified by Bertram Colgrave (1940; 2007 rpt. 17–42, 39, nos. 1–3). In addition to copies of the vitae, David Rollason notes the numerous citations of Cuthbert in materials related to the liturgy from the early eighth-century onwards.4 Likewise, liturgical celebrations in honor of Cuthbert proliferated. The Mass was established in Fulda sometime between the mid-eighth to early ninth centuries.5 Whether CCCC 183 was in northern England before the Conquest or remained in the south is unresolved.6 According to Christopher Hohler, the monastic version of the rhymed Office followed, flourishing between 1030 and 1150, and was in use in Paris, Rome, and Trondheim in Norway (Hohler 1956, 157). In his edition, Hohler reconstructs the monastic version of the Office, compiled from nineteen manuscripts with another fifty consulted from Continental as well as Insular provenance.

§3.  Veneration for Cuthbert had been established in Wessex, from the time of King Alfred's reign (871–99), according to the Historia de Sancto Cuthberto, written between the mid-tenth to eleventh centuries (Bonner 1989, 387–95). Mechthild Gretsch (2005, 78–82) points to evidence that Alfred's visionary dream of Cuthbert's visitation was written down in a section of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle that is now lost. Composed in Alfred's court, the section related the well-known episode of Cuthbert who appeared to Alfred in a dream.7 This version of the Chronicle was copied and preserved by Byrhtferth of Ramsey (c. 970–c.1020) before its widespread popularity in the Historia de Sancto Cuthberto. This evidence suggests that Cuthbert's affiliation with Wessex began with Alfred's reign. In fact, in 883, during Alfred's reign, the Wessex court honored Cuthbert's cult at Chester-le-Street (Thacker 2001, 132). Alfred's reverence for Cuthbert would have contributed to the king's vision of unifying southern England as a Christian land and his own reputation as a Christian king. As Alfred's grandson, Athelstan expanded his rule to include northern England, and, in the process, promoted Cuthbert's popularity in the north. Athelstan continued to foster the veneration for Cuthbert that began in Alfred's court, for, according to the Historia de Sancto Cuthberto, Cuthbert ensured protection for the West Saxon kings, beginning with Alfred's victory at Edington in 878 and culminating with Athelstan's victory in the Battle of Brunanburh in 937 (Bonner 1989, 389–90). As a result, the image of Athelstan bestowing a book with two Gospel texts to Cuthbert in the frontispiece to CCCC 183 is emblematic of the wealth the king granted to the shrine of Cuthbert at Chester-le-Street (Bonner 1989, 390–92).

§4.  The Office is rhymed, composed entirely in verse.8 Initially, CCCC 183 was considered to be the source text for all subsequent texts in both secular and monastic versions of the office, because of an error in one of its responsories, as discussed by Christopher Hohler (1956, 157).9 More recently, however, L.M. Sole has placed CCCC183 as one of three copies of the earliest version of the Divine Office based on an English exemplar, no longer extant.10 The Office in the Corpus manuscript presents its original version written for secular canons.11 The Office was later adapted for a monastic audience in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Between 1080 (the date of the first monastic community at Durham) and 1150, the monastic version of the office flourished and was celebrated not only publicly but in private meditation.12

§5.  CCCC183 presents two liturgical Hours, Vespers and Matins, with four Lauds of Matins on the last page. The Proper in Vespers consists of a single antiphon without a psalm, a peculiarity in Vespers of some saints' feasts (Hoppin 1978, 95). This is the only liturgical item for the Proper, and it would have been added to customary prayers, readings, versicles, and responsories of the Vespers Office. Based partly on the prefatory verse to Bede's poetic Vita, the antiphon is visionary in its description of Cuthbert glowing in Christ's light. In this hymn of praise, the Vespers antiphon celebrates Cuthbert's spiritual gifts through imagery of light and anticipates their narrative description in Matins. In this respect, the structure of the two Offices somewhat mirrors the organization of Bede's poetic Vita. The Proper for Matins, although incomplete, is fuller and consists of antiphons, responsories, and versicles in three major sections.13 It appropriates the language from the poetry and realizes its figural significance further. These chants echo phrases in Bede's poetic Vita that describe events in Cuthbert's earthly life and transform their narrative meaning into the figural.

§6.  The Office integrates material from the poetic life of Cuthbert more directly than it draws upon the other lives of Cuthbert.14 Through his integration of texts, the liturgist proposes methods for reading and understanding the historical events of Cuthbert's life in terms of the figural.15 Such a recasting emphasizes the significance of Cuthbert as a saint throughout eternity. The Divine Office is a significant text, for it reveals how medieval readers may have interpreted the VCM. Further, it demonstrates how the liturgy is performative and instructive in its guided reading of Cuthbert's life. That the Divine Office integrates material from Bede's VCM has been documented by Werner Jaager and Gretsch.16 The focus of Jaager and Gretsch is strictly linguistic. Jaager was the first (and as yet only) editor of Bede's poetic Vita to base his edition on eighteen of the twenty-one manuscripts that contain all or part of Bede's poetic Vita.17 In another close linguistic study, Gretsch lists exact correspondences as part of her larger aim to assert that the Divine Office was produced in Athelstan's court in Wessex by a composer familiar with the VCM in Athelstan's court.18 Although Jaager and Gretsch have identified several specific verbal echoes, they do not aim to present analyses of the complex overlay of Bede's text with liturgical chant and the figural significance such layering of texts bears.

§7.  The liturgy realizes the allusive quality that so distinctively marks Bede's poetic Vita from the prose versions of Cuthbert's life. Even though philological and spiritual levels of reading have always been present in the hagiography of Cuthbert, the poetic Vita draws out almost exclusively its figural meaning, which the liturgy enlarges upon.19 Michael Lapidge emphasizes that Bede's poetic Vita was written for meditation and rumination, to be read in conjunction with the anonymous prose life, as verse contrafactum. This manner of verse paraphrase draws out the spiritual significance of a subject that would otherwise remain unrealized in its prose rendition. As he points out, the verses are so heavily symbolic that the reader must often rely on the prose account to ascertain the narrative context for the verses: "Bede clearly intended his poem… to offer a meditation on the spiritual significance of the events describe prosaically by the Lindesfarne author. Bede's poem is thus in no sense a narrative" (Lapidge 1994, 12). The figural nature of Bede's poetry corresponds to the levels of interpretation—the literal and the spiritual—that characterize the poetics of liturgy in the rhymed Office of Saint Cuthbert. In his study of liturgy in Anglo-Saxon England, Christopher A. Jones indicates that in the ninth century, the liturgy itself became an interpetive study that superceded Biblical commentary: "liturgy did not simply replace [biblical] study but rather became itself an increasingly productive object" (1998, 664–665). The Divine Office of Saint Cuthbert not only recaptures the symbolism in the poetic Vita through liturgical meditation, but its chants enlarge upon the spiritual meaning in Bede's poetry to form a second layer of poetic commentary on the significance of Cuthbert's life.

The Vespers Antiphon

§8.  The rubric announcing the proper of Vespers at the bottom of folio 94r indicates that the office is to be sung at the vigil of Saint Cuthbert (in vigilia Sancti Cuthberti ad versperos).20 The Benedictine Rule indicates that Vespers is the last liturgical hour in daylight; thus, the vigil anticipates the next day, which marks Cuthbert's spiritual birth date. As this antiphon indicates, the rising son of justice is the incarnation of Christ who bestows light to Cuthbert to guide others:

Oriens sol iustitiae             dignatus est illustrare
Per ministros lucis suae             cunctos fines orbis terrae
Ipsi laus qui dedit Anglis             lucernam suae salutis
Cuthbertum bonum doctorem             ac pro huius intercessorem

[The rising sun of justice             deigned to illuminate
though the ministers of His light             all the boundaries of the earth
Praise to Him who gave the English             the lamp of His salvation,
Cuthbert the good doctor,             and (praise to Him) for his intercession.]

This Lenten celebration intensifies the belief that Christ's resurrection makes Cuthbert's blessed life possible. Each line of the antiphon fits neatly into two half lines, eight feet per half line.

§9.  The Vespers antiphon is a symbolic expression of Cuthbert's sanctity. The secular Office performed during Lent would have celebrated Cuthbert through the larger significance of Christ's resurrection. This is indicated by the antiphon directed to the vigil of saint Cuthbert in the rubric.21 The textual echoes in the Vespers antiphon bear layers of significance, yet the immediate source for the antiphon is the opening verse in Bede's metrical Vita. As a neatly abbreviated version of the first Meter in Bede's metrical Vita, the antiphon distinguishes between the divine light (lux) and the earthly light that shines through a lamp (lucerna). The prefatory verse provides a lengthier description of the transfer of divine splendor to earthly light. This distinction in the forms of light runs throughout Bede's prefatory poem to the Vita with no counterpart in the prose versions of Cuthbert's life. Lines 1–10 present Christ as the source of light:

VCM Preface (1–10):

Multa suis dominus fulgescere lumina saeclis
Donavit, tetricas humanae noctis ut umbras
Lustraret divina poli de culmine flamma.
Et licet ipse deo natus de lumine Christus
Lux sit summa, deus sanctos quoque jure lucernae
Ecclesiae rutilare dedit, quibus igne magistro
Sensibus instet amor, sermonibus aestuet ardor;
Multifidos varium lichinos qui sparsit in orbem,
Ut cunctum nova lux fidei face fusa sub axem
Omnia sidereis virtutibus arva repleret.

[The lord granted many of his lights to shine through the ages,
So that the divine flame would illumine the gloomy shadows of night for humankind from the height of the heavens.
And although Christ Himself, born to God of light is the highest light,
God justly caused the saints also to glow for the lamp of the church
By Whom love will urge the senses in the teacher with fire, (that) ardor may kindle (his) words;
He has scattered prismatic lamps through the entire earth
So that new light of faith would fill all lands beneath the sky with heavenly virtues by its copious flame.]

These lines present a hierarchy of light that shifts from the unmediated splendor of the divine light to the saints who illumine the lamps of the church. The radiant holy saints Bede describes are echoed in the Vespers antiphon as the "ministers of light" (ministros lucis) who illuminate the "entire boundaries of the world" (illustrarecunctos fines orbis terrae) in the antiphon. The Vespers antiphon echoes lucerna in Bede's work and captures the distinction between pure, divine light in contrast to earthly light filtered through a lamp. In both pieces, Cuthbert's life illumines the lamp of the church. The vigil for Vespers anticipates the spiritual birth of Cuthbert; the service itself symbolizes the light Cuthbert brings to the world, signified in the alternate term for Vespers, lucernarium (the lighting of the lamps).22 The poetics of liturgy and verse capture speculative thought present in Bede's poetry. The glossary that precedes the Divine Office contains two terms from Bede's poetic preface; these are Greek terms given Latin equivalents that then appear in the Vespers antiphon.23 The opening word oriens in the Vespers antiphon is a gloss for eous to signify the dawn. Bede's term eous appears in line 15 of the VCM poetic preface: Bartholomeus eoa volat per regna triumphans (Bartholomew soars triumphant throughout the eastern kingdoms). The second gloss bears immediate significance for the antiphon. The antiphon provides lucerna as a gloss to Bede's term lichinos, to describe the light the saints bring.

§10.  Divine light is superior to the lesser light granted to the Apostles and the saints. The next fifteen lines celebrate the lineage of sacred light as it descends from Christ to the apostles and then the saints in a panorama of holy geography that spans Rome, Asia, India, Africa, and Constantinople.24 Whether each holy figure converts pagans, dispels heresy, or revitalizes Christian faith, he shapes ecclesiastical history because he introduces Christianity to a nation. The poem of praise then highlights Cuthbert who converts the English in Bede's own time.

Britain shares in divine light and gives birth to brilliance in Bede's own time:

VCM Preface (25–29):

Nec iam orbis contenta sinu trans aequora lampas
Spargitur effulgens, huiusque Britannia consors
Temporibus genuit fulgur venerabile nostris,
Aurea qua Cuthbertus agens per sidera vitam
Scandere celsa suis docuit iam passibus Anglos.

Michael Lapidge translates these lines:

"And this radiance, no longer content in the lap of the old world, is shed gleaming across the water, and Britain, now participating in it, gives birth in our own days to the holy splendour by where Cuthbert, an inhabitant of the golden stars, teaches the English to ascend on high by following in his footsteps" (Quoted in Gretsch 2005, 96).

The preface, like the Office, operates on personal and political levels. The preface celebrates Cuthbert as England's saint and closes with Bede's intent that the poetry be meditative reading. Jaager notes the allusion to the Vespers antiphon in lines 28–29 of Bede's verse.25 However, many more lines find their echo in the antiphon.

§11.  The imagery of light in this antiphon is highly suggestive of Bede's first versified passage in the poetic Vita. In turn, the imagery of light to describe Christ as the highest light (lux) finds its echo in the Nicene Creed as well as the hymn "Splendor paternae gloriae" by Ambrose. Bede cites this hymn in De arte metrica:26

Splendor paternae gloriae (1–8):

Splendor paternae gloriae,
De luce lucem proferens,
Lux lucis et fons luminis,
Dies dierum inluminans

[Splendor of Paternal glory, giving light from light, Light of light and source of light illuminating the day of days]

The hymn is similar to Bede's preface in two respects—its use of lux as undivided light to describe the mystery of the Trinity and its description of the transference of divine light to earthly light. In particular, the imagery of light in lines four and five of Bede's preface are similar the first stanza of Ambrose's hymn (ipse deo natus de lumine Christus/Lux sit summa).27 The second stanza describes the transfer of light from divine to human realms:

Verusque sol inlabere,
Micans nitore perpeti,
Iubarque sancti spiritus
Infunde nostris sensibus.

[and true sun flashing in perpetual brightness, let (light) fall (into our souls), And radiance of the Holy Spirit pour into our senses.]

The image of the Holy Spirit filling human senses may be likened to Bede's love that "urges the senses with fire" (ignesensibus instet amor). Whereas Ambrose's hymn is a direct appeal to God to fill each soul with light, the Vespers antiphon calls for praise of Cuthbert. This is a unique feature of rhymed offices. As newly composed pieces, they present adaptations from saints' lives combined with traditional material. As a newly composed text, the Vespers antiphon is a mosaic of Biblical, ecclesiastical, and hagiographical texts designed to place the saint within a biblical context.

§12.  The imagery of splendor in the Vespers antiphon arguably has its source in Bede's poetic Vita. At the same time, the antiphon celebrates Cuthbert's gift of prophecy, linking him to the Old Testament Zacharia through a series of textual echoes. The first three words of the Vespers antiphon echo an earlier popular antiphon. The source antiphon, O sol iustitiae (O sun of justice), is the fifth of the seven great O antiphons, which were well-known in Anglo-Saxon England.29 Exact correspondences between the O antiphon and the Vespers antiphon are italicized:

Source antiphon:

O oriens             splendor lucis eterne
Et sol iustitae
Veni et illumine sedentes in tenebris             et umbra mortis

[O rising brightness of eternal light and sun of justice: Come and shed light upon those remaining in darkness and in the shadow of death.]

Oriens sol iustitiae             dignatus est illustrare
Per ministros lucis suae             cunctos fines orbis terrae
Ipsi laus qui dedit Anglis             lucernam suae salutis
Cuthbertum bonum doctorem             ac pro huius intercessorem

The worshippers may well have heard the Great O antiphon echo in the Vespers antiphon. In its later rhymed version, extra syllables (splendor lucis eternae et) were omitted to conform to the metrical scheme. Both antiphons exhort the divine one to illuminate the earth. The Biblical source text for the words Oriens sol iustitiae has been traced to two Old Testament prophets, Zacharia and Malachi.30 The word "oriens" is an echo of Zacharia 4:12 when Zacharia foretells the incarnation of Christ (Ecce vir, inquit, Oriens nomen ejus [Behold, a man, he said, Oriens is his name]). Likewise, the phrase sol iustitiae echoes Malachi 4:2 in his prophecy that God's justice will prevail. The correspondence between the antiphon and Old Testament prophet pairs Cuthbert with Zacharia and Malachi to legitimize Cuthbert as a prophet of the ages. In this layering of texts in the Vespers antiphon, the Old Testament prophets prefigure Cuthbert and elevate his status from a historical figure to a biblical one.

§13.  The Vespers antiphon corresponds to Luke 1:78, which incorporates Zacharia's prophecy:

per viscera misericordiae Dei nostri in quibus visitavit nos oriens ex alto [Through the flesh and blood of the mercy of our God, in which He came to us rising from on high]).

Bede discusses these two texts in his commentary on Luke. He defines "oriens" from Zacharias's prophecy as the divine bringing true light to men:

Bede's commentary on Luke 1:78:

"Qui ideo recte Oriens vocatur, qui nobis ortum verae lucis aperiens filios, noctis et tenebrarum, lucis effecit filios…" [Thus he is rightly called "Oriens" because He, revealing the origin of the true light to us as sons of night and darkness, created sons of light] (Lines 984–993)

Through its echo of Luke, the Vespers antiphon joins Cuthbert to Christ, for Cuthbert brings the "lamp of [Christ's] salvation."

§14.  The Vespers antiphon echoes the Great O antiphon as well as Bede's poetic preface to the poetic Vita. The Great O antiphon merges Old and New Testament, and in its new variation in the Vespers antiphon, both figures—prophet and Christ—resonate in Cuthbert. This combination of savior with prophet is significant to the next liturgical Hour, the Hour of Matins. As the Hour of Matins reveals, Cuthbert's wisdom in the conduct of his life is linked firmly to his spiritual gift of prophecy. In both of these respects, he participates in the wisdom of God. The antiphon is rich in its textual echoes, and reinforces Gretsch's observation in her treatment of Matins that the writer of the Divine Office for Cuthbert was freely composing from memory:

"The verbal reminiscences in the Office leave one with the firm impression that its author has not been searching Bede's poem for phrases suitable to be recycled in his own text. Rather, these adumbrations point to an intimate familiarity with the poem, as a result of which memorized passages came readily to the author's mind in the course of composition" (Gretsch 2005, 95).

In his study of medieval liturgy, Jones standard methods of interpretation from Biblical exegesis in reading crossed over into orality through the liturgy.31 The Vespers antiphon incorporates a network of textual echoes that might suggest improvisational recall. In Matins, the chants present Cuthbert as the saintly example for others to follow. They outline his spiritual growth, marked by spiritual gifts that merge moral wisdom with prophecy.

Matins I

§15.  The Office of St. Cuthbert draws out the mystical sense in Bede's poetic Vita in descriptions of Cuthbert as he participates in the divine wisdom of the prophets. The chants in Matins provide a narrative counterpart to the abstract and visionary quality of light in the Vespers antiphon. Cuthbert's spiritual gifts described in Matins parallel the imagery of light shining through him in Vespers. For, just as Cuthbert radiates light he receives from the divine in the Vespers antiphon, so he performs the spiritual acts that he witnesses early in his life in Matins. It is a particular feature of Matins to narrate the events of the saint's life, and they chart the growth of Cuthbert's sainthood. Following the narrative versions of Cuthbert's Life, Matins repeats instances of his spiritual gifts as healer, prophet, and wise man to chart his spiritual growth into sainthood. While Cuthbert's gift of healing is present throughout the chants in Matins, they remain at a literal level. In contrast, his saintly powers of wisdom and prophecy are richly symbolic. In the poetics of liturgy, versified liturgical material distills the phrasing of narrative events in Bede's poetic Vita into chants that signify the eternal Cuthbert, particularly those addressing his wisdom and prophecy.

§16.  The cathedral office of Matins, or nocturns, is distinct from its monastic counterpart because of its ternary structure (Hughes 1982, 53).32 Each of the three sections of Matins in CCCC 183 begins with a set of three antiphons, and each antiphon is followed by a psalm. Readings and blessings would have followed the antiphons. However, these are not written down in Corpus 183; in the manuscript, a series of responsories and versicles follow the set of three antiphons and psalm chants. The material in the versicles complements that in the responsories (Hughes 1978, 368). In the Office of Saint Cuthbert, the versicles are most striking where they add commentary.

§17.  Each antiphon in Matins is paired with a psalm passage, a traditional practice in the Office since the fourth century. In the offices for saints' lives, the antiphons incorporate events from saints' lives. The psalm following the antiphon enlarges upon its spiritual meaning. This is exemplified in the third antiphon and the psalm that follows it in the first section of Matins. As Gretsch points out, the third antiphon recasts the language from Chapter Three of Bede's metrical Vita.33 The antiphon describes Cuthbert's safe return to the shore from the storms of the sea, and the psalm following it draws out its figural meaning.

Matins Antiphon (3):

Dum iactantur puppes salo : sanctus orans heret solo
Mox ventorum vis mutate : naves vertit ad litora

[When the ship was cast about in the sea the praying saint remained alone. At once the force of the winds changed; the ship turned to the coast.]

The psalm (iv) following this antiphon redefines Cuthbert's course upon the sea as God guiding him in the path of divine justice:

Psalm 5, l. 9:

Domine deduc me in iustitia tua propter inimicos meos dirige in conspectu meo viam tuam.

[Guide me Lord in your justice on account of my enemies keep your path in my sight.]

The progression from literal meaning in the antiphon to figural meaning in the psalm provides a guided reading of Cuthbert's life for the laity.

§18.  The opening antiphons in the first section introduce Cuthbert's spiritual gifts that run throughout his Vita. These antiphons follow the narrative pattern in Cuthbert's life by foreshadowing the spiritual gifts Cuthbert will develop as a saint. The antiphons describe spiritual acts that Cuthbert will perform and indicate that prophecy, healing, and wise conduct as Cuthbert's marks of sainthood. In the first antiphon, he hears the prophecy of the three-year old child; in the second antiphon, the archangel Raphael heals him; and in the third antiphon, he is brought safely to the shore during a storm at sea. The psalm that follows the antiphon indicates that Cuthbert's safe return to the shore should be understood as his soul guided in the path of justice.

§19.  The first of the three antiphons that open Matins describes Cuthbert's spiritual gift of prophecy:

Matins, Antiphon 1:

Auctor donorum spiritus inspirans vera vatibus
Pertrimum fatur infantem Cuthbertum fore praesulum

[The Author of the gifts of the spirit breathes truths to the prophets. He speaks through the three-year-old: Cuthbert will be bishop.]

This chant echoes material from Bede's poetic preface to the VCM. In the closing lines of the preface to his VCM, Bede implores the Holy Spirit to bless him with the language of holy fire that he may compose Cuthbert's life in verse for singing:

VCM Preface (35, 37–39):

Tu, rogo, summe, juva, donorum spiritus auctor,

Flammivomisque soles dare qui nova famina linguis,
Munera da verbi linguae tua dona canenti.

[You, I ask, the all-highest, Author of the gifts of the spirit, lend your aid, … You who are wont to grant new speech to tongues that spout flames, Confer the blessings of the Word to the tongue that sings your gifts.]

He asks the Holy Spirit to grant him new speech (nova famina) and fill his tongue with holy fire (flammivomis linguis) to relate Cuthbert's sanctity and inspire others to follow in his steps. The verbal echo of auctor donorum spiritus from the VCM has not been previously noted, yet it is significant because it overlays the poet's desire for divine inspiration with the prophet's gift of articulating the sacred. The repetition of the phrase aligns Bede with the three-year-old child who prophesies that Cuthbert will be bishop. It suggests that Bede, like the child, is an instrument through which the Holy Spirit speaks. This verbal echo suggests that Bede's text is a divinely inspired text worthy of the Office liturgy.

§20.  The next section in the first segment of Matins, titled Responsoria, intensifies the symbolic and allusive poetry in the Vita. In the first section, these early chants are based on most closely on chapter four of Bede's poetic Vita.34 In this chapter, Cuthbert recognizes Aiden's divinity when he sees Aiden's soul received into heaven. In the Divine Office, this event signifies Cuthbert's conversion and his ability to distinguish between divine and human things. The composer of the Office adapts exact phrases from Bede's poetic Vita that describe Cuthbert's own earthly death and ascent into heaven. In the poetics of liturgy, the composer conflates these two events to define the moment of Cuthbert's conversion, symbolized by his earthly death.

§21.  The first responsory makes a simple statement: The good boy Cuthbert, "singing hymns continuously, saw the soul of Bishop Aidon carried into heaven by the angels" (Cuthbertus puer bone indolis per vigil nocturnis insistens hymnis Aidani episcope animam in caelum ferri vidit ab angelis).

§22.  The versicle following contrasts Cuthbert as a spiritual shepherd with the earthly shepherds:

Versicle (1):

Cum pastoribus ovium positus pastor animarum a domino praelectus. Mente et vultu supernis intentus Aidani episcope animam in caelum ferri vidit ab angelis35

[The shepherd of souls, chosen by God, standing with shepherds of flocks, directed himself in thought and visage to heavenliness; he saw the soul of Bishop Aidon carried into heaven by the angels]

The versicle describes Cuthbert's conversion with phrases from Bede's poetic Vita that describe Cuthbert at his death. The phrase vultu supernis intentus in the chant describes Cuthbert's face as he observes Aiden's soul as it ascends into heaven. In Bede's poetic Vita, these words describe Cuthbert's face as he gives his own soul to the heavens at his death:

Bede's VCM, Chapter 36, lines 783–85:

vultusque ad sidera et almas sustollit gaudens palmas, animamque supernis Laudibus intentam laetantibus indidit astris (ll. 783–785)

[his face rejoices, and he raises up his holy hands to the stars And, reaching, gave his soul to the lofty stars rejoicing with praises]

This overlay of texts mirrors Bede's repetitions in imagery as he describes the heavens rejoicing to receive Cuthbert and Aiden. The Office versicle overlaps Cuthbert's historical moment of conversion with his eternal salvation by lifting the language describing his death and applying it to his vision of Aiden. As this passage indicates, versicles reintegrate the last phrase of the preceding responsory, at times to imbue the narrative, literal responsorial statement with eschatological meaning. In CCCC183, the repetition is signified by a comma and tic (;) followed by the first word in the phrase repeated from the responsory to signify its repetition. This layering of texts in the liturgy teaches the worshippers that Aiden prefigures Cuthbert, and that Cuthbert's conversion symbolizes his earthly death. The shepherd Cuthbert witnesses Aiden's holiness and, by his adoration of Aiden's sanctity, humbles himself to receive grace. This textual transformation reveals how later medieval readings of Bede's poetic life interpreted literal events in terms of the figural.

§23.  The next two pairings of responsory and versicle complete the first section of Matins and draw out further the eschatological significance of Cuthbert's life, again by adapting the phrasing from Bede's Vita to the chants. As Gretsch indicates, these chants are based on lines 180–219 of Bede's poetic Vita, when Cuthbert intends to serve the angel earthly bread and he receives heavenly bread.

Responsory (2):

In sanctis crescens virtutibus almus vir Cuthbertus despectis huius caduci seculi rebus venerabilis ac per cuncta digne laudabilis factus est monachus;36

[Growing in holy virtues the saintly man Cuthbert (was) reverenced amid the contemptuous things of this fallen world and deservedly was made a monk, praiseworthy through all of his acts.]

The responsory expands upon the theme of Cuthbert growing in wisdom; it recalls the final antiphon and psalm in the first segment of Matins to describe the divine guiding Cuthbert in the path of justice. Where the responsory presents a temporal view of Cuthbert honored among his earthly community, the versicle describes his merits among the heavenly community:

Versicle (2):

Corpore mente habitu factisque probabilis castris dominicis associatus venerabilis ac per cuncta digne laudabilis factus est monachus

[in body, mind, character, and deeds the honorable one (was) joined with the fortress of the venerable Lord; he was made a monk, deservedly praiseworthy through all of his acts.]

This section describes Cuthbert's growth in holy virtue. As Gretsch has indicated, the opening phrase of the responsory (In sanctis crescens virtutibus almus vir Cuthbertus) echoes the phrasing from Bede's poetic Vita in the passage describing the brother who spies on Cuthbert as he sings hymns neck-high in the ocean and is then warmed by the seals.37 These two chants contrast the temporal and eternal perspectives of Cuthbert.

§24.  The versicle suggests that Cuthbert is a member of God's fortress. The chant grafts phrasing from the passage in Bede's poetic vita that describes Cuthbert as guest master, when the saint is "joined to the monks at Ripon in body, mind, character, and deeds" (monachis Hrypensibus almus/Corpore, mente, habitu, factisque adiungitur (ll. 180–181).38 The phrasing in the chant suggests more pointedly that Cuthbert is guest master to the heavenly society. This leap into the eternal is signaled in the poetic life itself, where Cuthbert serves the angelic guest, described as cives, a fellow citizen of Cuthbert's.39 The last set of responsory and versicle in this section enlarges upon Cuthbert's membership to the holy society. The chants pair Cuthbert with Abraham, as both welcomed heavenly guests.40

§25.  The second and third segments of Matins follow the events of Cuthbert's life. The echoes from Bede's poetic Vita in these two sections of Matins seem merely to follow their counterparts; they do blatantly recall other sections of the text to enlarge the significance of the passage. The final versicle that closes the Office describes the perfection of Cuthbert's gifts. Of all the chants in Matins, the last versicle on folio 97r corresponds most fully to the Vespers antiphon:


Admirandus cunctis operibus et verbis divina sapientia vitam composuit prophetae spiritum pollens plurimorum ac suis ipsius obitum et praescivit et praenuntiavit

[He, worthy of admiration, he arranged his life in words and acts with divine wisdom. Powerful in the spirit of a prophet, he foreknew and foretold his own death.]

With his prophetic vision, he sees not only into the temporal future, but he understands the moral significance of his entire life, "composing" it with wise words and actions. The versicle suggests that Cuthbert's prophetic power enables him to discern divine will by which he conducts his life. The divine wisdom of his words in the versicle refers to both prophecy and exemplary conduct. Just as the allusions within the Vespers antiphon recall Christ and Zacharia, the versicle brings together wise conduct and prophecy as two forms of divine wisdom in Cuthbert.

§26.  The liturgy teaches that the humble life of Cuthbert is both human and exemplary; the laity should follow in his steps. This directive in the liturgy recalls Bede's verses from the prefatory poem: Cuthbert, in the conduct of his life, "has taught men even now to ascend through the stars by means of his steps" (Cuthbertus agens per sidera vitam/Scandere celsa suis docuit iam passibus Anglos). The Office presents a liturgical meditation on Cuthbert's hagiography with emphasis on the symbolism in Bede's poetic Vita. The Vespers antiphon echoes texts that signify Cuthbert's wisdom. In Matins, certain versicles have an allusive and repetitive quality that draws narrative material from the responsories together with phrasing from Bede's poetic Vita to reinforce the spiritual significance of Cuthbert's life. Studies by Michael Lapidge (1989, 1994) have demonstrated that Bede's poetry is highly allusive. Its rich verbal echoes recall various texts, all called forth to emphasize the moral significance of Cuthbert's life.

§27.  Among Bede's many sources of poetry is the Carmen paschale by Caelius Sedulius. This work is a verse counterpart to his prose version, the Paschale opus. The two versions operate as a twinned work, or opus geminatum, dedicated to a priest named Macedonius.41 In the dedication to Macedonius that prefaces the opus geminatum, Sedulius attests to the value of poetics as a form of teaching. He argues that students who would find prose rhetoric to be dull grasp and retain poetry through "the honeyed allure of verse" which they "receive with such eagerness of heart that by its frequent repetition they establish and store it deep in their memory."42 Seduced by the beauty of poetry, the pupil becomes receptive to learning its content, and each recollection of verse deepens its imprint in memory. As discussed by Michael Roberts and Peter Godman, Sedulius's work was a fundamental text in medieval schools throughout the Middle Ages.43 This finding suggests that his rationale on the mnemonics of poetry as a form of teaching would have been familiar not only to Bede's audience, but also to those venerating Cuthbert through the Divine Office in the later Middle Ages. For, just as the poetry of Sedulius and Bede provide verse commentary, so the chants in the Office form another layer of sung commentary on Bede's poetry. The chants in the Office provide a reading of Bede's highly allusive poetry to interpret the moral significance of Cuthbert's life. The Divine Office brings out further the meditative quality even as it draws out Bede's political emphasis upon Cuthbert as England's saint in the poetic preface to the VCM. Just as Alfred commissioned the Anglo-Saxon translation of the Historia ecclesiastica to make England's place in ecclesiastical history known to his citizenry, so Athelstan presented Cuthbert's hagiography in a liturgy for secular canons in the north to celebrate Cuthbert's conversion of the English nation. The Vespers antiphon captures this political emphasis in its abbreviated format. In both generations of Wessex royalty, the kings draw upon Bede's writing to unify the citizenry by redefining its cultural identity in terms of ecclesiastical history.


1.   The contents, as described by Mildred Budney (1987, no. 12), appear in this order: the prose version of Bede's Vita Sancti Cuthberti (fols. 2r–56r); two chapters from Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (fols. 56r–58r); lists of names (popes, archbishops of Canterbury, Anglo-Saxon royal genealogies) and other texts (fols. 59r–69v); a glossary of difficult words in Bede's poetic Vita Sancti Cuthberti (fols. 70r–71r); the poetic version of Bede's Vita with his preface (fols. 71r–92v); Hymn, Mass, and Rhyming Office (fols. 92v–95v); tenth and eleventh-century additions (96v). Other general descriptions are in James (1912, no. 183); Ker (1957, no. 42); and Gneuss (2001, no. 56). Catalogue descriptions of the Divine Office in detail are found in Sole (1998); and Hughes (1987, 257).  [Back]

2.   Simon Keynes (1985, 180–85); Mechthild Gretsch (2005, 75) provides, as part of her study of Cuthbert's iconic status, a concise overview of the pervasive evidence that the manuscript was composed in the south and was brought to Durham. Christopher Hohler (1956, 155–59) discusses the history of the Mass and Office, followed by a printed version of the Mass and monastic version of the Office, prepared by Anselm Hughes.  [Back]

3.   Whether CCCC183 was in northern England before the Conquest or remained in the south is unresolved. David Rollason (1989, 416) argues that the manuscript remained in Wessex and asserts instead that the king's interest in Cuthbert was part of the saint's popularity already well established in Wessex. In contrast, L.M. Sole (1998, 113–114 and 116) argues that neumes in the manuscript indicate that pre-Conquest additions in the manuscript were made in the north.  [Back]

4.   Rollason (1989, 423) states that Cuthbert's name appears in "virtually every English liturgical and quasi-liturgical text from the Calendar of Willibrord onwards."  [Back]

5.   Nicholas Orchard (1995, 86) indicates that the mass was known to Alcuin and possibly Boniface.  [Back]

6.   L.M. Sole has placed CCCC183 as one of three copies of the earliest version of the Divine Office based on an English exemplar, no longer extant. The two other copies of the cathedral version are preserved in British Library MS. Harley 1117 in London and Vatican MS. Reg. lat. 204 in Rome. See also note 3 above.  [Back]

7.   At the time, Alfred was in hiding in Somerset on the night before his victory over the Viking invaders and his subsequent treaty with Guthrum. In the dream, Cuthbert heartened the king and assured his victory. At the time of his death, Alfred asked his son Edward to honor and place his trust in Cuthbert.  [Back]

8.   The rhymed Office, was designed to celebrate saints' lives. As Richard Hoppin (1978, 173–74) notes, the modern designation "Office" can refer to either the daily Hours of liturgy or to the feast for the saint, which in CCCC183 includes the Mass. Hughes (1978, 367) indicates that historia, the medieval equivalent to "rhymed Office," refers to the narrative style of hagiography incorporated into the liturgy and has particular relevance to the narrative style of Matins. The earliest composition is the Office for Trinity Sunday composed by or for Stephen of Liége (ca. 920).  [Back]

9.   He (156) indicates that this Office would have been the fourth or fifth of its kind to be composed.  [Back]

10.   The two other copies of the cathedral version are preserved in British Library MS. Harley 1117 in London and Vatican MS. Reg. lat. 204 in Rome. Sole (1998, 106) argues that CCCC183 was not itself the exemplar because the structure of the Office differs among these copies, as well as spelling errors based on Insular pronunciations.  [Back]

11.   Jardine Grisbrooke (1992, 404) defines the cathedral office as "that form of office that developed from the fourth-century organization of daily non-eucharistic public worship." The cathedral office for secular canons has historically remained distinct from the monastic office since it was first described by the Spanish nun Egeria.  [Back]

12.   According to Hohler, the monastic community not only celebrated the Office on the feast days in September and March, but also in private meditation. The monastic version is printed in facsimile in McLachlan (1922).  [Back]

13.   Hohler notes its inadequacies (1956, 57).  [Back]

14.   Bede's poetic Vita is the second of three versions of the Life of Saint Cuthbert. The first vita written in prose is by an unnamed monk at Lindesfarne between 668 and 705. Bede composed the poetic Vita, which Michael Lapidge (1994, 12) indicates Bede wrote before or in 705 and wrote the last version in prose in or about 720.  [Back]

15.   I am using Jone's distinction (1998, 663) between philological and spiritual modes of interpretation.  [Back]

16.   Jaager identifies eight phrases that form either exact or close parallels to the Office. Gretsch (2005, 90–91) calls attention to five instances where phrases from the VCM resonate in the chants, either exact repetitions or close adaptations. I note those references that pertain to this study below.  [Back]

17.   Michael Lapidge (1995, 130–33) attests to the high value of Jaager's citation of texts that parallel or adapt Bede's VCM. The edition displays "a superb register of later loci paralleli" in addition to Jaager's thorough notes on source texts.  [Back]

18.   "[T]hese adumbrations point to an intimate familiarity with the poem, as a result of which memorized passages came readily to the author's mind in the course of composition" (Gretsch 2005, 95).  [Back]

19.   As Christopher A. Jones (1998, 666–667) states, Isidore of Seville's De ecclesiasticis officiis circulated in Anglo-Saxon England and would have provided methods of interpreting spiritual meaning in the liturgy. In his edition of the two prose lives of Saint Cuthbert, Bertram Colgrave (1940, 331) notes that the anonymous writer of Cuthbert's life was familiar with Isidore's work.  [Back]

20.   "during the vigil for Vespers." All translations, unless otherwise noted, are my own. I am grateful to Timothy Graham and Stephen Stallcup for their recommendations concerning difficult areas of Bede's verse preface. Remaining errors are, of course, my own.  [Back]

21.   In the monastic version, the antiphon takes on further significance with its focus on the Gospel. It is titled Antiphon in Evangelia in the monastic version (Hohler 1956, 170).  [Back]

22.   Egeria writes, "the evening office is here called liconicon, which we call lucernare…" (translated in Grisbrooke 1992, 411–12).  [Back]

23.   Both terms appear on fol. 70v of CCCC183.  [Back]

24.   Roma Petri Paulique jubar mirata gemellum
Gaudet apostolicis semper victura tropheis.
Ast Asiae lucem verbi serit ore Johannes,
Hauserat e domini quae pectore mystica ructans.
Barthomoleus eoa volat per regna triumphans, [Bartholomeus]
Indomitosque armis lingua domat inclitus Indos.
Tu quoque Niliacos componens, Marce, furores
Sicca evangelicis satias de nubibus arva.
Affrica Cypriani dictis meritisque refulget,
Spernere delicias fuso qui sanguine suasit.
Pictavis Hilario multum radiata magistro
Discutit errorum vera jam luce tenebras
Constantinopolim Chrysostomus ille Johannes
Aurato nitidae lustrat fulgore loquelae.

[Rome delights in the twin wonderful radiance of Peter and Paul ever living as apostolic monuments. And then in Asia John brings forth the light of the word from his mouth; he swallowed mystical things from the Lord which he belches from his breast; Bartholomew flies triumphing through eastern kingdoms and with his speech the illustrious one conquers the fierce Indians bearing arms. You also Mark, calming the Egyptian fury, sate the dry lands by means of evangelical clouds. Africa shines with the merits of Cyprian and his wise teachings, he who exhorted others with his spilled blood to spurn enticements. Poitiers now frequently shatters the shadows of error with the shining true light by means of the teacher Hilary. John Chrysostom illumines Constantinople with the golden splendor of his shining speech.]  [Back]

25.   Jaager (1935, 60) notes the echo of line 33 in VCM (Hunc virtutis honor iam primo a limine vitae) in the antiphon.  [Back]

26.   Bede refers to Splendor paternae gloriae in his De arte metrica, as indicated by Bankert, Wegman and Wright (1997, 56).  [Back]

27.   "Christ Himself, born to God of light, is the highest light…"  [Back]

28.   This hymn is edited in Walpole 1966, 35–36.  [Back]

29.   The antiphon was popularized by Amalarius of Metz in the 830s. Its appearance in the Advent Lyrics of the Exeter Book indicates that the antiphon was known in Anglo-Saxon England, as discussed by Rankin (1985, 317–40). The layout of the antiphon follows Rankin's presentation.  [Back]

30.   The Biblical texts are identified in Marbach (1963, 306).  [Back]

31.   He states on 663: "For it [the liturgy] stands as one of the most ingenious applications of literate modes of thought to a domain in which orality and memory must remain active, influential forces, however much conditioned by the use of texts."  [Back]

32.   Gretsch (2005, 87–88) discusses the ternary format of Matins in the Divine Office for Saint Cuthbert presented in CCCC183.  [Back]

33.   She examines this antiphon with line 117 and provides translation of the verbal echoes: Mutantur venti, ratisbusque in litora iactis [the winds change course, and when the rafts are cast upon the land] (Gretsch 2005, 90 n.131).  [Back]

34.   Lines 120–141 in Jaager's edition.  [Back]

35.   In his description of Matins in the Office of St. Cuthbert, Hughes (1987, 257) indicates that the layout of versicles and responsories is complex, according to variable rhymes. I present them here in prose.  [Back]

36.   I have presented caducis here as it stands in CCCC 183. In his edition, Hohler amends caducis to caduci to agree with seculi. Based on this error in the MS, Hohler considered CCCC 183 to be the source text for all subsequent texts in both secular and monastic versions of the office, for this error occurs in later copies (Hohler 1956, 157). For a contrasting view that examines the three manuscript copies of the secular Office, see L. M. Sole, who indicates that the Cambridge manuscript is not the exemplar (Sole 1998, 106).  [Back]

37.   As indicated by Gretsch (2005, 90), the chants is based on line 248 in Bede's poetic vita. The commentary near the end of the passage describes Cuthbert growing in merits (Inque dies meritis crescenti).  [Back]

38.   Jaager notes this echo of Bede's poetic Vita (1935, 79), as does Gretsch, (2005, 90).  [Back]

39.   Gretsch (2005, 91) also notes this echo from Line 184 of Bede's vita.  [Back]

40.   In Genesis 18:1–8, Abraham serves the angelic guests and washes their feet, as Cuthbert does.  [Back]

41.   Peter Godman traces tradition of teaching through twinned works and provides a study of its rationale throughout the Middle Ages (1981).  [Back]

42.   This is translated by Michael Roberts (1985, 85), who provides a full study of the letter (79–86).  [Back]

43.   For studies on Sedulius's influence on Bede among other teachers in the Middle Ages at large include Godman (1981), Roberts (1985), and Springer (1988).  [Back]

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