Rose's Books and the Cistercians
The Antiphonarium Cisterciense.
by Renée Magriel Roberts
As booksellers, we've certainly all experienced moments of serendipity -- the chance meeting that results in a wonderful buy or a still better sale, or the good luck of being in the right place at the right time. Our networks of relationships often lead from one good contact to another opportunity.
But during this past summer, something quite extraordinary happened to us at Rose's Books, something that appears to have been the fruit of seeds sown many years before. Something you'd never think would happen to a semi-reclusive scholarly couple, selling entirely on the Internet.
It began with a telephone call from a monastery of cloistered nuns, the Cistercians of the Strict Observance (the Trappists). The sister who contacted us thought, or had heard, that we might be able to help her sell their monastery's choir books. Why us? Our business was named after my doctoral dissertation (as well as a wonderful aunt), "The Clock and the Rose", which centered upon the change of mind that occurred in Western Europe in the fourteenth century. The "Rose" is the rose window in the great cathedrals, and also refers to the Virgin Mary.
Now, the sister had no way of knowing that as part of my doctoral work I had to engage in a practicum, and since I could not return to the Middle Ages, I spent the greater part of 1998 taking voice lessons and studying Gregorian chant.
So, although I really did not know much about this order and its choir books specifically, I certainly had an interest in, and a history of studying, the Rule of St. Benedict and Gregorian Chant. The sister sent us pictures and some more information, and we agreed to go to the monastery to view the books.
The Abbey sat on a hilltop quite close to the state highway system, tucked away in trees and fields. Once the summer home of a major industrialist, the property now housed 48 sisters, who had come from all over the world to live and to pray, following the Rule of St. Benedict.
The books were enormous, elephant-folio sized, bound with brass borders, bosses, feet, and exquisite sacred hearts. Printed throughout in red and black, the chant notation was dimensional to the touch, and included exquisite illustrations and capitals, some extending the entire length of the page. Although the books had been printed in 1947, they seemed very unusual. The monastery was divesting the books because the Latin liturgy had long since been changed to the vernacular, and they now use smaller, modern, more easily-held versions that did not strain their backs.
Rose's Books and the Cistercians
Sister and Rosie Jack at Red River Beach.
After much discussion and back-and-forth, we agreed to sell them on behalf of the monastery. We realized that they would all need bindery work, followed by photography and a clear, specific description, so somehow the books would need to be at our shop, rather than remain with the Cistercians.
One day, I emailed Sister and told her that I thought we would have to rent a very large truck to bring the books to Cape Cod. She responded by telling us that they would rather bring the books themselves, and I immediately understood that not only did they want to check out our shop, but they saw an opportunity to leave the monastery and come to the Cape for the day. She said it would be the opportunity of a lifetime.
We decided to drop everything we were doing to help them. We arranged with a chef who lives across the street to put together a vegetarian lunch, and mapped out an itinerary for them. And we made sure that our granddaughter, Rosie Jack, who is 2 1/2, and who was in our care for the summer, was out of pre-school that day. That was a special request from Sister.
On a sunny morning, around 10 AM, three cars rolled into our driveway with the Abbess of the monastery, four other Cistercian nuns (including our main contact), and a lay sister. There was a heavy-duty pickup truck, a station wagon and a sedan, all carrying some two tons of 35-lb. choir books, standing up like little soldiers. Instead of their customary perfect black-and-white starched habits, the sisters wore denim clothes and veils. After off-loading the books and giving them a tour of our shop and living quarters, we went across the street for lunch.
In the yard, before we sat down, I had the privilege of being with the sisters as they prayed.
After lunch we went to Fort Hill, part of the Cape Cod National Seashore. This is a glorious location, with almost 360° views of the salt marshes, much as the Native Americans must have seen them. Rosie Jack took off like a shot on the 2-mile trail, a line of nuns following her, in a scene strikingly reminiscent of one of the Madeleine books. Rosie had 6 extra babysitters when we went from there to the National Seashore Museum, downtown Chatham, and finally to Red River Beach at the foot of our street.
Some of the sisters took off their shoes and waded into the water; one climbed up the abandoned lifeguard station. When they spread out along the almost deserted beach, Rosie Jack ran up and down, entirely safe, from one to the other. The day was entirely special and very wonderful. Rosie Jack stills talks about "the nuns" when she lists the names of her friends.
We still had the task of researching the books; in order to properly describe and sell them, we had to understand both their printing history and the history of chant. We enlisted the sisters and other monastics from the Order, both in the United States and in Belgium, in researching the history of the books and we were not disappointed by what we uncovered. The Cistercians fortunately have a long memory and centuries of detailed records.
Rose's Books and the Cistercians
View from Fort Hill.
Each set of 4 books consists of enormous (13" x 19.5"), heavy (around 35 lbs.) elephant folio choir books used by Cistercian (Trappist) nuns and monks for their Latin and Gregorian choral Office and Mass. Folio-sized choir books are currently little-used, if at all, by monastic communities other than the Carthusians and the Cistercians of both observances, including the Trappists, and their availability for public purchase is exceedingly rare. The editions of these historically important choir books date from 1892, when the separate Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance (the Trappists) was set up and the reigning Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) had a special commission of abbots and cantors appointed to consider whether a new edition of the Order's plain-chant (i.e. Gregorian chant) books should be created which would include a restoration of the chant from the earliest Cistercian manuscripts.
In 1893, it was decided that the Abbey of Westmalle would be the single and official printery for all Cistercian liturgical books and that in creating a new edition, the chant would be restored to that of the most ancient manuscripts held by the Order. Westmalle's magnificent presses were acquired from the famous Plantin/Moretus press. Binding and decoration were entrusted to an atelier of the Westmalle Abbey, and later to individuals in the village who learned their trade from the Abbey's Father-director, who has always been its master-printer. It is thought that Westmalle obtained the necessary plates for publishing the books from the Desclées so that the neumatic notation and notation grouping which was now necessary for reproducing the ancient neumes of Cistercian provenance could be printed.
The choir books were acquired in 1949 from Westmalle. The four books we will be auctioning include the Graduale Cisterciense (a photographic facsimile reprint of the 1899 edition, printed in black and white); the 2-volume Antiphonarium Cisterciensis (Pars Hiemalis et Vernalis and Pars Aestivalis et Autumnalis), reprinted by Westmalle in 1947 from the original edition plates, in black and red; and the Psalterium Davidicum, reprinted by Westmalle in 1952 from the original edition plates in black and red. These books have stunning engravings, elaborate capitals, and brass decorations.
The 1899 Graduale Cisterciense was an entirely new edition. It contains a title page, mandatum page, and a monitum page, which are all historically important. The title page of the 1899 Gradual states that it is being published by reason of the authority of the Abbot General, Dom Sebastian Wyart, the first Abbot of the new Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance, and contains his personal coat-of-arms quartered with those of the Order of Citeaux. The title page is followed by a Mandatum, by the same Abbot-General and co-signed by his secretary dated 1 April 1899 which states "nihil innovatur etsi non nulla renoventur" (nothing new has been introduced even if many things have been renewed). The Monitum, which follows the Mandatum, states that the chant melodies are a re-introduction of the ancient ones found in the most primitive mss. and give practical directions for executing the chants. This book contains all the chants needed for the Mass texts contained in the Missale Cisterciense (the Cistercian Missal proper to the Order) and contains some of the most ancient chants in the Gregorian repertoire found in the Gradual for the Temporal Cycle.
Rose's Books and the Cistercians
Gregorian Chant (from the Antiphonarium).
The Antiphonarium Cisterciensis consists of two volumes. The first volume, the Pars Hiemalis et Vernalis (the Winter and Spring part) begins with the Advent Season and ends with the Pentecost Solemnity which marks the end of the Easter Season. The second volume, thePars Aestivalis et Autumnalis begins with the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity (Octave Day of Pentecost) and continues until the end of the liturgical year before Advent begins. Each volume has a "Proper of the Temporal Season" and a "Proper of the Saints". Both volumes also have sections for the "Commons of the Saints" (for those saints who have no proper chants for their Canonical Hours).
The Psalterium Davidicum was published as the first edition of this choir book in 1925 with the authorization of Dom Jean-Baptiste Ollitrault de Keryvallan, the third Abbot-General (1922-1929) of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance. By using the ancient title of the Order in the Mandatum (Psalterium Davidicum/Ad Usum Sacri Ordinis Cisterciensis), the Abbot-General makes clear that this book is intended for use by both the Common Observance and the Strict Observance of the Cistercian Family. The De Modo Cantandi et Psallendi (on the proper way to sing and to render the psalms) instead of the Monitum, quotes the earliest codices of the Order's choir books. Also included are the hymns used in the Hours of the Divine Office, some of which are proper to the Cistercians, and the antiphons for ferial days.
For connoisseurs of Gregorian Chant and for a serious study of the Chant, these books are a treasure trove.
We have been given the privilege of not only knowing and spending time with the Cistercians, but in selling these extraordinary and important books. I would never have dreamt, when I was studying fourteenth-century literature, that a beautiful continuum of the medieval world would be coming to our door and into our hearts.
How wonderful is that?
Renée Magriel Roberts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.