Categories of Liturgical Sources in Anglo-Saxon England

The place to begin in discussing A-S liturgical minutae is with the state of primary sources—what are they and how may they be categorized? How will I know where to find what items?

The most comprehensive resource I know of is a 1985 article printed in a festschrift for Peter Clemoes: Helmut Gneuss, “Liturgical books in Anglo‑Saxon England and their Old English terminology,” pages 91-141 in Learning and literature in Anglo-Saxon England : studies presented to Peter Clemoes on the occasion of his sixty-fifth birthday, edited by Michael Lapidge and Helmut Gneuss (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985).

What makes this article invaluable is that Dr. Gneuss has laid out the major types of books according to liturgical use, then categorized every surviving A-S liturgical sources known to him within his typology. Here are his headings from page 99:

A Missal and Sacramentary
B Gradual
C Troper
‑ Mass Lectionaries ‑  
D Gospel‑Book and Gospel Lectionary
E Epistolary
F Breviary
G Collectar
H Psalter
J Antiphoner
K Hymnal
‑ Office Lectionaries ‑  
L Bible
M Homiliary
N Legendary
O Books with special offices
P Martyrology
Q Regula S. Benedicti and Chrodegang’s Regula canonicorum
R Pontifical
S Benedictional
T Manual
U Consuetudinary
W Prayer‑Books and Private Prayers
X Liturgical Calendar
Y Confraternity Book

This set of typologies is incredibly helpful for thinking through different kinds of liturgical materials. The danger in seeing a typology like this, however, is assuming that since these categories exist epistemologically that they exist in reality—that each section represents a kind of book one might find in a monastic library. This is not the case… Inevitably, certain kinds of material travel together. For instance, it is quite common for a “Psalter” to be much more than Gnuess’s category H. Indeed, most physical psalters contain H (the Book of Psalms) but this is preceded by X (a liturgical kalendar) and followed by K (a hymnal).

Nevertheless, Gneuss’s categories are a great place to begin for learning about the range of early medieval liturgical materials.

2 thoughts on “Categories of Liturgical Sources in Anglo-Saxon England

  1. Derek the Ænglican


    Seriously, though, I’ll take these up in turn and work briefly through each category; I’ll talk about what’s in them then and try to point to relevant available material for study.

    Regrettably, no antiphoners have survived from A-S England…

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