Conference Watch: American Sarum

This is one of those items that entered my in-box at the height of the moving trauma; I shelved it with an intention to get back to it later.

Later has arrived.

There’s a conference slated for January 14th through the 17th in Bronxville, New York entitled American Sarum. As the name suggests, it’s a conference dedicated to the exploration of an American form of the English Use. For those fuzzy on this particular liturgical tradition, I’ll lay out what little I know of it—and welcome correction from the better informed.

The English Use is predominately the brain-child of Percy Dearmer (affectionately referred to as the Blessed Percy). The Blessed Percy was not himself a research scholar but was a well-read popularizer of the work of Frere, Palmer, and that whole body of scholars who investigated medieval English liturgy at the end of the nineteenth century and published works for the Alcuin Club, the Henry Bradshaw Society, and the Plainsong & Medieval Music Society.

The main thought here was this: if Anglican rites need new ceremonial and liturgical blood—and the one-two punch of the Oxford and Cambridge Movements (particularly the latter) convinced many they did—then why ape contemporary Roman Catholic ways? Why not return to the traditions and uses of the pre-Reformation English Church centered in the Sarum liturgy?

Blessed Percy set out to present a ceremonial and liturgy guide to Sarum enhancements for the Prayer Book (as he was English this, of course, means the 1662 BCP). The chief vehicle for this concept was the Parson’s Handbook which attracted a certain following in its day. This style of Sarum enrichment came to be known as the English Use. It was also sometimes known as English Museum Use and, indeed, the main criticism leveled at it was that it was fundamentally an antiquarian’s head-trip; that is, it was created de novo from old liturgical documents and did not reflect a living tradition. Instead, it was a romanticized version of a High Medieval mass with the BCP standing in for the text; how and if it spoke to its new time and place was a different story.

For whatever reason, it pretty much remained the English Use and didn’t cross the pond much. There are a few churches in America that use a form of the English/Sarum Use: one is Christ Church, Bronxville where the conference is being held, another is St John’s in the Village in my neck of the woods (and where I can be found when I’m not at the Advent).

The American Sarum conference seeks to reopen the old questions:

In an age when it is increasingly difficult to define what it means to be Anglican and many Anglicans look to Rome for answers, this conference will take a good look at the origins of our liturgical and musical Anglican heritage and dare to redefine what it means to be an Anglican. The conference will include a hard look at our history from architectural, liturgical, and musical perspectives. Discussions and re-creations of early liturgical practices will provide liturgical and musical insights that are intrinsically English and completely relevant to the liturgies of the 21st century. It is not a matter of “putting the Anglo back in Anglo-Catholic.” Those who will benefit from this experience include all musicians and clergy that identify as Anglo-Catholic, but it will be of particular interest and use to those who do not identify themselves as Anglo-Catholic. This is a conference for everyone, regardless of one’s own “high” or “low” churchmanship, who loves and respects our common Anglican heritage.

The presenters include some top-notch names like Dr. John Harper—yes, that Dr. John Harper—as well as some friends of mine. I showed M the provisional  schedule and we quickly agreed that we have to go.

Whatever you think of the English/Sarum Use—and to be honest I haven’t made up my mind—it will be an opportunity to think through some of the old important questions with some new voices at the table: What does it mean to be Anglican? What place do history and heritage hold in our modern proclamation of the Gospel? Do I prefer apparels or lace on my albs and amices?

23 thoughts on “Conference Watch: American Sarum

  1. The young fogey

    …the one-two punch of the Oxford and Cambridge Movements.

    One of the best descriptions of the origins of Anglo-Catholicism I’ve read, pithy and catchier than how I’ve been saying it, the Tractarians meeting up with the Gothic Revival, all reacting to the earlier one-two punch of the ‘Enlightenment’ (which hit the upper class) and Industrial Revolution (which hit the masses). Thanks!

    The Sarum revival – directly inspired by the Cambridge Movement? – seems the first ritualist ACism (a pretty good literal reading of the stray Ornaments Rubric left over in the BCP but of course not followed for much of history) which survived in a few places but mostly was the ACism that might have been, being overtaken by Tridentine practice.

    Why did history play out that way? My guess is the appeal of a living tradition won.

    Sure, Sarum’s fine but I question going to all the trouble of trying to revive it.

    I don’t remember why but once I saw a YouTube of Christ Church, Bronxville and was surprised to see Episcopalians doing Dearmer’s stuff.

    I think Brother Stephen once guessed it never took here for patriotic reasons despite of course being an anglophilic church. So with American ACs you had the strange (to the English) phenomenon of Prayer Book non-papal types doing RC ceremonial.

    What does it mean to be Anglican?

    That your bishop’s invited to Lambeth. :)

  2. Isaac

    The thing is, the ritualist revival on both ends (Dearmer vs. Ritual Notes/Fortescue, I suppose) are engaging in some kind of museum liturgy… Dearmer by revisiting (and regularizing according to the law at the time) Sarum use and the Ritual Notes crowd by introducing ritual that wasn’t even related to BCP principles. Neither were entirely ‘living traditions’ in terms of BCP Anglicanism. The word ‘revival’ suggests, though, something that was dead/dying is brought to life again. I’d much rather see that than importing things that weren’t ever a part of English liturgical life to begin with.

    I’m a youth minister by trade, and so the issue of transmitting the faith and traditions of the church on is something I think about. I’ve learned that if I do liturgy the way I think it ought to be done, I’ll usually fail to do accomplish the act of transmitting the faith. If I do a liturgy in the way that is conscious of learning and teaching, rather than simply making sure I get the right amount of swings of the thurible on a lesser feast. I’d be curious to know if/how the conference thinks through this.

    Oh… and apparels.

  3. Isaac

    Yargh… That should read: ‘If I do a liturgy in the way that is conscious of learning and teaching, rather than simply making sure I get the right amount of swings of the thurible on a lesser feast, the kids are able to come away with both a sense of having learned something and being in the place where heaven and earth meet.’

  4. The young fogey

    In the early 1900s the Tridentine way wasn’t museum religion and arguably isn’t now as it’s still in living memory, like Sarum would have been around 1600. But sure, foreign to the BCP.

  5. Isaac

    Certainly; but there’s a reason English Missal took off… There were some things that Tridentine ritual required that you couldn’t do sticking to the BCP (or sticking to what the BCP taught…). So in that context, it’s importation rather than a natural ‘growth’ of liturgical life.

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  8. Bruce M Carpenter

    Dearmer felt the English church should adhere to it’s own ancient principles, rather than foreign ones. He simplified much, and Cyril Pocknee took it a bit further. Oddly much of what Dearmer advocated has now been incorporated into the modern Roman rites. Dignity and simplicity were the watchwords. Dearmer was not alone, there were the Leggs, Atchley, the whole Alcuin Club group, who delved into all of the old English uses, not just Sarum, and what had been retained of those rites through the 19th C. The old PB was based on Sarum use, not Roman. Chichester Cathedral adopted much of the older use in it’s Customary of the 1930’s. The fussiness of so much RC based AC usage is missing, thank heavens. These days so many ACs try to outdo the old RC uses which have been jettisoned since Vatican 2.
    Apparels definitely.

  9. The young fogey

    Dearmer felt the English church should adhere to its own ancient principles, rather than foreign ones.

    Understood (point taken) but given all the crossover even back in the mediæval days of limited travel and crude communications, that distinction can be artificial. I’m thinking of what I read about the Gallican Rite infusing the Roman during the Cluniac reform so the terse Roman Rite (as in the old collects) became more flowery like the Eastern ones that influenced the Gallican (so now the Tridentine Mass and Eastern liturgies have a similar feel). Also I once read something that told of an inventory England took when it was confiscating all the parishes’ missals to switch them to the new BCP; they found one parish was doing the Ambrosian Rite of Milan because that was the only missal it could get for some reason!

    The old PB was based on Sarum use, not Roman.

    I think Sarum is a use/recension of Roman. Sometimes it’s hard to call. For example the Ambrosian has the Roman Canon so is it a different rite really? The Dominican Mass has structural differences from the Tridentine. Use or rite?

    Anyway I also think saying the BCP is Sarum-based is an old legend that’s wrong. It’s a rewrite that happens to have a little old material in it, a new book that happens to count Sundays after Trinity (ironic considering it’s a late-mediæval feast started by a Pope!) rather than after Pentecost.

  10. Derek Olsen

    Coming at this perspective as an student of early medieval English liturgy I admit to mixed feelings about Sarum. As YF points out, there was fundamental fluidity throughout the early medieval period. The rites moved out from Rome into Gaul, then, as the tides of history moved and swept the Franks searched for “authentic” Roman liturgy and produced a thoroughly hybridized rite which was then imposed to the degree that imposition is possible in an age of hand-copied texts and these texts were then brought back to Rome as the “standard” liturgy which then became the “official” Roman liturgy. That the English Boniface and especially Alcuin played such a large role in the collation and dissemination of the hybridization make it hard to call the final result truly “foreign.” As I see the English uses in the period just before the Norman Conquest, I see the main factor being not nationalism but secular vs. monastic uses and monastic familial relations within that.

    I see that I have some study to do before the conference to gain clarity on the key differences between the Sarum Rite and the Roman Rite of its time.

  11. Derek Olsen

    Oh—on the Trinity issue, Alcuin was a champion of the Feast of the Trinity and seemed to know of it from its use in York. Too, Aelfric wrote several sermons for it some 300 years before its papal endorsement. Just because it wasn’t official doesn’t mean it didn’t have wide-spread use in some areas and uses.

  12. Bruce M Carpenter

    You should check out Project Canterbury, which has available the Alcuin Club tract on English vs Roman use. English Use, as developed in the latter part of the 19th C. was not based solely on Sarum Use, but Dearmer and many others, with superb scholarship, looked into the uses of all the western uses, especially those of northern France, which had much in common with the late English uses. Nor did they urge the wholesale adoption of the old uses, but looked to them for guidance in filling out the scanty rubrics of the PB, but maintaing fidelity to the PB.
    They found the PB services from 1662 lacking, as had the 18th C non-jurors and Scottish divines, and pushed for revision, giving impetus to the liturgical renewals of the past century, along with contemporary Roman scholars, who often came to similar conclusions. Dearmer also commissioned what is still the benchmark of all hymnals, the English Hymnal of 1906/33, which did so much to improve hymnody throughout western Christendom. All the office hymns with proper plainsong as well as solid modern tunes.
    The ‘Romanizing’ clergy on the other hand took over in toto the current 19th uses of the RC. Many actually used a translation of the Tridentine mass, inserting into it those parts of the Anglican rite which were not exact parallels – the Prayer for the Church being said after the Secreta, the Roman canon being said secretly up to the Quam oblationem, at which point they inserted the PB Prayer of Consecration, and then continued with the Unde et memores; the Prayer of Thanksgiving would be said after the Roman post communion.
    And many invented new conceits, such as 2 office lights on the altar, along with 6 on a retable. Thurifers still delight in doing double and reverse 360’s, often dropping hot burning coals on wooden floors and carpets, something never seen before anywhere but in 19th and 20th C ‘high church’. There was a push not just to keep up with Rome, but surpass even them with new rituals never before seen anywhere. The English use advocates were appalled by what they saw as unnecessary over-the-top fussiness. Again what they campaigned for was dignity and simplicity, based on the best authorities of every age, but as found mainly in the English uses, which were related closely to other uses on the continent. They eschewed excess for its own sake.
    Sarum rite had on solemn occasions three crucifers and two thurifers leading processions, but this was rarely if ever done in the English revival. However, as the processions had stations, lacking in the Roman use, the crucifer, taperers, thurifer, clergy were at the head of the procession as in mediaeval times, not in the rear, and so were available for stations at the font or rood. I have so often seen the procession pass by the rood, so the clergy are in position for the station; the thurifer, who was at the head of the choir, stopped to let them go by, so he could hand the censer to the priest, then had to make his way back through the ranks of the choir to lead off the procession again. Not very practical.
    Solemn evensong used to be memorable in part by the clergy, sitting for the psalms and standing for the canticles, handing their birettas down the row, priest to deacon to subdeacon to MC for him to hold, so they would be bare-headed for the Gloria patri, and then the MC giving them back to be handed down the row again. Frankly a lot of unnecessary foolishness which has gone by the boards now that even the highest AC rarely wear birettas inside, something urged by the English use people ages ago.

  13. C. Wingate

    I was going to write up something separate but the press of time (and denouncing Jim Naughton again :) ) has overtaken it, so I’m going to have to be content with a few comments in each of the two articles.

    All discussion of pre-modern (by which I would mean, pre-20th-century) liturgy is that we have never seen it done, so we cannot really be sure of what we are recovering or rejecting. And I think that applies about triple when we are talking about the stuff that isn’t words. One could not look at the main contemporary American Roman and Episcopal rites, for example, and get a good picture of what is really different about them, other than the very slight hint in the tone of the language; and you certainly would never understand that what a typical “high” Episcopal church did in 1980 might be very different from what it does now, even if all the words are exactly the same (and they most likely wouldn’t be, but…).

    But also there are those words “simplicity and dignity”. Dignity is closely coupled with seriousness, and is above all an attitude issue; dignity is something you do with whatever you’ve got. It’s simplicity that’s dangerous, because simplicity is like virginity: lose it, and it’s hard to get it back. Beyond that, there is a strong tendency among liturgists, who are typically word people, to interpret simplicity to mean “quash everything except the words”, because they don’t trust anything but the words, because everything else is so much more powerful than the words.

  14. Bruce M Carpenter

    By simplicity I did not mean to imply that English Use was about words only, and not action. But it was simpler than the Tridentine rite exemplified by Fortescue, more direct in its actions, without the complexities of censings (triples, doubles, singles depending on rank), or repetitions (the priest saying sotto voce everything sung by others). I suggest to everyone not familiar with English Use to go to Project Canterbury, under Liturgy at the very bottom is the entry for Alcuin Club Publications, and there you will find Ceremonial Pictured in Photographs, which gives an excellent idea of what English Use is all about.

  15. Finn Froding

    Thank you, Brian M. Carpenter, for your kind and well-informed comments on this issue, which appears so fussy and complicated to some, but provides guidelines for sound liturgical practice and participatory community spirit. Another American church that followed the “English use” was St. John’s, Roxbury Crossing, a working-class neighborhood of Boston. One Frederick Whitney Fitts was rector for over 30 years, and had time to build up the distinctive ornaments and practices of this use (including vested lay epistolers), while remaining faithful to the BCP. The church burned around 1968 with most of its ornaments, but many of the practices (including the Lenten array) were retained following a merger and site change. Photo at
    I’m very interested to hear of the Bronxville conference, and hope to learn more by f0llowing this blog.

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