The Common of Saints and Benedict of Aniane

There’s a fascinating section of Ardo’s Life of Benedict of Aniane where he describes the churches in the re-done monastery of Aniane:

Because it glistened with outstanding religious observance, we deem it appropriate to relate for future generations some things about the location of that place. The venerable Father Benedict decided upon pious reflection to consecrate the aforesaid church, not by the title of one of the saints, but in the name of the Holy Trinity. For it to be more clearly recognized, he determined that three small altars should be placed near the main altar so that by them the persons of the Trinity might be figuratively indicated.

. . . [he describes the altar arrangement and the seven (branched?) candelabra]…

Lastly, three further altars were dedicated in the basilica: one in honor of Saint Michael the archangel; another in veneration of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and a third in honor of gentle Stephen the protomartyr.

In the church of Blessed Mary, Bearer of God, which was the first established, there are altars of Saint Martin and also blessed Benedict. But the one which is built in the cemetery is distinguished by being consecrated in honor of St John the Baptizer, than whom among those born of women none greater has arisen, as the divine oracles testify. To ponder with what profound humility and reverence this place was held in awe by them is appropriate, this place protected by so many princes. The Lord Christ is indeed the Price of all princes, the King of kings and Lord of lords. Blessed Mary, the Bearer of God, is believed to be the queen of all virgins. Michael is set over all angels. Peter and Paul are chief of the apostles. Stephen the protomartyr holds fist place in the choir of witnesses. Martin shines as the jewel of prelates. Benedict is the father of all monks. By the seven altars, by the seven candelabra, and by the seven lamps, the sevenfold grace of the Holy Spirit is understood. (Ardo’s Life 17.3,5-6; 78-9)

The last bit is what’s catching my attention at the moment. It lays out a Carolingian reckoning of the commons and identifies who’s at the head of each rank:

  • Apostles—Peter & Paul
  • Angels—Michael
  • Martyrs—Stephen
  • Confessors—Martin
  • Virgins—the BVM
  • Monks—Benedict

Quite interesting. I’m a little surprised that John the Baptist isn’t explicitly mentioned as the greatest of all prophets as that would certainly fit with the rest of the structure. Prophets, of course, aren’t typically recognized within Western liturgical kalendars. This arrangement is all the more interesting against the backdrop of the hymns and sermons that lay out the theology of the saints—typically the items appointed for the Feast of All Saints which, in the form that we have it, is Carolingian in origin having been greatly popularized by Alcuin.

There’s a sermon attributed to Bede that we find in a number of homiliaries (including Paul the Deacon) know by its incipit “Legimus in ecclesiasticis historiis” that works through the various ranks of the Commons. Aelfric relies it on it for the second half of his sermon on All Saints and if anyone might wonder why the BVM isn;t mntioned until late in these sermons its because she’s placed as Ardo has her here–as the chief of the virgins.

I actually made a chart once of the ranks of commons and how they appear in Legimus, Aelfric’s sermon and the hymns appointed for All Saints but am now quite unable to find it…

5 Replies to “The Common of Saints and Benedict of Aniane”

  1. Mary as chief of all virgins also supports my theory that Mary is the intended central figure in the Benedictional of Aethelwald, rather than Mary Magdalene.

    Do we even know of much veneration of Mary Magdalene in Anglo-Saxon England?

  2. I should have said in the choir of virgins. Its a two page spread of virgins with St Æthelthryth as the central figure on one page and the other page is a Maria but its been controversial whether its BVM or Mary Magdalene. Most scholars have gone with Mary Magdalene based on a partial inscription. I think the inscription says something like virgin mother rather than Magdelane. ( Maria Ma__ is basically all that survives of the second part of the inscription. I think Ma_ is part of Mater).

  3. Hmmm… The quick answer on Mary Magdalene is no—I don’t know much about it. However, a quick scan of the tables of contents of the Missal of Robert of Jumieges and the Leofric Missal (the two top missals to check for such things) show no masses for St Mary Magdalene on July 22nd which is where she appears in the Roman and Sarum kalendars.

    I don’t have either volume of Wormald’s kalendars to hand so I can’t say for sure. Consult them first. Next stop would be the recent litanies volume.

  4. I’m unacquainted with the grounds for your equating “prelate” (in Ardo’s Life) with “confessor” (in your summary below). Can you amplify that?

  5. Sure thing, AKMA.

    I’ve found my chart and a good bit of the data explaining it (yay!) which I’ll put into a new post as it certainly won’t fit into my com-box… So, look for more on this later today.

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