Notes on a Manuscript Fragment

Several months ago, wandering through the large Antique Flea Market in Brimfield, Massachusetts, I came across a surprise. Sitting on the ground, leaning against an old clothes trunk out in the sun, I saw from a distance a large page of antiquated musical notation and text in an old frame. As I walked closer, I recognized it as a liturgical manuscript, containing musical staves and notation with Latin text. I discovered that the frame was not closed in the back but had glass on both sides, to allow viewing both sides of the page. Examining it some more, I became sure that the page was vellum, and it looked late medieval or early modern.

While looking it over, the vendor approached and asked if I knew what it was. I told him generally what I could–that this looked like a medieval musical manuscript, and that studying objects like this is my job, although I was unable to tell him much more without researching it. He was surprised, since he previously had no idea what it was. The manuscript had come into his hands, along with many of the other objects he had for sale that day, as part of an estates sale from the home of a wealthy doctor in Hartford, Connecticut. Beyond that, the vendor knew very little–nothing more about the doctor, not even his name–and he told me that he had found the framed manuscript sitting in the basement of the house when he purchased part of the estate at auction.

We quickly settled on a deal. As little as he was asking, I was sure that I could not pass up the opportunity to buy the manuscript. I did feel some guilt at buying a manuscript fragment, knowing the terrible histories behind codices being ripped apart by booksellers. But it was clear to me that the original manuscript had been broken up years before it came into the hands of the vendor I met, and well before the Hartford doctor owned it. (The frame was old enough to be held together in the back by old brown paper glued around the edges of the glass, rather than modern ways of holding glass in place.) I spent several minutes asking the vendor different questions (sometimes similar questions different ways) about the fragment, how he acquired it, and his potential involvement in book destruction; it was clear he had no idea about its history before finding it in a basement. I even gave him my views on how sad it is to see fragments like this, and warned him about these types of pages as a vendor. By buying the manuscript, I hope that I am contributing less to the problem of breaking up manuscripts and more to preserving cultural heritage by caring for the fragment and using it to teach students. Indeed, I have already found it useful in a medieval literature class for teaching about medieval text technologies, their modern afterlives, and the sad outcomes for some broken books.

What follows are a series of notes I have compiled about the manuscript, with some information and references about what I learned so far from some initial research. I took all photographs under natural lighting with my iPhone, after removing the manuscript from the frame.

Physical Description

The full page measures approximately 760-80 millimeters (30-30.75 inches) in height by 545-50 millimeters (21.5-21.6 inches) in width. The page is foliated as “99” in dark ink in upper right corner of the recto.

On the verso, the edge on the far right is discolored where it would have been bound into the spine of the original codex. Upon further examination, the discoloration turns out to be a strip of vellum folded over approximately 10-15 millimeters (0.4-0.6 inches) of the page; this is ostensibly part of the other half of the full bifolium as it would have been bound into the book–which was cut but left attached to this fragment when the codex was disassembled. As it had been framed, the verso would have faced outward for display, while the recto would have faced the wall. The verso, after all, has a more elaborate layout, containing more diverse elements. (See more on the layout below.)

MyManuscript_detail_holeA few distinctive features helped me to decide that this piece is vellum when I first saw it. The first was a conspicuous hole that had been sewn up, measuring approximately 25 millimeters (1.13 inches) in length, with five stitches with white thread.

The second were speckles from follicles on the hair side (verso), more noticeable toward the portion of the page that would have formed the gutter of the book. As usual, the flesh side (recto) is whiter and softer, while the hair side (verso) is darker and more coarse. The whole page is more stiff than pliable, with many wrinkles, likely from less than ideal storage, climate, and moisture in the display frame.

Concerning the mis-en-page, there are a number of noticeable characteristics. While the recto has five consistent lines of text and music above, the verso has a more complex layout. A more qualified musicologist could say more about the staves, notes, and their significance. For now, I only note that the music is consistently written out, on five-line staves drawn in red. I would be grateful for other thoughts on these traits.

The layout of the verso is fundamentally different because of the use of an inset block of seven lines of smaller text without music, including a versicle and response; these lines intrude on the text and staves for the third and fourth lines in the overall layout. The majority of text is written in dark ink, with a few exceptions. Indications of the psalms to be sung (ps.) as well as notations for the versicle and response (V. and R.) are written in red. Three red punctus marks appear in the middle of moriemini on the bottom line of text on the verso to indicate note changes on the single syllable e. The fragment contains two decorated initials, a yellow Q for “Quae est ista” on the recto and red O for “Omnes moriemini” on the verso.

The text is written in a Gothic Southern Textualis (see Albert Derolez, The Palaeography of Gothic Manuscript Books: From the Twelfth to the Early Sixteenth Century (Cambridge, 2003)). Without giving a full paleographical assessment, I will note a few features. In general the page shows a consistent, clean script, following the guidelines. Letters are generally rounded, conforming to southern rather than northern characteristics. The scribe uses both long-s and short-s, reserving the latter for terminal positions. The digraph æ is used consistently (as in quae and caeli). The words Dominus and Deus are always capitalized. While it is difficult to generalize from such a short text, the scribe clearly distinguishes between u and v, as in -stravit, the indication for the versicle as V, and Vere directly following. Overall, only a few abbreviations appear, for psalmus (twice), Dominus regnauit (both words), and Cantate.

A few manuscripts with comparable features include:

Burlington, University of Vermont, Robert Hull Fleming Museum, 1971.10.4, from a sixteenth-century gradual

New Haven, Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library 485.3, from a sixteenth-century antiphonary

New Haven, Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library 627, from a fifteenth-century (?) antiphonary

Based on comparable manuscripts, I believe this folio is from the sixteenth century, although that is only a tentative conclusion. I will discuss a possible origin below.


The following is a transcription of the manuscript fragment, as well as a translation noting biblical sources according to the Latin Vulgate (edited by Robert Weber, Biblia sacra vulgata; translations are from the Douay-Rheims). Because I provide photographs, I have not indicated line breaks, but I present each chant as a new item. I silently expand all abbreviations, while retaining manuscript capitalization and punctuation (except for one case: a dash for a line break in the middle of aliud on the verso). I provide some reconstructions in brackets for the text on the previous and following pages, based on close parallels from other sources.

/99r/ [Ferculum fecit sibi rex Salomon de lignis Libani: columnas eius fecit argenteas, reclinatorium aureum, ascensum purpureum, media charitate con]stravit.
psalmus. Dominus regnauit.
Quae est ista, quae progreditur quasi aurora consurgens, pulchra ut luna, electa ut /99v/ sol, terribles ut castrorum acies ordinata.’
psalmus. Cantate.
Vere Dominus est in loco sancto isto; et ego nesciebam.
Non est hic aliud, nisi domus Dei, et porta caeli.
Omnes morie…mini, quia in [Adam peccavistis….]

King Solomon hath made him a litter of the wood of Libanus: The pillars thereof he made of silver, the seat of gold, the going up of purple, the midst he covered with charity. (Canticles 3:9)
Psalm. The Lord hath reigned.
Who is she, that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array? (Canticles 6:9)
Psalm. Sing.
Indeed the Lord is in this holy place; and I knew it not. (Genesis 28:16)
This is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven. (Genesis 28:17)
All die, because in Adam you all sin…. (1 Corinthians 15:22)

This liturgy is for the Third Nocturn of the Office for the Conception of Mary, celebrated on December 8. The chants on this manuscript page are a close parallel to the office that F. E. Gilliat-Smith from the (unreformed) Roman Breviary of 1481, in “Some Notes Concerning the Earliest Known Office of the Immaculate Conception,” The Ecclesiastical Review, Sixth Series, 5 (1916), 605-22, at 616-17. Other early modern breviaries (to which Gilliat-Smith did not have access to search via Google Books) contain closer parallels, some with the exact wording of this manuscript (indicated with asterisks), as in the following books.

*Breviarium romanum: ex decreto Sacrosancti Concilii Tridentini restitutum, S. Pii V Pontificis Maximi jussu editum, Clementis VIII et Urbani VIII auctoritate recognitum (Dionysius Thierry, 1669), 601 [and in various later reprinted versions, e.g. 1798 and 1831].

Die VIII Decembris. Officium proprium cum octava Inmaculatae Conceptionis Beatae Mariae Virginis: In hoc Mysterio Hispaniarum, & Indiarum Principalis Patronae: ex Breviario Franciscano desumptum (Ignatius Frau, 1762), 48-50.

Breviarium Romano-Monasticum, Pauli V et Urbani VIII PP. MM. jussu editum, oro omnibus sub Regula S. Patris Benedicti militantibus, praecipue nunc ad usum Congregationis Hispanae (J. Ibarra, 1779), 732.

*Officia sanctorum á summis pontificibus, tam pro Hispaniarum regnis, quam Pro Universali Ecclesia (Agustinus Figaró, 1827), 480-81.

Also from the closest parallels, I have gathered that the liturgy would often include the gospel reading from Luke 11:27, followed by a homily on this passage by Bede. The reading and homily would follow the lines derived from Genesis 28:16-17, preceding the line from 1 Corinthians 15:22.

Leonardo de Nogaroli

As Gilliat-Smith mentions, this liturgical office is credited to a certain Leonardo Nogaroli. Although Gilliat-Smith was unable to identify this figure, sixteenth-century sources relate that he was a cleric for the household of Pope Sixtus IV (pope 1471-84). A number of early modern accounts present information about Nogaroli composing a mass expressing the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, which had gained growing support and was authorized and promoted by Sixtus IV. Irénée Henri Dalmais, Pierre Jounel, Aimé Georges Martimort present a brief overview in “The Veneration of Mary,” The Church at Prayer: An Introduction to the Liturgy, New Edition, Volume IV: The Liturgy and Time, trans. Matthew J. O’Connell (Collegeville, MN, Liturgical P, 1985), 130-56, at 140. The following are some sources closer to Nogaroli’s own lifetime, as well as a few interesting later retellings.

Rodolpho Hospiniano on the “Conceptionis B. Mariae festum,” in De origine progressu, ceremoniis et ritibus festorum dierum Iudaeorum, Graecorum, Romanorum & Turcarum Libri tres (Zürich: Ioannem Wolfium, 1592), 107v: “Anno Domini 1466. Sixtus 4. decretum edidit, qod extat in Extrauagantibus libro 5. de Reliquijs & vener. Sanct. in quo constituit festum de mira conceptione B. Mariae, cum peculiari officio, quod composuit Leonardus Nagarolus Italus, in eoq, docet, sine peccato originali Mariam conceptam, ab omnibus fidelibus celebrandum esse, additu ijsdem indulgentijs, quas consequuntur homines in Corporu Christi solemnitate.”

Adriano Moerbecio, Scala Purpurea in sex gradus divisa (Antwerp: Hieronymus Verdussius, 1634), 134: “Ad tempora Sixti quarti R. P. D. Leonardus Nagarolus Protonotarius Apostolicus, composuit Officium de immaculata Conceptione, quod iam pene per centum annos decanatum est.”

Bartholomaei Carrana and Dominico Schram, Summa Conciliorum: Dudum Collecta Cum Additionibus Francisci Sylvii, Tomus III (Augsburg: Rieger, 1778), 640: “Joannes Gnesnensis in Polonia Archiepiscopus An. 1510. Concilium Provinviale celebravit, in quo Festum Conceptionis B. M. V. cum Octava, & Officio a Leonado Nagaroli composito celebrari jussit.”

Don Antonio Lobera y Abio, El por qué de todas las ceremonias de la Iglesia y sus misterios (Mexico: Libreria de J. Rosa, 1846), 465, in a question and answer dialogue about the Conception of Mary, between a Vicario and Curioso:
“Cur.– Qué oficio rezaba y tenia nuestra madre de Iglesia?”
“Vic. — Aquel rezo quo compuso Leonardo de Nagaroli, clérigo Veronense, el qua aprobó Sixto IV.”

Carl Joseph von Hefele and J. Cardinal Hergenröther, Conciliengeschichte. Nach den Quellen bearbeitet, Aahter Band (Freiburg: Herder, 1887), 542, for the year 1510: “Das Fest Mariä Empfängniß ist mit Octav zu feiern nach dem vom Papste approbirten Officium des apostolischen Protonotars Leonardo Nagaroli, und zwar in der ganzen Provinz.”

Ideas about the Immaculate Conception ultimately derived from apocryphal gospels and an accumulative tradition reaching back to early Christianity, and during the Middle Ages the concept was hotly debated. Ambivalence about the feast continued for centuries after the medieval period. Pope Pius V (pope 1566-72) reacted against the term “Immaculate” and did away with the special mass for a more general feast-day liturgy.

“Quae est ista, quae progreditur”

From searching the CANTUS Database, I discovered some significant features of this version of the Office. The first striking feature is the chant “Quae est ista, quae progreditur” (CANTUS 004425). As Rachel Fulton discusses, the biblical Canticles (Song of Songs) was central to medieval conceptions about the Virgin Mary, and this particular chant from Canticles 6:9 became a defining feature in the Office of the Assumption. (“‘Quae est ista quae ascendit sicut aurora consurgens?’: The Song of Songs as the historia for the Office of the Assumption,” Mediaeval Studies 60 (1998), 55-122. My thanks to Yvonne Seale for helping me get a hold of this article.) This use of Canticles in the Assumption liturgy is surely the starting point for its inclusion in the Office of the Conception. The rendering of this chant with the verb progreditur is especially significant in comparison with other uses in the liturgy, since this rendering follows the Vulgate, not the form with ascendit as found in other liturgical texts (the version Fulton discusses).

Other parallels between the manuscript fragment with the Office of the Conception and other feasts also appear in medieval liturgy. Fulton notes parallel uses of Canticles for the feasts of the Assumption and the Conception, as well as connections between offices for the Assumption and the Dedication of a church (see esp. 65, n. 27). Of the other chants in the manuscript fragment discussed here, CANTUS lists both “Vere dominus est in loco isto” (006540a) and “Non est hic aliud nisi domus” (003913) for the Dedication of a Church in a host of manuscripts. In addition, “Quae est ista…” also appears for the Feast of Anne, Mother of Mary (July 26) in Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, lat. 15182 (c.1300, Notre Dame Cathedral), 508v; Common of Several Virgins in Piacenza, Basilica di S. Antonino, Biblioteca e Archivio Capitolari, 65 (s. xii, Piacenza Cathedral), 431v; and memorial chants for Mary in Karlsruhe, Badische Landesbibliothek – Musikabteilung, Aug. LX (s. xii, Zwiefalten), 272r. All of these parallels point to the interrelated nature of liturgical elements for various feasts related to the Virgin Mary.

“Omnes moriemini”

In the last element of the fragment, the rendering of 1 Corinthians 15:22 as “Omnes moriemini quia in [Adam peccavistis]” is also anomalous. This phrasing is not found in Vulgate (neither the textus receptus of Jerome nor the Clementine revision, which read “in Adam omnes moriuntur”) or Vetus Latina versions. It comes closest to the phrasing “in Adam omnes morimur” used by Irenaeus and Augustine (Pierre Sabatier, Bibliorum sacrorum latinae versiones antiquae seu Vetus Italica, 3 vols. in 4 (Rheims, Reginald Florentain, 1743), 3:715), although further research could reveal even closer parallels outside of Sabatier’s sources. In addition to the breviary parallels already noted, this particular chant appears in the Office for the Conception of Mary in Cardinal Gousset, La croyance générale et constante de l’Eglise touchant l’Immaculée Conception de la Bienheureuse Vierge Marie (Paris: Jacques Lecoffre, 1855), 801, in extracts with reference to Leonardo Nogaroli.

Notably, this specific rendering of the verse appears in explicitly Spanish texts. For example, I have already cited parallels in the 1762 Die VIII Decembris and the 1779 Breviarium Romano-Monasticum, both of Hispanic origins. Similarly, “Omnes moriemini” is also used in other early modern religious texts regarding the Conception of Mary, as in the following.

A. P. F. Pedro de Alva y Astorga quotes this verse in his Spanish-Latin treatise Militia Immaculatae Conceptionis Virginis Mariae, contra malitiam originalis infectionis peccati (Immaculatae Conceptionis Lovanij, sub signo Gratiae, 1663), col. 927.

In Sermones panegíricos de varios misterios, festividades y santos, Tomo Segundo (Madrid: La Administración del Real Arbitrio de Beneficiencia, 1801), 180, Miguel de Santander also quotes it in a sermon on the Conception composed in 1786:
Pero apartad, señores, de la Concepcion de María la idea de estas desgracias, calamidades y miserias. Todo quanto intervino en ella, decia San Gerónimo, fue pureza, justicia, santidad, verdad, gracia y misericordia. Es innegable qu el decreto estaba dado, y la sentencia de muerte se habia executado con todo el rigor de la ley: Omnes moriemini quia in Adam peccavistis. Vió el mundo á algunos nacer ya santificados; pero ninguno fue concebido que dexase de ser inficionado con el mortífero veneno de la serpiente.

Angelino Brinckmann quotes it, invoking Pope Sixtus IV, while discussing the doctrine of original sin in his Theologia Universa Speculativa, Moralis, Polemica (Wetzlar: Nicola Ludovic Winckler, 1733), 209.

Finally, from slightly later, the Spanish Bishop Hipolito Antonio Sanchez Rangel de Fayas uses this verse rendering in a discussion of death in Fracmentos de una pastoral escrita en Mainas en la fuga de su primer obispo (Madrid: E. Aguado, 1825), 44, 49, and 53.

From these correspondences, it might be possible to associate the manuscript fragment with a Spanish provenance, or a copy of the Office as it was used in Spain. Additional circumstantial support for this is one manuscript already mentioned, Beinecke 485.3, which is from Spain and has similar features (and is bound with other Spanish and Italian liturgical fragments; see the description here). Still, these are only tentative conclusions. By posting these notes, and with further research, I hope others might have more to tell me about the manuscript fragment’s contents, origins, and possible provenance.

As an added bonus, while researching all of this, I also came across a recording of a sixteenth-century arrangement of Quae est ista quae progreditur by Giovanni Palestrina (c.1525-1594), which is well worth a listen.


5 thoughts on “Notes on a Manuscript Fragment

  1. Thank you! I have a similar piece that I bought in a bookstore 30 years ago, dated to 1510 – I have no idea how accurately. Now I can take a really good look at it

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