Liturgy in History: Report

Report on the Queen Mary Centre for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies ‘Liturgy in History’ study day, held 19th November 2013 in the Old Library of the Garrod Building Stepney Way

by David Alexander Harrap

The day began with an inspired discussion by Professor Nils Holger Petersen (Copenhagen) on The Medieval Adoration of the Cross on Good Friday and a polemical sixteenth-century Derivative: the Adoration of the Forty Hours. Professor Petersen’s address focussed on the issues faced by those who take on the task of examining liturgy as historical evidence. The textual and musical components of liturgy, he stressed, could only represent a fraction of the total liturgical experience, which was also visual, emotional, olfactory and gustatory. In addition, he highlighted the dangers of anachronism that the customary lexicon of the cultural historian might introduce into the mix; ‘ritual’ for example, is not a word or idea that existed during the middle ages. Liturgy itself was revealed to be a dangerous tool for the historian to use, being a rather monolithic exclusive label for practices deemed ‘official’ and distinct from ‘unofficial’ extra-liturgical or para-liturgical practices. Yet, the need for a term to characterise the collective worship if the medieval Church being accepted, Professor Petersen went on to discuss the Adoration of the Cross and its derivative, the Adoration of the Forty Hours, as liturgical practices. These were shown to have contained within their liturgical composition and histories of practice evidence for medieval conceptions of the sacred, for the sacramental importance of a liturgical actions and for the tendency, over the course of the middle ages, for liturgical orders to become more prescriptive in their formulations, leaving less to choice and demanding greater conformity to a standard set by ecclesiastical authority.

In the second session Professor Emma Dillon (KCL) presented on the subject Listening to Liturgy-Perspectives from Musicology. Professor Dillon expertly articulated the developments in liturgical chant over the course of the middle ages, introducing aspiring liturgists to some of the technical language needed to describe the forms that liturgy took. In particular Professor Dillon demonstrated the differences between syllabic and melismatic chants and the ornamentation of liturgical music through the addition of tropes. The need for a sensitivity to the ‘texture’ of a piece of music was demonstrated to be paramount. In addition to this, Professor Dillon suggested the importance of the idea of ‘temporal cacophony’ in liturgy, which is the idea that multiple voices form different points in history can be heard speaking within liturgy. This is important both for understanding the messages that liturgy was intended to convey, such as that the words of the prophets were fulfilled in the Annunciation and the worship of the Church, but also the multiple voices of successive generations of liturgy users, who ornament , embellish and adapt liturgies to their own needs.

After lunch, Doctor Beth Williamson (Bristol) presented on Liturgical Performance at the Threshold of the Cathedral. This fascinating lecture outlined the importance of the west-fronts of a number of cathedrals (Chartres, Wells and Exeter) in providing an appropriate setting and a visual gloss on the liturgy. The importance of stage managing and of the locations of liturgy was shown to be vital to any discussion of how a piece of liturgy functioned for its performers and audience.

Chairing the concluding round-table discussion, Professor Sara Lipton (SUNY, Oxford) led a conversation on subjects raised by the day’s lectures. In particular, the issue of temporality, so important to all three lectures provided fruitful material for discussion. Time and timing defined Christian liturgy, placing it into a multitude of narrative threads, of Sacred and Ecclesiastical history as well as local and institutional history, right down to yearly and daily cycles and the life cycle of the individual. Time is an inescapable theme of liturgy and is likely to receive further treatment in the proposed Liturgy in History Network, the setting up of which was endorsed by all present on the day.

To conclude the day, the participants repaired to St Bartholomew the Great (Smithfield) where, as the daylight failed, the participants were able to listen to some of the music discussed in the day’s lectures, sung in the surrounds of the historic Church.

(See also Liturgy in History: Photo Gallery)


Updated Programme and Readings


Location: Old Library, Garrod Building, Queen Mary Whitechapel Campus (near Whitechapel Station – District and Hammersmith & City lines)

Campus location (Google Maps), Campus Map (PDF), London Tube Map (PDF)


9:30–10:00 – Registration and coffee

10:00–11:15 – Professor Nils Holger Petersen (University of Copenhagen): The Medieval Adoration of the Cross on Good Friday and a Polemical Sixteenth-Century Derivative, the Devotion of the Forty Hours

Essential reading:

  • Nils Holger Petersen, ‘The Quarant’Ore: Early Modern Ritual and Performativity’, in Performativity and Performance in Baroque Rome, ed. by Peter Gillgren and Marten Snickare (Surrey: Ashgate, 2012), pp. 115–133.
  • Nineteenth-century textual transcription of the adoratio crucis ceremony (see pdf)

11:15–11:25 – Coffee break

11:25-12:30 – Professor Emma Dillon (King’s College London):  Listening to Liturgy: Perspectives from Musicology

Essential reading:

  • Susan Boynton, ‘Plainsong’, in Cambridge Companion to Medieval Music, ed. by Mark Everist (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 9-25.
  • David Hiley, ‘Gregorian Chant’, in Cambridge Introductions to Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), esp. pp. 7–12.

12:30–13:10 – Lunch

13:10–14:25 – Dr Beth Williamson (University of Bristol): Liturgical Performance at the Threshold of the Cathedral

Essential reading:

  • Craig Wright, ‘The Palm Sunday Procession in Medieval Chartres’, in The Divine Office in the Latin Middle Ages, ed. by M. E. Fassler and R. Baltzer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 344–371.

Recommended reading:

  • Pamela Blum, ‘Liturgical Influences on the Design of the West Front at Wells and Salisbury’, Gesta, 25:1 (1986), 145–150.
  • Margot Fassler, ‘Liturgy and Sacred History in the Twelfth-Century Tympana at Chartres’, The Art Bulletin, 75:3 (1993), 499–520.
  • Pamela Tudor-Craig, ‘Bishop Grandisson’s Provisions for Music and Ceremony’, in Exeter Cathedral: A Celebration, ed. by M. Swanton (Exeter: Exeter Cathedral, 1991), pp. 136–143.

14:25–14:35 – Coffee break

14:35–15:25 – Professor Miri Rubin (QMUL) and Professor Sara Lipton (SUNY Stony Brook): Roundtable discussion

15:25–17:00 – Visit to St Bartholomew the Great Church

Note: All essential readings are available in electronic form in a dedicated Dropbox folder. If you are attending the workshop and have not received the link, please contact the organisers.

Call For Participants


We are delighted to announce a call for participants for ‘Liturgy in History’, an international study day for graduate students and early career researchers at Queen Mary’s Centre for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies.

Liturgy in History:  a full-day workshop exploring liturgy in practice in the medieval and early-modern periods.

When: Tuesday 19th November, 9:30 – 17:00 (lunch provided)
Where: Queen Mary, Mile End Campus, room tbc

Three speakers – Professor Nils Holger Petersen (University of Copenhagen), Professor Emma Dillon (King’s College London) and Dr Beth Williamson (University of Bristol) – will guide participants through the structure and formulae of liturgical sources. The musical, visual, architectural and performative aspects of the liturgy will all be carefully considered and approaches to liturgy re-interrogated. The presentations will be followed by a roundtable discussion with Professor Miri Rubin (QMUL) and Professor Sara Lipton (SUNY).

The day will culminate in a trip to a nearby renaissance church which will help situate them in their context. We would be delighted to welcome international participants and students from diverse disciplines, to reflect the multidisciplinary focus of the day itself.

If you would like to join us please email Hetta Howes (h.howes [at] or use this contact form. Attendance will be free of charge, but places are limited to ensure discussion and participation, so it is essential that you book your place.

You will find more information and a provisional schedule here:

Provisional schedule for Liturgy in History workshop, 19th Nov

Liturgy in History, Call For Participants