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Mozarabic Chant

The term "Mozarabic" refers to Christians living under Arabic rule in medieval Spain. It identifies the Old Spanish rite, also called Visigothic, which remained in use there. The Arian Visigoths, driven from Aquitaine into Spain in the early sixth century, became Catholic in 587. The Muslims overran Spain within a few years after 711, leaving only a remnant of the Visigothic kingdom along the northern shore of Spain. The seventh century marked the zenith of the Old Spanish rite, which had developed among the Visigoths from the liturgy of the Christians living in Spain under the Roman Empire.

There are few traces of the Old Spanish rite from the era before 711. The Verona Orationale is a collection of Office prayers that was brought to Italy for safekeeping during the Arab invasion. It must date from about 700, and it not only witnesses to the literary style of the rite but it also contains marginal cues of chant texts. An early chant manuscript is the Léon Antiphoner, a tenth-century copy of a seventh-century source, but a number of other chant manuscripts were made in the Visigothic kingdom from the ninth to eleventh centuries. The neumes, like Frankish neumes of the same period, cannot be deciphered, since there are no related manuscripts containing these chants in staff notation to assist in reading them.

The reconquest of Muslim Spain moved forward in the eleventh century, bringing French monks and bishops into Spain. When Toledo, the ancient capital, was captured in 1085, a French archbishop was installed in the see. The Old Spanish rite was abolished in favor of the Roman rite with its Gregorian chant. It became known as the Mozarabic rite because it continued to be used under Arab rule, and it also survived around Toledo.

After the reconquest was completed in 1492, Cardinal Jiménez of Toledo restored limited use of the old rite in a chapel of his cathedral. In 1500 and 1502 he published new editions of the chants as they were being sung from oral transmission, but there is a lack of resemblance between these editions and the medieval manuscripts, unreadable though they are.

In 1929 Rojo and Prado published a study of Mozarabic chant, and in 1973 Don M. Randel published an index of Mozarabic chants.

The sung parts of the mass proper (with the Gregorian terms noted) are the praelegenda (introit), psalmi (gradual), laudes (alleluia), sacrificium (offertory), and Ad confractionem pacis (communion).


Fr. Jerome F. Weber