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Beneventian Chant
Benevento was the capital of the Lombard duchy that once ruled southern Italy. (The term "Beneventan" is also used to identify later manuscripts of Gregorian chant from this region as well as the distinctive script in which they are written.) Beneventan chant and liturgy flourished from the middle of the seventh century, when the Arian Lombards became Catholic, to the end of the eighth century, when very early forms of Gregorian chant were introduced into Benevento. From that time on, Beneventan Mass chants seem to have been used as alternative forms on major feast days. In the eleventh century the Beneventan chants fell into disuse.

The Lombard duchy of Benevento was established at the same time as the Lombard kingdom in the north of Italy. Both were formed when the Lombards drove the Ostrogoths out of Italy. The northern capital was Pavia, near Milan. The Lombards of both lands must have regarded their liturgy as having descended from the earliest Milanese rite, even though the surviving Beneventan and Milanese chants are not at all alike. Even so, Beneventan manuscripts of the eleventh and twelfth centuries call the alternative Beneventan chants "Ambrosian."

Benevento reached its peak after 758, when Charlemagne conquered the northern kingdom at Pavia. After that the independent Beneventan dukes wore the royal crown. Arichis II established a national patronal feast in 760 by collecting the relics of the Holy Twelve Brothers at the ducal chapel of Santa Sofia. The chants for this feast (September 1), which must have been composed at this time, form one of the unique Masses in Beneventan chant. The only other distinctive Beneventan masses are those for St. Andrew and a second feast of the Holy Cross.

The other important liturgical center in the duchy was Monte Cassino, St. Benedict's first monastery and the center of Benedictine monasticism. It was not occupied continuously, for it had been destroyed by the Lombards, then reopened about 717 after more than a century. It was destroyed again by the Saracens in 883, and restored only a century after that.

Beneventan chant was the subject of Volume XIV of Palgraphie Musicale (1934), but the major study of this chant is Thomas Forrest Kelly's The Beneventan Chant (Cambridge, 1989). He followed this by publishing facsimiles of every surviving chant (Palgraphie Musicale XXI, 1992). Five graduals, or books of Mass chants, survive from the eleventh and twelfth centuries, of which Benevento 38 and 40 are the most important and Benevento 33 (a missal with chant notation dating from about 1000) is the oldest. These all contain Gregorian chants to which the respective Beneventan chants are added immediately after each feast. It may have been intended that the traditional chants would be preserved and used.

Aside from the local feast of the Holy Twelve Brothers, the other Beneventan chants are assigned to major feasts in the normal liturgical calendar. The chants for Holy Week are of special importance, for they do not all correspond to chants in the Gregorian books. Most interesting of all is the Exultet, the celebration of the paschal candle at the beginning of the Easter vigil. This lengthy chant is inscribed on parchment rolls that turn down as the deacon sings the chant. The beautiful illuminations are upside down, facing the people right side up as the roll moves downwards. Many of these have survived because of the artistic value of the illuminations.

There is no trace of the modal system later developed by the Franks after Byzantine models. Apart from the ingressa (the same term as Milanese chant uses for the introit), the proper parts of the mass are known by Gregorian terms, but this may be due to their presence in Gregorian sources. The chant assignments were very flexible, for a chant might be used as the communion in one mass and the offertory in another. Efforts to preserve the use of Beneventan chant ended when the Normans conquered the Lombard duchy in the eleventh century.


Fr. Jerome F. Weber