Walahfrid Strabo's 'Libellus de exordiis et incrementis quarundam in observationibus ecclesiasticis rerum' : a translation and liturgical commentary
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This first history of the western liturgy, was written c.842 by Walahfrid Strabo, a cleric from southern Germany. It was probably written to be used in the monastery on the island of Reichenau on Lake Constance (where Walahfrid was abbot from 838-849) as a teaching text for priests who would minister to rural parishes. Often cited but never studied in depth, this is the first translation of the entire text. In the commentary I have attempted to demonstrate that in the middle of the ninth century an intelligent liturgist can give us an accurate and realistic contemporary picture of ecclesiastical and liturgical matters. But unusually Walahfrid presents his material in an evolutionary perspective and with precise citations of his sources, rather in the manner of a modern historian, not in the simple expository or allegorical forms which were more typical of the period. The first part of the libellus examines various features of church buildings per se, such as altars, vocabulary for many architectural features, the use of pictures and images, and the dedication of churches. The second and longer section of De exordiis is a detailed examination of various liturgical aspects of public ceremonies conducted in both churches and monasteries. One of Walahfrid's major concerns in the second half of the libellus is to present the history of the Eucharistic liturgy, with specific references to topics such as fasting, frequency of communion, and the arrangement of the sections of the Mass; another is the origins of certain liturgical actions in baptism, an area which the Carolingians saw in a legislative context, the result of Charlemagne's educational reforms for the clergy, and the proliferation of Christianity throughout the Frankish empire; a third is the development of hymnography, the collection of chants or songs that are neither canonical psalms nor biblical canticles, but enter into the celebration of the liturgy, especially the Liturgy of the Hours (hymns, antiphons, responses, etc.). My comments put Walahfrid's remarks into the wider context of Christian literature, from early Patristic texts up to the innovatory writings of the Carolingian era when the liturgy was in a state of flux, and for monk, priest, scribe, musician, bishop and emperor participation in its development was a lively issue. The detailed examinations of Walahfrid's sources, theological, historical, legislative and literary, are crucial evidence for the transmission of texts and their availability to scholars in the mid-ninth century. I have demonstrated where Walahfrid is in error as a result of the texts he has used or lack of them, where he agrees with modern literature, and where he is the only source. Where it is liturgically relevant, Walahfrid's vocabulary is discussed with reference to both Patristic and Carolingian literature. His use of Greek and Old High German, although well worth intensive study, has not been subjected to detailed analysis in this thesis.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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