minima maxima sunt

The Small things are the Great things; as in a grain of mustard seed.


Illuminated music sheet based on the Creation

          This little child his little book learning, As he sat in the school at his primere, He Alma redemptoris hearde sing, As children learned their antiphonere;…. (from the Prioress’ Tale, in Geoffrey Chaucers’ Canterbury Tales)

An Antiphon is a musical style which is used in the Liturgy and Divine Office. The word comes from the Greek and translates as “opposite voice” which describes the “responsorial” activity in the music. In the Mass, antiphon is used when the mass is sung, and during the responsorial psalm, also when sung. This is where most may recognize it’s use.

The concept of antiphon goes back to St. Ignatius of Antioch who in a vision saw angelic choirs singing back and forth. In the western empire chants were used which would develop into what we call Gregorian Chants today. Named after Gregory the Great, a 6th century pope, the chants themselves were probably part of a developmental process that lasted into the middle ages. Most may associate these chants with the monastic life or the liturgy, but they have found their way into our modern popular culture. Several modern bands, such as Garmarna, have incorporated chants into modern music.

Music from medieval Antiphnary

Garmarna is a Swedish progressive rock band who remade the music of a 12th century abbess named Hildegard von Bingen. Using the lyrics and chants and interpreting them in a modern folk/rock/techno format, the band is one among several who have helped to bring a long overdue appreciation to the chants and Hildegard.

The pictures on this page show a few illuminated examples of sheet music from the middle ages. Often these books, (antiphonary) were large so that the whole choir could see from a distance. This is because the making of any books, let alone those used for music, was very costly and time consuming. A choir may only have one such book to sing from. The illumination tells of the care and respect people held for the written word. Like other medieval texts such as the books of hours, breviaries, and of course those that contained the Sacred Scriptures, these collections of sheet music have the decorations and gold leaf surrounding the words and graphs making them works of art.


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2 thoughts on “Antiphonarium

  1. Hi there:) When I was 15 and my sister was 16 she had an accident and died,but on the way back from the funeral I herd the heavens open up and these voices were singing but I couldn’t tell what they were singing.There were so many it was breathtaking and so beautiful. No one else herd them at the time I did and then my other sister herd the voices singing to, it was as she said millions of voices all at once and that was what I herd to:) My mother was disappointed because she did not hear them as we did.I believe ST Ignatius herd and saw something beautiful! Blessings and Peace!!!

  2. Gregorian Chant Benedictinos – YouTube

    ► 4:24► 4:24

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