- A Paradise of Priests: Singing the Civic and Episcopal Hagiography of Medieval Liège by Catherine Saucier
Medieval Liège was a special place for secular clergy. Known from the sixteenth century onward as a “Paradise of Priests,” it boasted an imposing cathedral and seven collegiate churches, in addition to myriad smaller ecclesiastical institutions. [End Page 607] With 270 canons singing in these churches as early as the mid-eleventh century, the extraordinary size and wealth of Liège’s clerical population attracted international attention. The liturgy sung by these canons has been studied in conjunction with the widely celebrated feasts of Corpus Christi and the Holy Trinity, both of which were founded in Liège. Yet the plainchant and polyphony that celebrates the city’s own clerics and saints has received comparatively little attention.
In this book, Catherine Saucier examines the liturgies for three of the most prominent bishops associated with Liège—St. Theodard (d. c. 668), St. Lambert (d. c. 700), and St. Hubert (d. 727)—and shows how the city itself is celebrated through the plainchant and polyphony written and sung by the liégeois clerical community. Through a meticulous investigation of the rich hagiographic tradition that provided inspiration and textual sources for these liturgies, Saucier traces how the saintly identities of these bishops developed and how the stories of their lives were shaped—and sometimes even rewritten—to promote civic ideals and objectives. In the first two chapters, she shows how the Offices of Ss. Theodard and Lambert, both of whom were murdered for political rather than religious reasons, draw upon an idea begun in the corresponding hagiographic literature that the city was sanctified by the blood of these martyrs. Saucier argues that the chants of the liturgy were designed to validate and idealize these bishops’ martyrdoms, to make their sacrifices holy rather than political. She shows that the translations of their relics to Liège as celebrated in the liturgies were important occasions of conflating civic and saintly attributes, such as in the antiphon Laetare et lauda that she discusses throughout the book.
In the central chapter, Saucier demonstrates that the Office for St. Hubert was at odds with its hagiographic sources by maintaining the appearance of the physical presence of Hubert’s relics in the city, despite the fact that his remains had been translated to Andage. As Lambert’s successor, Hubert promoted Liège as a sacred site by overseeing the translation of Lambert’s relics to the city, but the liturgy for St. Hubert ensured his continued veneration in Liège. The fourth chapter turns to polyphony and an analysis of the motet Fortis cum quevis actio by Johannes Brassart (c. 1400-55). Saucier elaborates on the clerical context of the motet (including the unusual detail of a liturgical strike) and how Brassart drew inspiration from another important episcopal founder, Bishop Notger (d. 1008). The final chapter addresses the larger importance of ritual in the sanctification of Liège by tracing the development of the feast of St Lambert’s Translation from the later Middle Ages to the early-sixteenth century. Saucier discusses five occasions on which Lambert’s relics were venerated, including three processional displays of his nude skull, that reflect varied civic motivations for calling upon the protection of the saint.
The book includes convenient tables that outline the plainchant along with its textual sources for the saints’ offices as celebrated in the city’s cathedral and an appendix of sources preserving the music. The analytical musical portions are written in such a way as to be comprehensible to the wide audience likely to be interested in Saucier’s colorful narrative. Because of its broad scope, clear organization, [End Page 608] and accessible style, this rich book will be of service not only to musicologists but also to scholars of liturgy, hagiography, church history, and urban history.
Catholic University of Leuven