- A Paradise of Priests: Singing the Civic and Episcopal Hagiography of Medieval Liège by Catherine Saucier
Catherine Saucier’s A Paradise of Priests represents the culmination of more than a decade of careful archival and analytical work about the music and culture of Liège (in modern-day Belgium) between the tenth and sixteenth centuries. This is an important study that fills a lacuna in medieval musicology, complementing other book-length studies about important musical centers in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. This research was originally presented in Saucier’s 2005 dissertation (“Sacred Music and Musicians at the Cathedral and Collegiate Churches of Liège, 1330–1500” [Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 2005]); this book represents a maturing of her earlier thought and the refreshing of older material into a five-chapter book. In A Paradise of Priests, Saucier demonstrates how music, hagiography, and civic identity were intimately intertwined in Liège during the late Middle Ages.
Liège is a city that has a history of establishing the music-, text-, and image-rich Feasts of the Holy Trinity and Corpus Christi, which were founded in the tenth and thirteenth centuries respectively. Saucier demonstrates that the authority and power of Liège as a creator of devotional practice continued into the sixteenth [End Page 539] century through Offices for an “episcopal trio” of Saints Theodard, Lambert, and Hubert (p. 94), and through a polyphonic motet by Johannes Brassart in honor of the accomplishments of Bishop Notger, a tenth-century bishop who changed the face of the city through various projects. The evidence presented in these chapters establishes that the nexus of music and civic power in Liège was located partly in the physical space of the cathedral and collegiate churches, where venerations were made. Most of the power, however, resided in the pens of the clerics, who drew on older hagiographic texts to create musical devotions that extol the merits of the saints and the city. Indeed, the success of clerics in Liège leads Saucier to argue boldly “that sacred music was the most persuasive and versatile medium by which the secular clergy of medieval Liège promoted the holy status of their city” (p. 3). This argument is supported throughout the text through a wealth of hagiographic material with explicit connections to Liège’s Episcopal history, which is then taken up in musical venerations.
The introduction is brief, but does discuss scope and methodology, establishing this study of Liège as an interdisciplinary project that draws on a variety of historical, hagiographic, visual, and liturgical sources. Saucier provides important details that link the ecclesiastical history of Liège and liturgical music to the promotion of the city’s prestige. Liège was home to a large number of churches, monasteries, and convents as well as an Episcopal seat. It was a city full of men and women who dedicated their lives to singing the Mass and the Office, but as a cathedral city, its musical practices also reflected the needs of a bishopric seat. Many of the clerics dedicated their lives to disseminating the diocesan liturgy. For their labors, Liège became known as a “Paradise of Priests” (p. 4), rich in scholastic learning and committed to augmenting the calendar of saints with feast days. The work of adding Offices and Masses to the local rite was, as Saucier notes, “a familiar platform from which to voice civic ideals” (p. 7). New Offices, Masses, and later polyphonic works served to retell saints’ lives in song that then spread across the diocese and beyond. With this framework established, Saucier concludes with her two-fold objectives for this book: (1) to clarify and share new information about Liège as a musical center, and (2) to begin a discussion about how to define a “civic” space in relation to textual, musical, and artistic media.
The five chapters that...