In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Use of Sarum and Other Liturgical Uses in Later Medieval Britain

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Textual Analysis
  • Liturgical Research in Context
  • Kalendars and Saints
  • Palaeography and Codicology
  • Historiography

Medieval Studies The Use of Sarum and Other Liturgical Uses in Later Medieval Britain
Matthew Cheung Salisbury
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 August 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0289


If the late medieval liturgy could be characterized by anything, it was diversity of practice from one place of worship to another, not only in the texts and music used in the services, but also in other areas, including the observance of saints’ days and of special practices with local traditions as well as in the patterns of ritual action that accompanied them. Each pattern of text, music, and ritual is most frequently called a liturgical “use” (from Lat. usus, i.e., “custom”). In medieval England, the most famous of these uses were “Sarum” or Salisbury Use, so called from its emanation from Salisbury Cathedral, and the Use of York, which derived from the practices of York Minster. Both came to be used, on an increasing basis, in their local area and were then adopted on a large scale in the southern and northern ecclesiastical provinces, respectively. These so-called secular Uses (as distinct from the liturgical patterns of monastic or conventual institutions) all stood within the Latin Rite, but they could be distinguished from one another by particular details of ritual and, more noticeably in their written witnesses, by the choice and order of the texts and chants of the Mass and Divine Office. By the turn of the 16th century, the uses of Sarum and York held a near monopoly on the secular English liturgy; by contrast, nearly every diocese on the Continent had its own Use, while other institutions adopted the Use of the Roman Curia. This article includes some of the historical scholarly efforts that have laid the groundwork for further research. Some of these are included for historiographical interest, especially to reflect on the long-held belief in the textual and musical fixity of English liturgical books, which has inevitably led to misconceptions about the ways that modern resources can be used. Catalogues and secondary sources tend, for instance, to use unrepresentative modern editions of liturgical texts and music (often really transcriptions of a single source) with the result that a single reading becomes normative. More recent investigations suggest a more complex textual and musical picture than philology can readily reveal. This bibliography is replete with references that seek to explore the variation in written witnesses, and other witnesses to practice, in order to illustrate the diversity of practice in worship and the richness of liturgical influence on the rest of intellectual activity in the Middle Ages.

Introductory Works

The best introduction to the late medieval liturgical picture in its historical context may be found in Pfaff 2009. Harper 1991 and Tolhurst 1942 give practical information for those preparing to study primary texts (or to perform them), as well as much helpful material for beginners. Salisbury 2018 suggests how someone new to the discipline might wish to engage with the available materials.

  • Harper, John. The Forms and Orders of Western Liturgy from the Tenth to the Eighteenth Century: A Historical Introduction and Guide for Students and Musicians. Oxford: Clarendon, 1991.

    A classic handbook for students which introduces the non-specialist reader to the forms, genres, and patterns of medieval and early modern worship in the Christian West. Resting heavily on British (and especially Sarum) evidence and comparison with monastic (Benedictine) Use, it is lucidly written, but uncompromising in its precision.

  • Pfaff, Richard W. The Liturgy in Medieval England: A History. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511642340

    A detailed historical account of Latin liturgy in England from its inception to the Reformation, especially as revealed through its manuscript and printed sources. It has quickly become the standard reference work, and its coverage of even quite abstruse areas of the subject is always worth reading. Chapters 10 and onward give the best summary discussion of Sarum and other uses; chapters 4–9 address the post-Conquest situation in England.

  • Salisbury, Matthew Cheung. Worship in Medieval England. Past Imperfect. Leeds, UK: ARC Medieval Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781641891165

    In exploring three key questions in the study of medieval worship, Salisbury introduces some of the key ideas, resources, and methods that the reader might use in their own studies.

  • Tolhurst, J. B. L. The Monastic Breviary of Hyde Abbey. Vol. 6, Introduction to the English Monastic Breviaries. Henry Bradshaw Society 80. London: Harrison and Sons, 1942.

    A significant study of the Divine Office in its more complex monastic form, which was originally part of a multivolume edition of the Benedictine liturgy as it was practiced at Hyde Abbey, Winchester. It is a valuable introduction to the material in its own right.

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