In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Music and Liturgy for the Cult of Saints

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Chant Catalogs
  • Digitized Manuscript Collections
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • National and Regional Identity

Medieval Studies Music and Liturgy for the Cult of Saints
James J. Blasina, Nathan R. Anderson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 October 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0290


The Christian liturgy was a central aspect of everyday life during the European Middle Ages, not only for priests or monastics, whose duties included performing Mass or the daily Office, but also for the common person, whose life revolved around the cycles and important dates of the Christian calendar (e.g., Christmas and Easter). Religious festivals, celebrations, and expressions of lay piety disrupted the quotidian rhythms of both urban and rural medieval society. For most days in the Christian calendar, there was a specific day of veneration (“festa” in Latin or “feast” in English) for important holy figures, known as saints, who were believed to have led exemplary lives and acted as intercessors in heaven between the pious and God. The set of religious and cultural practices venerating individual saints is called a “cult.” Cultic devotion was manifested through official and non-official means; at the core of official veneration was a musical-liturgical tradition proper to a saint, and recited on that saint’s feast day. For the highest-ranking saints, this included music for a Mass, and for the eight services of the daily Office proper to the relevant saint. The veneration of saints, therefore, required vast repertories of music, and new music was constantly composed, not only for newly proclaimed saints, but also in association with the growth and development of existing saints’ cults. Music and liturgy can therefore evince the diffusion or intensification of cults over time and place. Newly created or adapted liturgies reveal chosen emphases drawn from a received text hagiography, and therefore provide evidence for cultural values. Liturgies of the daily Office, which were in flux and regionally diverse, are particularly rich in this regard, providing their creators and singers greater opportunity for personalization than the Mass. Studying liturgy can therefore furnish added nuance to a given saint’s written life, and is a good place to start when investigating the history and cultural context of a saint. Liturgy was a multimedia and multisensory ritual, involving music, spoken word, visual arts, staging in architecture, and smells, to name a few. Given its scope, modern liturgical scholarship presents unique challenges for students of the discipline, and wading through the vast ocean of current and preexisting scholarship can be daunting. This bibliography has been curated with the primary goal of guiding students of liturgy and the cult of saints toward a necessarily holistic and interdisciplinary understanding of the topic.

General Overviews

The sources in the sections Saints’ Cults, Liturgy, Music and Performance, and Manuscripts and Notation provide an accessible starting place for research on saints’ cults and liturgy. As with any academic field, there is a certain level of broader understanding that is helpful in the pursuit of more specific liturgiological study. This includes general knowledge not only of how saints’ cults and liturgy functioned and interacted during the Middle Ages, but also of systems of music theory and notation, and of how liturgical sources were disseminated in the medieval manuscript tradition. General information relating to these subjects can also be found in the following other Oxford Bibliographies entries: Liturgy, Mass, Medieval Music, Liturgical Drama, and Liturgical Processions.

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