In the Middle Ages, abbeys were not hermetic, isolated places, cut off from the concerns of the secular world, withdrawn into the microcosm of a cloistered and all too firmly regulated community.1 On the contrary, it was in the abbeys that almost all the significant events of the first eight centuries or so of the medieval period took place. Between the tenth and eleventh centuries, the Cluniac Order alone, which followed the Rule of St Benedict under the aegis of the powerful mother church of Cluny, comprised no fewer than 1,450 establishments – daughter abbeys, affiliates and priories – scattered for the most part over the territory of modern France, Spain, Italy, Great Britain and Germany; more than 15,000 monks, nuns, novices and oblates lived, worked and prayed there every day. Other religious orders (the Augustinians and later the Carthusians, Franciscans and Dominicans, among others) further swelled these already highly impressive figures: at the turn of the thirteenth century, the Cistercian Order consisted of more than 530 abbeys housing some 9,000 monks and novices. At this time, monks enjoyed uncontested prestige, and the monastic life attracted those who aimed at an ideal of perfection and wished to combine spiritual aspiration and social status.
Abbeys were like nerve centres at the heart of the countryside, with their churches often playing the role of rural parishes (in the Middle Ages 90% of the population lived in the country). As towns expanded, in the period between the eleventh and the thirteenth centuries, they acquired powerful urban communities which increased the ranks of the secular clergy. Though a spiritual and pastoral centre by its very essence, the medieval abbey could not remain content with that restrictive definition: densely populated with often brilliant and visionary personalities, it set itself up as a centre of development of literature, theology, philosophy, the sciences and the arts. Many were the monks, nuns, abbots and abbesses who formed the intellectual elite of the period: the Venerable Bede, Hildegard of Bingen, Bernard of Clairvaux, Abelard, Peter the Venerable, Thomas Aquinas, to name but a few.
Caroline JORÉ-GARRIGUES (translation: Charles Johnston), extract from the 20-page booklet included with the recording.
The early stages of Gregorian music
Chant of the Church of Milan, Chant from Benevento Cathedral, Chant of the Church of Rome
Byzantine influences, Old Roman Chant, Vespers of Easter Day, Ensemble Organum, Marcel Pérès
Gregorian Chant, Gallican responsories and monophonic chants, Deller Consort, Alfred Deller
Cistercian Chant, Responsories of Matins for the Feast of St Bernard, Ensemble Organum, Marcel Pérès
The Romanesque era
1000: Mass for the End of Time, The Great Pilgrimages, The Miracles of St James, Anonymous 4
Abelard and Heloise: from Saint-Denis to the Paraclete, Monastic Song, Towards the Gothic Era
Saint-Martial of Limoges and Aquitaine, Theatre of Voices, Paul Hillier
Toulouse (France), Les Jacobins Abbey, cloisters, 14th Century. Hervé Champollion / akg-images
Troper of St Martial of Limoges, psaltery player, first half of the 11th century, illuminated manuscript, Paris, National Library
The song of pilgrims, illuminated page taken from a guide for pilgrims, Codex Calixtinus, 12th Century, Archivio De La Cathedral De Santiago De Compostella. akg-images / De Agostini Picture Lib./G. Dagli Orti
Cover: Cistercian Abbey of Royaumont (founded in 1228 by king Louis IX) – Refectory (13th century). Olivier Martel/akg-images