Fourth Sunday in Lent

April 24, 2009

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 Leaf from an Antiphonary:

Initial I with God commanding Moses to go to Egypt, Fourth Sunday in Lent 

Lombardy, Italy, c. 1485

Script: Rotunda

Parchment with ink, paint, and gold

Notation: Square


This initial begins the first response of the first nocturn of Matins for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, “Locutus est dominus ad Moysen didens descende in Egyptum …” (The Lord spoke to Moses saying, “Go down to Egypt.”)

Moses is pictured covering his face from the terrible greatness of God. This initial is very much a product of the early Renaissance in Italy: the architectural elements of the pillar with a swag and the urn are common to Renaissance decoration. Architectural elements appear throughout the decorations in this antiphonary.

Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E M 70:14


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Single leaf from a missal: First Sunday in Lent

Ottonian kingdom, 900-1000 AD

Script: Caroline minuscule

Notation: St. Gall

The ancient Greeks had developed a system of musical notation that differentiated between instrumental and sung music, and even indicated rhythmic value.  The practice of writing music, as well as the practice of many arts, vanished after the fall of Rome.


Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman emperor (742–814) restored learning and education to the Western world and the empire over which he reigned. He implemented a standardization of written text and music throughout his empire, which extended through much of modern-day Western and Central Europe. The emperor employed Alcuin, a scholar from England, to run a school and scriptorium in Aix-la-Chapelle, Charlemagne’s favored residence.  The resulting, highly legible script was Caroline minuscule.  A musical notation was developed, too, in the form of the so-called St. Gall notation, named after the abbey in St. Gall, modern-day Switzerland.


This leaf is written in Caroline minuscule, with unheightened or nondiastematic neumes. Neumes are the earliest notes used in plainchant, which is the monophonic unison chant of the Christian liturgies. Early on, they were squiggles and dots, like the ones displayed here. These neumes do not show the relative pitch between notes, and there is no indicated base pitch. None of these were necessary to the singer, however; the notation served as a reminder of the relative pitches to singers who would already have been familiar with the melody.


The text is 2 Corinthians 6:1-10, “Exhortamur (vos) ne in vacuum gratiam Dei recipiatis. . .” (We exhort you that you receive not the grace of God in vain), which is the Epistle of the Mass for the First Sunday in Lent.  It is followed by Psalm 90, which is sung as the Gradual of the Mass: “Angelis suis mandavit de te ut custodiant te in omnibus viis tuis. . .” (God has given His Angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways).

Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis Text Leaf 3:85