Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2007 Issue

Rose's Books and the Cistercians


View from Fort Hill.

Each set of 4 books consists of enormous (13" x 19.5"), heavy (around 35 lbs.) elephant folio choir books used by Cistercian (Trappist) nuns and monks for their Latin and Gregorian choral Office and Mass. Folio-sized choir books are currently little-used, if at all, by monastic communities other than the Carthusians and the Cistercians of both observances, including the Trappists, and their availability for public purchase is exceedingly rare. The editions of these historically important choir books date from 1892, when the separate Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance (the Trappists) was set up and the reigning Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) had a special commission of abbots and cantors appointed to consider whether a new edition of the Order's plain-chant (i.e. Gregorian chant) books should be created which would include a restoration of the chant from the earliest Cistercian manuscripts. 

In 1893, it was decided that the Abbey of Westmalle would be the single and official printery for all Cistercian liturgical books and that in creating a new edition, the chant would be restored to that of the most ancient manuscripts held by the Order.  Westmalle's magnificent presses were acquired from the famous Plantin/Moretus press. Binding and decoration were entrusted to an atelier of the Westmalle Abbey, and later to individuals in the village who learned their trade from the Abbey's Father-director, who has always been its master-printer. It is thought that Westmalle obtained the necessary plates for publishing the books from the Desclées so that the neumatic notation and notation grouping which was now necessary for reproducing the ancient neumes of Cistercian provenance could be printed.

The choir books were acquired in 1949 from Westmalle. The four books we will be auctioning include the Graduale Cisterciense (a photographic facsimile reprint of the 1899 edition, printed in black and white);  the 2-volume Antiphonarium Cisterciensis (Pars Hiemalis et Vernalis and Pars Aestivalis et Autumnalis), reprinted by Westmalle in 1947 from the original edition plates, in black and red; and the Psalterium Davidicum, reprinted by Westmalle in 1952 from the original edition plates in black and red. These books have stunning engravings, elaborate capitals, and brass decorations.

The 1899 Graduale Cisterciense was an entirely new edition. It contains a title page, mandatum page, and a monitum page, which are all historically important.  The title page of the 1899 Gradual states that it is being published by reason of the authority of the Abbot General, Dom Sebastian Wyart, the first Abbot of the new Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance, and contains his personal coat-of-arms quartered with those of the Order of Citeaux. The title page is followed by a Mandatum, by the same Abbot-General and co-signed by his secretary dated 1 April 1899 which states "nihil innovatur etsi non nulla renoventur" (nothing new has been introduced even if many things have been renewed). The Monitum, which follows the Mandatum, states that the chant melodies are a re-introduction of the ancient ones found in the most primitive mss. and give practical directions for executing the chants. This book contains all the chants needed for the Mass texts contained in the Missale Cisterciense (the Cistercian Missal proper to the Order) and contains some of the most ancient chants in the Gregorian repertoire found in the Gradual for the Temporal Cycle.

Rare Book Monthly

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