Room 3: Performing history: the Vicenza Antiphonal

History can be performed and celebrated in a communal setting, as is shown by the magnificent ‘Vicenza Antiphonal’. An antiphonal (or antiphonary) is a liturgical book containing the sung parts of the Divine Office. This one was produced for the Church of St Mary in Vicenza, Italy in the fifteenth century, and it was sold in 1858 and bequeathed to Downside by Edmund Bishop (1846–1917), a prolific book collector and liturgical historian whose accessions included several medieval manuscripts. Once part of a twelve-volume set, each page of the Vicenza Antiphonal accommodates six long lines of text with accompanying music, and the book is lavishly decorated throughout with intricate capital letters and large historiated initials that illustrate scenes from the text. Written over five centuries ago, the music in this antiphonal is still sung by the present-day monks of Downside, thus forging a powerful link with the community’s medieval past.

Selected by María Abellán, MA student, University of Bristol.

Shown here are:
- two pages of the ‘Vicenza Antiphonal’ containing text and music;
- a page detail with musical notation;
- one of the book’s many illuminated initials.