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The Bangor Pontifical Project

The Bangor Pontifical Project is an initiative of Bangor University’s 125th Anniversary Celebrations that represents a collaboration between the University and Bangor Cathedral. It will enable a hidden and precious treasure of medieval Bangor – the Bangor Pontifical – to be made universally accessible via a state-of-the art permanent high resolution website. The Pontifical is owned by the Dean and Chapter of Bangor Cathedral and it is still brought to the cathedral for special occasions, although it is now kept for safety in Bangor University Archive.

The Bangor Pontifical is an exceptional manuscript. It is the only complete liturgical manuscript known to survive from the medieval diocese of Bangor, and one of just two extant books from medieval Wales as a whole to contain substantial plainchant notation. Inscribed as belonging originally to Anian, bishop of Bangor, it is now confidently dated to the first quarter of the fourteenth century. (Anian 'Sais' was bishop of Bangor between 1309 and 1328.) It contains texts and detailed instructions for liturgical observances conducted by a bishop: the dedication of churches, altars and cemeteries; the enthronement and consecration of an archbishop; and special blessings given during the canon of the Mass and on other specific occasions. The manuscript also contains a very substantial corpus of plainchant, all copied onto a four-line stave. Several of these chants are known from no other source.

The Bangor Pontifical Project will provide global access to this unique manuscript. The newly commissioned website will enable users, both at home and via a terminal in Bangor Cathedral itself, to examine the book in its entirety, to zoom in on its intricate decoration and musical notation, and to hear some of the chants performed. Webpage technology provides tools for probing research into the material culture of medieval manuscripts, and will raise challenging and topical questions relating to the Pontifical: its liturgical function, local responses to the dominant ecclesiastical authorities, and the relationship between Welsh, Roman and English cultures.

The Project Team

The project involves collaboration between Bangor Cathedral, the Bangor University Archive, and Bangor University College of Arts and Humanities. It is led jointly by Dr Sally Harper (Senior Lecturer in Music), who has worked on the Pontifical over a number of years, and Dr Sue Niebrzydowski (Research Lecturer in Medieval English), an expert in codicology. They are supported by Mr Einion Wyn Thomas (University Archivist) and Professor Helen Wilcox (Director of IMEMS, the Research Institute for Medieval and Early Modern Studies, Universities of Bangor and Aberystwyth).

Progression of the Bangor Pontifical Project

The Bangor Pontifical Project is expected to run until at least October 2013, although the digital images of the manuscript have been available through this site since summer 2010. The launch of the fully completed website will be celebrated with an international conference on the wider subject of Pontificals, an exhibition featuring the Bangor Pontifical itself and associated materials from the period and the area, and publication of a bilingual collection of academic essays relating to the manuscript. The Project itself has three distinct phases.

Phase One: Conservation and Digitization (completed February 2011)

Phase 1, funded by a generous grant from the Welsh Assembly Government, began in February 2010 and was completed a year later. Following its disbinding in the Bangor Archive by Mr Julian Thomas, Head of the Conservation Unit at National Library of Wales, the Pontifical was digitized by Dr Julia Craig-McFeely, Co-Director of the specialist Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music (DIAMM). It was then taken to the NLW Conservation Unit in Aberystwyth for specialist repair work, where it received a new cover and a new box. The newly-conserved Pontifical returned to Bangor in October 2010 and was rededicated by the Bishop of Bangor in February 2011 in a special service in Bangor Cathedral.

Phase Two: Uploading of Digitized Images (completed August 2011)

The new digital images of the Bangor Pontifical were uploaded onto the DIAMM site in spring 2010, and were linked directly to this site in July 2010. Images from the closely related 'Coventry Pontifical' (held in Cambridge University Library), digitized for the Bangor Pontifical Project in early 2011, were subsequently linked to this site in August 2011.

Phase Three: Development of the Website (2010–2013)

The final phase of the Project involves the building of a brand new website for the Project by Oxford University Computing Services. This will comprise not only the full set of digital images with zoom facility, but also complete parallel transcriptions of text and music, translations, commentaries, and sound files of some of the plainchant melodies. In addition, there will be a series of interactive learning tools for students of palaeography, church history, music, worship and art, and special features suitable for children of school age. The website will also feature related videos and pod-casts. It is hoped that the new website will be completed by the end of 2013.