The Manuscript

The Bangor Pontifical is the only complete liturgical manuscript known to survive from the medieval diocese of Bangor. Inscribed as belonging originally to Anian, bishop of Bangor, it is now confidently dated to the first quarter of the fourteenth century. It contains texts, music 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. Well over 100 choir chants are written out in full, some of them also duplicated in other parts of the Pontifical. Several of the melodies are known only from this source. The presence of so much written-out music suggests that the manuscript was shared by the bishop’s associated schola, a term that appears several times in the manuscript’s rubrics and clearly implies a small group of singers.

The personal function of the Pontifical is reflected in its size and portability: it originally measured just 300 mm x 175 mm (though it has since suffered from careless cropping). Its text was copied by a single scribe who recorded the identity of the first owner on the last page, f. 164v: ‘Iste liber est pontificalis domini aniani bangor’ epi[scopi]’ (‘this book is the Pontifical of the lord bishop Anian of Bangor’). ‘Anian’ is almost certainly Anian Sais (‘Anian the English’), bishop of Bangor 1309−28, rather than his predecessor, Anian I, bishop from 1267 to 1305/6, a supposition strongly reinforced by the fine decorated full-page illumination on f. 8v of a bishop blessing a church which has strong links with other manuscripts from that period. The Pontifical nevertheless has some association with Anian I, who is referred to several times in a series of fifteenth-century additions made to the end fly-leaves. All of these confirm the book’s association with the bishops of Bangor, and all purport to be copies of earlier documents.

The Pontifical remained in the possession of the Bangor bishops for centuries; a note on f.164v records that Richard Ednam (bishop 1465−94) gave it to the cathedral in 1485, and two more inscribed names suggest that the first Elizabethan bishop of Bangor, Roland Mericke, may have withdrawn it for safe-keeping at a time when so many other books were destroyed. Another note on the front flyleaf records that it was ‘restored’ to the cathedral by Bishop Humphrey Humphreys in 1701, perhaps following the ravages of the Commonwealth. The manuscript still belongs to the Dean and Chapter of Bangor Cathedral, but is now housed in the Archive of Bangor University.

As a book made specifically for personal episcopal use, the Pontifical inevitably emphasizes those occasions where the presence of a bishop or archbishop was specifically required. Among the most important medieval episcopal rites were the dedication of a church and the enclosing of relics under the altar; ordination and admission to Holy Orders; visitation and excommunication; the anointing of monarchs; confirmation; the profession of a monk or nun; and consecration of miscellaneous objects or individuals. Bishops would also pronounce a special blessing during the Canon of the Mass (after the Pater noster) on Sundays and feast days, and the Bangor Pontifical contains a cycle of some 200 such benedictions for the whole liturgical year. However, like many other Pontificals, the manuscript also contains several additional rites that were normally administered by a parish priest rather than a bishop: those for the expulsion of penitents on Ash Wednesday and their reconciliation on Maundy Thursday, the last rites, the carrying of a body to the church, burial, and marriage, together with a group of votive masses.

Although the Pontifical bears no trace of a distinctive local ‘Welsh’ practice (still less the famed liturgical ‘Use of Bangor’ mentioned in the 1548 Book of Common Prayer), it is a highly significant witness to the early spread of the Use of Salisbury (Sarum) beyond that diocese and province. Sarum Use had reached St Davids as early as 1224 and was probably adopted in the St Asaph diocese in 1284, and in the Bangor diocese shortly afterwards. The Bangor Pontifical is still the most complete Pontifical affiliated to the ‘Sarum family’ known to survive, and both its unusually full notation and the wide range of ceremonies that it preserves leave us with an exceptionally valuable collection of liturgical material.

Click here for a list of the manuscript’s contents
Click here for a list of the musical items in the manuscript