The Benedictine convent of Wilton Abbey was among the wealthiest women’s religious communities in medieval England and home to an elite school for noble women. Until recently, a late thirteenth-century manuscript processional from Wilton was known only from a hand copy made circa 1860 at the Abbey of St. Pierre de Solesmes. The original manuscript was presumed lost. The recent identification of thirty-seven leaves of the original manuscript processional offers primary sources for the study of Wilton’s liturgy, and offers a means by which to assess the reliability of the nineteenth-century copy. The purpose of this study is to reconstruct the processional routes that the nuns of Wilton Abbey walked during Rogationtide: three days of open-air penitential processions that took place just prior to the Feast of the Ascension, accompanied by chanting, prayers, fasting, vernacular sermons, and the blessing of the crops and which included the participation of the laity. The reconstruction of the processions gives insight into the abbey’s liturgy and the sacred landscape of the town of Wilton, including the possible locations of churches and other landmarks that no longer exist. The Rogationtide processions mixed piety with politics: they reaffirmed both the abbess’s seigneurial authority and her influential position within the local ecclesiastical hierarchy. The relics of St. Edith, carried in procession, extended the power of the saint beyond the walls of the abbey, reminding outsiders of the community’s position as a powerful intercessor within the town of Wilton and beyond. At the same time, the singular sound of women’s voices chanting in prayer reminded the local people, clergy, and the nuns themselves, of their power and responsibility as intercessors on behalf of the community.
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Altstatt, Alison N.
"The Rogationtide Processions of Wilton Abbey,"
Yale Journal of Music & Religion:
2, Article 3.