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.

Author Biography

Alison Altstatt is Assistant Professor of Musicology and Music History at the University of Northern Iowa. Her dissertation, “The Music and Liturgy of Kloster Preetz: Anna von Buchwald’s Buch im Chor in Its Fifteenth-century Context,” was awarded the American Musicological Society’s Alvin H. Johnson AMS-50 fellowship in 2010. Her previous publications have focused on the genres of the medieval sequence and the proper office, on the music and liturgy of medieval convents, and on digital scholarship in chant studies. In a 2016 study, she identifies fragments of the fourteenth-century Wilton Processional, once presumed lost.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Table 2.xlsx (18 kB)
Rogationtide Repertoire of Wilton Abbey

Table 1 .docx (20 kB)
Identified Leaves of the Wilton Processional



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.