AT the end of the domination of Napoleon i the monastic order, and in particular the traditional Benedictine family, was in worse case than at any time since the days of Benedict himself. [..]

THE monastic revival in France was the work of Prosper Guéranger (1805—75), a diocesan priest who conceived of his foundation of Solesmes (Sablé par Sarthe, 1833) as a revival and a model of the age-old liturgical spirituality of the church. 


  The Liturgical Year

SOLESMES became the mother-abbey of the congregation of France, which has come to include also abbeys in England, Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy, Canada, Mexico, Argentine and Martinique. Excluding all external activities, such as parochial, educational and agricultural undertakings, Solesmes has displayed a rich liturgical life and a considerable output of scholarship. The founder intended to revive the spirit of the Maurists, but in the event Solesmes and its off spring are rather in the tradition of Bec and other great abbeys of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Guéranger himself took an active part in the controversies that divided French Catholics in the matter of papal temporal power and papal infallibility, and aroused criticism in some quarters, but his works on the liturgy, in particular The Liturgical Year, were extraordinarily popular and influential in bringing his contemporaries to an appreciation of the riches of the missal and breviary.



He was followed at Solesmes by musicologists and executants of genius, such as Doms Pothier and Mocquereau, who presented from the manuscripts the plain chant of the golden age (AD 600—1100) and a choral performance that was for long superior to any other and which made of Solesmes the Mecca of ‘plain-chantists’. These scholars effectively rescued from oblivion the chant which had been debased and rejected for many centuries, and if some of the theory and execution that seemed unassailable has since been questioned, it is Mocquereau and Pothier who have provided material for a revision, should this prove needful. The collection and photographing of the innumerable manuscripts, the collation and assessment of the various traditions, and the constitution of a final text and its production in the form of gradual and antiphoner gave excellent and useful work for all types of talent, and when the fame of Solesmes grew there were courses of lectures and summer schools on the chant, to say nothing of the elaborate choral execution and performance for gramophone and wireless recording, when that became a possibility.



  Cantors in the Abbey Church

Cantors at Mass

Solesmes also had in Dom Pitra (1812—89), later cardinal and librarian of the Vatican, a liturgical scholar and orientalist of note, but the mother-abbey was surpassed in this field by the English house of Farnborough, founded in 1895 by the ex-empress Eugénie at the mausoleum of the ill-fated imperial dynasty. Here Abbot Cabrol, Dom Louis Gougaud and the legendary Dom Henri Leclercq, who with his own pen wrote the greater part, including every word in the later volumes, of the great Dictionnaire d’archéologie et de liturgie chrétienne. We may perhaps note that, whether by design or necessity, the abbey of Solesmes is architecturally wholly without the plan and appearance of a medieval abbey.

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