The Sarum Rite

"Sarum Rite," or "Use of Sarum," refers to the body of liturgical ritual, text, and music used at the Cathedral of Salisbury, in southern England, in the later Middle Ages. That liturgy, in the 13th century, became the standard for many English non-monastic institutions -- cathedrals (e.g. Hereford), minsters (e.g. York, Lincoln), churches, chapels, and colleges -- up to the time of the Reformation in the 16th century. It differed from the Roman Rite of the time by having some of its own melodies and texts, and celebrating its own local feasts. Even where (as is mostly true) it used the same material as Rome, its melodies often had distinctive variants.

For example, one of the glories of the Sarum repertory is the Marian antiphon Salve regina celorum, in the special and unique form in which SARUM sings it from time to time at the Compline of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Not only does the melody of the antiphon vary strikingly from the Roman, but it has in addition a "trope" exclusive to England: five stanzas of devotional poetry, set to an exquisitely distinctive melody. These verses are interleaved with the final acclamations of the antiphon to produce a haunting effect in the closing minutes of Compline.

The Sarum Rite supplied the foundation for the post-Reformation liturgy and music of the Church of England after the break with Rome in the 1530s. Moreover, its melodies form the musical basis for the golden era of English polyphony in the Tudor and Elizabethan periods. To perform the liturgy of the Sarum Rite is thus, among other things, to explore the roots of the Anglican liturgy.