Miserere: singing the final psalm

We are a week away from Holy Week. Jitterbugs we become. A lot of things are to look forward to during Holy Week, so much so that some of us experience that obscene sensation called excitement in the preceding days. Solemn and ancient liturgies often coax out a rare species of dedication to prepare and rehearse that the saner of our lot would call cramming. Left and right issue forth the trousseaus of damask and brocade earmarked for the hallowed days. Ceremoneers inventory all their servers and assign days for service, and rescue Holy Week ceremony books gathering dust in the sacristy drawer. Santeros and camameros fret about the missing accessory of their gerenciales. And choirs delve into their repertoire, vast or not, handpicking the de rigueur and rethinking the workable.

Una cofradía pasando por la calle Génova, Sevilla
Una cofradía pasando por la calle Génova, Sevilla | Alfred Dehodencq | 1851

Whether de rigueur or workable, one Holy Week piece commands admiration, exudes an unparalleled spellbinding appeal that has captivated, and continues to captivate for that matter, many souls, believers or not. It is Allegri’s Miserere, whose history is as interesting as the mystique surrounding its accessibility is mythological. Today, of course, when the ornamental technique so closely guarded by the papal choir has but faded, the restrictions having become quite likewise moot, or so we believe, we can experience its beauty from performances by historically-informed professional choirs.

The Miserere, of course, refers to psalm 50, the psalm whose first verse is chanted at the end of the Asperges every Sunday outside Eastertide. In the older praxis, the priest is expected to recite the entire psalm from memory while passing through the nave sprinkling blessed water. But this is not the part where the Miserere obtained its fame. Its stint in the Office of Darkness, the Officium Tenebrarum, what we fondly call tinieblas, is what poised it for the renown it was to acquire and accumulate. The tinieblas encompasses two canonical hours: matins and lauds. At the end of lauds, after the strepitus, that is, the din and crash signifying the astonishment of all creation at the death of the Son of God on the cross, those praying the Office, in a gesture of repentance and penance, recite the entirety of psalm 50, submissa voce and recto tono.

Up until 1955, the rubrics for its recitation indicated that it should be so. Choirs from many places of the world have for a long time chanted the psalm in ways equaling the respective variety of expertise and situation. After 1955, the reformers’ shears accidentally (or was it intentionally?) pruned it off the Office, so it officially ended its existence. But, for better or worse, fine taste and culture refused to submit to enforced desuetude. For that matter, since the Miserere gained fame during the Renaissance, we shall for the moment ignore its latter fate. The first time the Miserere was sung in the tinieblas was in the Sistine Chapel, in 1514, in the reign of Leo X. In the words of the then master of ceremonies of the Sistine Chapel, Paride de Grassi:

Office of Darkness, Wednesday, 1514. At the end the Cantors said the psalm Miserere with a new method: for they chanted the first verse while harmonising, and then alternately (with chant), which was well and devoutly executed.

Officium Tenebrarum. Die Mercurii 1514. In fine Cantores dixerunt psalmum Miserere cum novo modo ; nam primum versum cantarunt symphonizando, et deinde alternatim, quod fuit bene et devote.

The following day, however, the opposite transpired:

Thursday, Office of Darkness. The Cantors at the end, since they wanted to harmonise cleverly, rather than pleasingly, were not praised.

Die Iovis. Officium Tenebrarum. Cantores in fine cum vellent symphonizare doctius, quam suavius, non fuerunt laudati.

On Friday, the papal choir returned to the original composition. And so, having thus weighed and found wanting, this composition never even received the honour of being included in the Sistine Chapel’s collection of misereres. The positive result of this tentative attempt is the fact that it launched a three-century love story that climaxed with Gregorio Allegri. The milestones of this project, the significant plot developments of this love story, according to Giuseppe Baini, are below:

1517 Costanzo Festa 2 verses of 4vv and 5vv
1533 Luigi Dentice 2 verses of 5vv and 4vv
1582 Francisco Guerrero 2 verses of 4vv
1588 Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina 2 verses of 4vv and 5vv
After 1601 Teofilo Gargano 2 verses of 4vv and 5vv
Giovanni Francesco Anerio 2 verses of 4vv and 5vv
Felice Anerio 2 verses of 4vv and 5vv with last verse of 9vv
Unknown 2 verses of 4vv
Giovanni Maria Nanino 2 verses by Palestrina with last verse of 9vv
after 1617 Sante Naldini 4vv with last verse of 8vv
after 1599 Ruggiero Giovanelli 4vv with last verse of 8vv
1638 Gregorio Allegri 5vv and 4vv with last verse of 9vv
1680 Alessandro Scarlati 4vv and 5vv with last verse of 9vv
1714 Tommaso Bai 5vv and 4vv, with last verse of 8vv
1768 Giuseppe Tartini 5vv and 4vv, with last verse of 8vv
1777 Pasquale Pisari 5vv and 4vv, with last verse of 9vv
1821 Giuseppe Baini 5vv and 4vv, with last verse of 9vv

In due time, the sequence was fixed: Baini on Spy Wednesday, Bai on Maundy Thursday, Allegri on Good Friday. This was for the Sistine Chapel, where the pope attended the Office. The canons of the patriarchal basilica of Saint Peter, canonically bound to the recitation of the Office in choro, chanted their own Tenebrae wherein the Miserere of Valentino Fioravanti was sung on Spy Wednesday, Francesco Basili’s on Maundy Thursday, and Niccolò Antonio Zingarelli’s on Good Friday. But of all the masterpieces here mentioned, alone Allegri’s reached the zenith of legend.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

[1] Giuseppe Baini, Memorie storico-critiche della vita e delle opere di Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1828 Rome).
[2] Charles Michael Baggs, The ceremonies of Holy-Week at the Vatican and St. John Lateran’s described (1839 Rome).


A life dedicated to prayer


Pope Benedict


29 June 1951
Ordained priest
28 May 1977 Consecrated bishop
27 June 1977 Created cardinal
19 April 2005 Elected pope

Lent, Benedict XIV, and sacred music

Today is the 269th anniversary of the promulgation of Annus, qui hunc, which set forth guidelines on ecclesiastical discipline and sacred music. Benedict XIV, concerned about the spiritual welfare of Catholics who would go on pilgrimage in Rome in the Jubilee Year of 1750, as well as the opinion of other visitors during said time, issued the encyclical a year ahead of the celebrations.

Borrás Abellá - En el coro
En el coro | Vicente Borrás Abellá | 1890

The epoch may be remote, but the problems Benedict XIV identifies and attempts to remedy are as fresh as a pulsating newly-caught catfish. With this, we invite everyone to re-read the encyclical towards the end of this post, either in the original Latin or in the full English translation we provided. We opened a series quoting in three parts the words of the encyclical on organ music (here, here, and here). If the length daunts us, then let us offer it as penance this Lent.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

Alleluia’s farewell in the Mozarabic Rite (a followup)

As we are all aware, unless we are following a different calendar, today is the First Sunday of Lent. In the Mozarabic Rite, it is called Dominica in carnes tollendas. In both Mass and Office, the alleluia receives a sort of standing ovation as it departs the repertory of the ensuing days leading to Easter. Also, since pre-Lent vanished in the novus ordo (or was it banished?), this Sunday, rather than Septuagesima Sunday, is closer to the last day of the alleluia.

Simonet - Flevit super illam
Flevit super illam | Enrique Simonet Lombardo | 1892

We thought people might be interested in the improvisation below on the hymn Alleluia piis (we are still preparing our transcription), courtesy of Professor Luca Ricossa of the Haute école de musique de Genève. This hymn, assigned to vespers of the First Sunday of Lent in the Mozarabic Rite, we discussed on the eve of Septuagesima Sunday.

The Mozarabic notation of the hymn is actually different, with a noticeable prolix neume group on the Alleluia perenne. With the current state of Mozarabic chant scholarship, the adiastematic notation remains melodically undecipherable.

We have already said farewell to the alleluia three weeks ago, of course, and hopefully, we have thusly spent Forelent readying our mind and body, our soul and flesh, to intensify those rigours that shall certainly redouble our joy and mirth come Easter Sunday.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

Lent and psalm tone

Penitential seasons, one observes, are when Holy Mother Church returns to Her liturgical roots. We notice the unmistakable traces of austere Roman-ness in our Lenten liturgies, a character that intensifies as we approach closer to Holy Week. It is during the entire season of Lent when every feria is honoured with a complete set of readings distinct from that of the Sunday and of the other ferias. We can therefore generally look forward to singing an entirely different piece of Gregorian chant on each of the forty days of Lent.


Sacromusically speaking, we can expect chant to be sublime and grave. We see a lot of even-numbered modes. Cantors, in fact, who cultivated the Gregorian repertoire for Holy Week tracts, built their comfort zone around the plagal of the Dorian mode. But what is perhaps the most chorally striking about Lent itself is that on its first and last Sundays the longest tracts in the Graduale Romanum are sung. The sheer length of these tracts—Qui habitat for the First Sunday of Lent, and Deus, Deus meus for Palm Sunday—understandably terrifies us cantors and choristers to such a point that for fear of attracting attention either to our indiscreet polyphonies, or to our vocal insecurities, or to our wandering key, we usually whimper into a corner of the choir loft and sing out the tracts in psalm tone.

And so Lent also unmasks our ongoing incapacity to own Gregorian chant, to treat it as a treasure worth displaying in its full glory. For, in reality, the temptation to retreat into the undemanding exercise of psalmodic chanting plagues us the whole year round. Peace is to a succession of puncta and virgæ, as chaos is to a scandicus subbipunctis and a torculus resupinus initio debilis. It is fashionably modernist to think that complexity is a disease, and that its medicine is simplicity. How easily we are egged on to equate time-honoured complexity with hierarchical arrogance and no-nonsense simplicity to self-effacing humility. We do not pride ourselves as modernists, but the idea of simplicity still interests us, usually qualified as noble. And, sadly, we have been deceived that the lingering tradition of psalmodising Gregorian chant has had an ennobling effect on this brand of simplicity.


History teaches us otherwise. Psalmodising Gregorian chant, in due time, created a humiliating effect on simplicity. The practice altered churchly thought processes, pointing at a direction of a more radical way forward. We have already humbled sacred music by resolving the extraneous salicus, the whimsical porrectus, the contentious quilismata into harmless puncta, to the barest and merest chant grapheme, why cut back in our adventure now? And we wonder why the people enacting the reforms after Vatican II entertained neither trepidation nor indignity in subordinating Gregorian chant, sanctified for centuries in the lips of our saints, to alios cantos aptos, endorsed by eccentrics more for their latent sloganeering than for their liturgical suitability, no. 116 of Sacrosanctum Concilium notwithstanding.

In the usus recentior, an element of enforced uniformity ensures that alii canti apti preferentially remain in the forefront of music in the consecrated edifice. We are thankful, at least, that the modern concept of uniformity attracts weaker clout in the usus antiquior. That is, no one can force us to use psalm tone or use authentic Gregorian melodies, although instructions and decrees govern the exercise of sacred music. We know that approved books for both options are available, and we know that the former practice is tolerated by decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites. Publication and toleration, however, are not a culmination that leads to naught.


We like to think that the monks of Solesmes did not compile the Chants abrégés to replace the Graduale Romanum or the Liber usualis. They have worked so dearly to reestablish Gregorian chant in its pristine form and practice, why would they want to throw everything out of the window in 1930? In the same vein, it would be criminal to think that Father Rossini published his psalmodic propers around the same time with the intention of replacing Gregorian propers themselves. After all, his mandate from the bishop of Pittsburgh was to carry out the reforms outlined by Pius X in Tra le sollecitudini, not invent something else. There is, therefore, a common denominator in these two efforts so seemingly separated by distance, and that is the perennial concern and maternal affection of Holy Mother Church for Her children. She understands that not every Catholic can readily cast out the old corrupted praxis and with tantamount haste embosom chant as restored by ongoing scholarship. Chants abrégés indeed advises:

These abbreviated chants are meant exclusively for churches where it is not possible to execute in a convenient manner all the melodies of the Graduale Romanum, and for those which tolerate a simple psalmody of the sacred texts (S. C. R., decree 3697, at 5). Anywhere there exist sufficiently skilled choirs, they should make use of the official chant from the Graduale Romanum.

Ces chants abrégés sont destinés exclusivement aux églises ou il n’est pas possible d’exécuter de façon convenable toutes les mélodies du Graduel Romain, et pour lesquelles on tolère la simple psalmodie des textes sacres (S. C. R. n° 3697). Partout où il existe des chœurs suffisamment exercés on doit s’en tenir au chant officiel du Graduel.

But we need to look beyond this horizon. Boldly we shall claim here what we would otherwise acquiesce to ignore: that psalmodic chant is not an end in itself, to which alone we should aspire to gain impeccable virtuosity. It is not even a paradigm where we can elect to situate ourselves in our attempt to avoid the disagreement between ictualists and semiologists. It is, rather surprisingly, a tool, a methodology, at our employ to attain that supreme goal of mastering Gregorian chant. We, therefore, join fellow workers in the Lord’s vineyard who had noised abroad the oft-overlooked preeminence of the Graduale Romanum [1].

Holy Mother Church believes that we can learn the chant that sanctified hundreds and thousands of Christians before us. It would be a monumental failure on our part if we detect in these psalm-toned propers nothing but an invitation to isolate ourselves in basic simplicity, rather than an encouragement to build steps around that facility and ascend to the summit of sacred music. For these simplified chants personify a foretaste of that heavenly harmony, that holy terror, that hope for the Beatific Vision, we often associate with well-executed Gregorian chant.


The objective to restore Gregorian chant, driven by paleography, obtained its momentum in the 19th century from the realisation that there was something wrong with what we chanted and how we chanted it, a thorny question that continues to evolve and inspire debate across different disciplines. It was, ultimately, the same festering wound that Charlemagne decided to remedy in 774 A.D., rectifying Frankish chant through a return to the source that was Roman chant [2]. Unfortunately, when some wounds heal, they leave scars. Our inability to wean ourselves from the ease of psalmodic chant cements that blight, that scar, that continues to disfigure the face of sacred music we so zealously claim to defend and uphold.

And we decry this because sacred music and sacred liturgy are inseparable. Qui bene cantat, bis orat, Saint Augustine is thought to have said [3]. “The chant proper to the liturgy” ought to be “the liturgy itself in chant”, says Maestro Fulvio Rampi [4]. Often, it is the gradual, the alleluia, the tract, and the offertory that fall under the scythe of our beholden dedication to psalmodic chant. We thus redouble our disapproval because oftentimes these are the most beautiful parts of the propers of the Mass.

For this we reecho the plea of our predecessors in the choral office: In this holy season of Lent, let us sprint to that extra mile, let us deny our hankering for ease, let us stir our dormant spirits, and sing in full the chants that Holy Mother Church keeps in Her liturgical treasury.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

[1] Jeffrey Tucker, Fr. Rossini’s Proper Settings (23 October 2007): New Liturgical Movement (2007) http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2007/10/fr-rossinis-proper-settings.html
[2] John the Deacon, De vita Gregorii Magni bk. 2, ch. 9: PL 75 (1845) 91; cf. Monk of Angoulême, Vita Caroli Magni ch. 8.
[3] Saint Augustine, Exposition on Psalm 72: PL 36 (1845) 914.
[4] Fulvio Rampi, Il canto gregoriano: un estraneo in casa sua (16 January 2013): Chiesa (2013) http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1350249.html.

Happy 9th anniversary!

Today, we turn 9 years.

Choir at 9

We came to the Traditional Latin Mass under different circumstances. We stayed. And, in 2009, we decided to sing. Eleven of us gathered in that first practice we ever had to stake our future on Attende, Domine, glowing nonchalantly on the back of our heads the enervating sun of that second Saturday in February 2009, right after afternoons began to swelter, when the amihan would usually and disappointingly whimper into a mere memory of Siberian coldness.

Choir demographicsIn the course of our nine years the demographic of this first eleven has become a fascinating factoid, not because our youngest was then a teenager and our oldest not yet quartering a century, nor because most of us were still working for our undergraduate degrees, but astonishingly because most of us unexpectedly and perplexingly came from that institution, which, as a neonate, allegedly received in 1910 the moniker la escuela del diablo thanks to a parish priest from Surigao [1]. It must really be quite disarming that most of the first members of the choir—many came and went; many stayed—pursued and finished their education in the University of the Philippines (click on that doughnut graph and look!).

Novem abhinc annos, we continue to whittle down a little and swell up a little. And so we soldier on, in season and out of season. Not because change is so fearsome we would rather bury our heads in our enormous chant books, but because nothing out there can quite replace the beauty of the sacred music we are privileged to sing and experience in the Traditional Mass. “We carry a mission transcending time and space: the transmission of Tradition that has gained for the Church triumphant greater glory in heaven, the Church militant assiduous warriors on earth, and the Church suffering spiritual respite in purgatory” [2].

Deo gratias !

[1] Michael Tan, American UP (8 January 2008): PDI.
[2] Siniculus, Spes Ecclesiæ juventus (17 February 2014): Dei præsdio fultus (2014) http://deipraesidiofultus.blogspot.com/2014/02/spes-ecclesiae-juventus.html.

Honouring the Holy Face

Holy Face on the Shroud of Turin
Holy Face of Jesus on the Shroud of Turin, from the 1898 negative taken by Secondo Pia

Devotion to the Holy Face of the Lord is now widespread throughout the Catholic Church, broadly associated with the negative image of the Shroud of Turin, first obtained and developed by Secondo Pia unsuccessfully on 25 May 1898 and successfully three days later, which were initially received with scepticism. Using this image, the first Holy Face medal was coined in 1936, after Giuseppe Enrie’s photographs in 1932 corroborated Pia’s own work. Devotion, however, to the Holy Face, started way before the Turin photographs. An ancient manuscript missal in Saint Peter’s Basilica prints a collect ad faciem Christi. The more recent Missale Votivum Terræ Sanctæ, likewise, contains a full Mass that used to be celebrated in the sixth station of the Via Crucis.

France figures particularly in the establishment of this devotion, for in the missals and breviaries of many French dioceses—Périgueux, Meaux, Marseilles, to name a few—print in its entirety the pre-Leonine and pre-Pian proper Mass and Office of the Holy Face of the Lord. (In these aforesaid sees, the feast is kept on the Ember Friday of Lent, and is styled as the feast of Most Holy Face of Christ Disfigured in the Passion.) In fact, it was at the request of the archbishop of Tours that, on 1 October 1885, Leo XIII erected the Archconfraternity of the Holy Face of Jesus. This act awoke a great enthusiasm, supported and championed by bishops of sees where the archconfraternity established itself, that necessitated the decree, dated 16 February 1889, extending indulgences. Furthermore, it was to the see of Cambrai that, on 9 November 1908, Pius X authorised the Mass Humiliavit for the feast of the Holy Face. Later, in a decree on 13 July 1910, the Sacred Congregation of Rites approved the proper collects for the Mass, extended by decree to the Benedictine Sylvestrine Order on 15 March 1957, and to the Capuchins in the Sanctuary of the Holy Face in Manopello on 23 February 1963.

Ciseri - Il trasporto di Cristo al sepolcro
Il trasporto di Cristo al sepolcro | Antonio Ciseri | 1883

Today, certain places will be celebrating the feast of the Holy Face of the Lord. By God’s grace, we will be attending the Votive Mass of this feast in the presence of the relics of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. (Notice the connection: Holy Face, France, Saint Therese of Lisieux.) For this occasion, which in itself is as rare as 2018 having three blue moons, we prepared two pieces.

O adorandi (alternate)The first one harks back to the old Office of the French sees. Assigned to Vespers in this Office is the hymn O adorandi, written in the handsome Sapphic Adonic metre, which simply melts our heart. (Ut queant laxis, the first and sixth syllables of whose first three verses became the names of the notes of the mediaeval hexachord, is in Sapphic Adonic.) In this vein, O adorandi appears here in our chant setting (click the thumbnail to open the file), alternated with the melody of Iste Confessor from the Antiphonarium Pictaviense.

The second one we prepared owes its words from the seven-fold poem Rhythmica oratio in trochaic tetrameter ascribed either to Saint Bonaventure or to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux or to Arnulf of Leuven, which debuted centonised under the title Membra Iesu nostri patientis sanctissima (BuxWV 75) in 1680 in the hands of Dieterich Buxtehude. This poem is composed of seven parts, addressing each of the seven wounds of the Lord: first, on His feet; second, on His knees; third, on His hands; fourth, on His side; fifth, on His chest; sixth, on His heart; and seventh, on His face. This last part begins with Salve, caput cruentatum, which inspired first a German translation by Paul Gerhardt, O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden, to which Johann Crüger (publisher of the hymnal where the translation appeared) applied a simplified version of Hans Leo Hassler’s Mein G’müt ist mir verwirret, a confluence eventually arranged by Johann Sebastian Bach for the Passio Domini nostri Iesu Christi secundum Evangelistam Matthæum (BWV 244). James Waddel Alexander, a Presbyterian minister, translated the German into English as O Sacred Head, now wounded. Henry Williams Baker, Bart., an Anglican vicar, revised this by using the original Latin, and produced the more known (at least it is the translation used in the hymnal from which we sing this hymn) version O Sacred Head, surrounded.

Salve, caput cruentatumBut here (click the thumbnail to open the file) we used the Latin, set to music by Father Carlo Rossini, an Italian priest working in the diocese of Pittsburgh to implement the reforms of Pius X with respect to sacred music, upon invitation by the then bishop Hugh Boyle. This piece appears as hymn no. 75 in the 1935 Canticum novum. Two things to note on the as-is piece: first, it centonises the original, meaning only some verses were selected from the poem to form the lyrics of the current piece; second, the central solo part takes its words from the fourth part of the original poem, Salve, latus Salvatoris. Our version preserves the centonisation but replaces the central solo part with centoes from the seventh part of the original poem.

Shrove Tuesday received its name from the archaic English word shrive, which focuses on the activity of priests with respects to penitents (hearing confession, assignment of penance, and absolution).

Losev - The parable of the prodigal son
Блудный сын | Николай Дмитриевич Лосев | 1882

We confess; the priest shrives. The word is thusly used. Let us, therefore, sanctify this day by being shriven.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

Reference: Stefano Pedica, O. S. B., The Holy Face in the documents of the Church (1975: New York) ed. 3, part. I, ch. 3.

Schedule: Ash Wednesday 2018

Ash Wednesday will be on 14 February this year. We are fortunate this year to have the pilgrim relics of Saint Therese of Lisieux in the parish where we sing for the Traditional Latin Mass from the evening of 13 February until the morning of 14 February.

Schedule - Ash Wednesday

In some places and congregations, Shrove Tuesday, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, is the feast day of the Image of the Holy Face of our Lord Jesus Christ. (We have to mention the official title of the feast in view of the condemnation meted out by the Sacred Congregation of the Council to the devotion directly to the Holy Face of Jesus, a condemnation reiterated in the acts and decrees of the First Provincial Council of Manila and the First Plenary Council of the Philippines.)

Continue reading “Schedule: Ash Wednesday 2018”

A decision of great importance


Pope Benedict during Good Friday


11 February 2013
Announcement of resignation at the Vatican
28 February 2013 Final address at Castelgandolfo

Letter to Corriere della Sera dated 5 February 2018

Dear Mr. Franco,

I was moved that so many readers of your newspaper wanted to know how I am spending this last period of my life. I can only say in this regard that, in the slow decline of my physical strength, interiorly I am on a pilgrimage towards Home. It is a great grace for me to be surrounded, in this last leg of the road, sometimes a little tiring, by such love and such goodness that I could not have imagined. In this sense, I shall also consider the concerns of your readers as a company for some time. I cannot, therefore, help but thank you, in assuring all of you of my prayer on my part.

Warm regards,
Benedict XVI

Caro Dott. Franco,

mi ha commosso che tanti lettori del Suo giornale desiderino sapere come trascorro quest’ ultimo periodo della mia vita. Posso solo dire a riguardo che, nel lento scemare delle forze fisiche, interiormente sono in pellegrinaggio verso Casa. È una grande grazia per me essere circondato, in quest’ ultimo pezzo di strada a volte un po’ faticoso, da un amore e una bontà tali che non avrei potuto immaginare. In questo senso, considero anche la domanda dei Suoi lettori come accompagnamento per un tratto. Per questo non posso far altro che ringraziare, nell’ assicurare da parte mia a voi tutti la mia preghiera.

Cordiali saluti,
Benedetto XVI

Twenty-six martyrs of Japan

Four hundred twenty-one years ago, 5 February 1597, twenty-six Catholics—four (three Spanish, one Mexican) Discalced Franciscan friars, two (one Spanish, one Indian) Franciscan lay brethren, three Japanese Jesuit priests, and seventeen Japanese Franciscan tertiaries—received their crown on martyrdom, upon orders of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, on Nishizaka Hill. Thirty years later, on 14 September 1627, Urban VIII raised them to honour of the altar, issuing likewise the bull Salvatoris et Domini nostri, granting the privilege to celebrate the feast of Saint Peter Baptist and his XXII Franciscan Companions to all three orders of the Friars Minor and to the Archdiocese of Manila, and a similarly-worded bull to the Society of Jesus transmitting the privilege to celebrate the feast of Saint Paul Miki, Saint John Goto and Saint James Kisai. Read more details here.

Veintiséis mártires del Japón | Litografía de Escarpizo | s.f.

Two years later, the historic beatification was feted with great fanfare in Intramuros, on 2 February 1630, feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin. Below is the account recorded in the Compendio histórico de la Apostólica Provincia de San Gregorio de Filipinas of grand celebrations:

On the day of the Purification of Our Lady in the year 1630, at two in the afternoon, the procession left our Convent in Manila through the principal gate, which faces [the church of] Saint Augustine. Four groups of the Regiment formed the head of this said procession, which groups went marching with their master-of-camp and officials. Immediately followed a standard of the Saviour, and a reed trio with other instruments, and a dance; after this went the appareled [processional] cross and the candlesticks, accompanied by their music; twelve persons followed with twelve candles of white wax, who went lighting up [a standard of] one of the Holy Martyrs of Japan, hanging from a pole, in a frame richly adorned, which the priest, vested and with choral cape, carried. In this same conformity went the other Japanese saints, each having taken into their account other such towns which painstakingly laboured for their display, and in the variety of dances and detonations which accompanied said saints, in which admiration ought to be well noted. After the Holy secular Japanese Martyrs followed the religious, whom a standard of crimson damask preceded, in whose field were depicted as though alive three on each side, which standard the factor Don Cristóbal de Mercado carried in the midst of two other royal officials, the treasurer and the auditor. The sculpted images followed this painting, each in its bier, richly bedecked, whose cost was estimated to be two million. The first bier of Saint Gundizalvus [San Gonzalo García] was carried by students of the College of Saint Joseph, students of the Most Reverend Jesuit Fathers. The second bier of Saint Francis of Saint Michael [San Francisco de San Miguel de la Parrilla] was carried by the friars of our community [Franciscans]. The bier of Saint Philip of Jesus [San Felipe de Jesús de las Casas] was carried by the Most Reverend Recollect Friars. The bier of Saint Francis Blanco [San Francisco Blanco] was carried by the Most Reverend Jesuit Fathers. Following these is the very same cross, upon which Saint Martin of the Ascension [San Martín de la Ascensión] was crucified and pierced, which cross our Venerable confrère Fray Antonio de Santa María carried. After this same cross followed the image of the said Saint Martin, accompanied by the Most Reverend Augustinian Friars. Following these was the mantle of Saint Peter Baptist, richly bedecked, and upraised upon a pole, which Fray Diego del Villar, our Definitor, carried. Following this mantle is the original tablet upon which was written the sentence which the Emperor Taikosama [Toyotomi Hideyoshi] pronounced against these said Holy Martyrs, which tablet Fray Juan Bautista, friar of this Province [of Saint Gregory the Great] and actual Guardian of our Convent in Manila, carried. Following this sentence was the community of Our Father Saint Dominic, which carried the image of Saint Peter Baptist. Finally, the image of Our Father Saint Francis followed, which four dignities of the Holy Cathedral Church of Manila carried, whom the rest of the cathedral chapter and the clergy accompanied, while presiding over everyone the Most Illustrious Lord Bishop of Cebú, Don Fray Pedro de Arce, actual administrator of the archbishopric, in pontifical vestments, accompanied by the Most Reverend Provincials of the Sacred Religious Orders, with choral capes. At the end of the procession is the Governor [General] of the Islands, Don Juan Niño de Tabora, with his Royal Audience, the City, and the rest of its neighbouring districts, all richly vested. Thus [the procession] arrived in the cathedral, and vespers began, which the said Lord Bishop of Cebú officiated, sung by seven choirs conducted by Fray Martín de Carmona, our confrère, distinguished musician, as choirmaster. With vespers, the first demonstration of that day ended, followed at night by various fireworks display. And in all of the remaining days, there were sermons and sung Masses with all grandeur and solemnity, and in the afternoon, comedies and bullfights and other festive entertainments.

Día de la Purificación de Nuestra Señora de año mil seiscientos y treinta, a las dos de la tarde, salió la procesión de nuestro Convento de Manila por la puerta principal, que mira a San Agustín. Daban principio a dicha procesión cuatro compañías del Tercio, que iban marchando con su maestre de campo, y oficiales. Inmediatamente se seguía un estandarte del Salvador, y un terno de chirimías, con otros instrumentos, y una danza; tras esta iba la cruz de manga, y ciriales, acompañada de su música: seguíanse doce personas con doce hachas de cera blanca, que iban alumbrando a uno de los santos mártires [japoneses], pendiente de una asta, en un cuadro ricamente adornado, que llevaba el preste, revestido, y con capa de coro. En esta misma conformidad iban los demás santos [japoneses], habiendo tomado a cada uno de ellos por su cuenta otros tantos pueblos, que se esmeraron en su lucimiento, y en la variedad de danzas, e invenciones, que acompañaba a dichos santos, en que tuvo bien que notar la admiración. Después de los santos mártires [japoneses] seglares, seguían los religiosos, a quienes precedía un estandarte de damasco carmesí, en cuyo campo iban retratados al vivo, en cada reverso tres, el cual llevaba el [factor] Don Cristóbal de Mercado, en medio de los otros dos oficiales reales, tesorero, y contador. Seguíanse a esta pintura las imágenes de talla, cada uno en sus andas, ricamente aderezadas, cuyo costo se avaluó por dos millones. Las primeras andas del Santo Fr. Gonzalo lo cargaban los colegiales de San José, alumnos de los RR. PP. Jesuitas. Las segundas del Santo Fr. Francisco de la Parrilla, o de San Miguel, llevaban los religiosos nuestros, acompañados de nuestra Comunidad. Las del Santo Fr. Felipe de Jesús llevaban los RR. PP. Recoletos. Las del Santo Fr. Francisco Blanco cargaban los RR. PP. Jesuitas. A estos se seguía la misma cruz, en que había sido crucificado, y alanceado el Santo Fr. Martín de la Ascensión, la cual llevaba nuestro V. Fr. Antonio de Santa María. A esta cruz se seguía la imagen de dicho Santo Fr. Martín, acompañada de los RR. PP. Agustinos. Seguíase a estos el manto de San Pedro Bautista, ricamente aderezado, y elevado en una asta, que llevaba Fr. Diego del Villar, Definidor nuestro. A dicho manto se seguía la tabla original, en que estaba escrita la sentencia, que contra dichos santos mártires pronunció el Emperador Taicósama, la cual llevaba Fr. Juan Bautista, padre de esta Provincia, y Guardián actual de nuestro Convento de Manila. Seguíase a dicha sentencia la Comunidad de N. P. Santo Domingo, que cargaba la imagen de San Pedro Bautista. Últimamente se seguía la imagen de N. P. S. Francisco, que cargaban cuatro dignidades de la Santa Iglesia Catedral de Manila, a quienes acompañaba lo restante del cabildo eclesiástico, y clerecía: presidiendo a todos el Ilustrísimo Sr. Obispo de Cebú D. Fr. Pedro de Arce, Gobernador actual del Arzobispado, vestido de Pontifical, y acompañado de los RR. PP. Provinciales de las Sagradas Religiones, con capas de coro. Daba fin a dicha procesión el Gobernador de las Islas, D. Juan Niño de Tabora, con su Real Audiencia, ciudad, y lo restante de sus vecinos, todos ricamente vestidos. Llegó así a la catedral, y se comenzaron las vísperas, que ofició dicho Sr. Obispo de Cebú, y se cantaron a siete coros, llevando al compás, como maestro de capilla, Fr. Martín de Carmona, religioso nuestro, insigne músico. Con las vísperas se finalizó la primera demostración de aquel día, siguiéndose a la noche varias invenciones de fuegos. Y en todos los restantes días hubo sermones, y misas cantadas, con toda grandeza, y solemnidad; y por las tardes comedias, toros, y otros festivos entretenimientos.

Let us implore the intercession of these martyrs!

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

Reference: Domingo Martínez, Compendio histórico de la Apostólica Provincia de San Gregorio de Filipinas (1761: Madrid) bk. I, ch. 55, n. 491.