Bede’s Book of Hymns

Reading on the Book of Cerne I noticed that people have wondered if a book in Fulda (and since lost) called Ympnarius Edilwaldi could be a copy the breviate psalter from the ‘prayerbook of Æthelwald’ in the Book of Cerne. Apparently some have also thought that this book was a source for Bede’s hymns in Germany. I guess we can propose anything since there is no list of its content, only a listing in a library catalog. Well, psalms are a type of hymn, so this made me wonder if Bede did refer to his abbreviated/breviate psalter in his list of works.

Bede’s list of handbooks or prayer books from the list of his works in the Ecclesiastical History (McClure and Collins, 1994: 295):

  • “A martryology of the festivals of the holy martyrs…”
  • A book of hymns in various metres and rhythms.:
  • “A book of epigrams in heroic and elegiac metre”
  • “Two books, one on the nature of things and the other on chronology: also one longer book on chronology”
  • “A book on the art of metre, and to this another, that is, concerning the figures and modes of speech or tropes, that is, concerning the figures and modes of speech with which the holy Scriptures is adorned.”

It is questionable if any of these are really prayer books, but they are as close as Bede gets to devotional books. It is possible that Bede would not have thought that his own devotional book was something to add to a publications list. The question remains open if his book of hymns could have included his abbreviated/breviate psalter.

There are few hymns known to be credited to be that were probably included in that book:

  • A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing possibly for the feast of Ascension.
  • Hymn of St Æthelthryth given within the History and said to have been written long ago.
  • Hail Harbinger of Morn on John the Baptist
  • ‘On Our Lady’s Birthday’ on the Assumption of Mary

Any thoughts from readers? Can “breviate psalters” be found collections of hymns?

Terminology can be such a bear… I just discovered that “abbreviated plasters” have been traditionally called “breviate psalters”. I wonder why the modern editors and scholars of Bede’s works never use this term and always use “abbreviated” rather than “breviate”, perhaps because they don’t think that modern people know what breviate means?

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One comment on “Bede’s Book of Hymns

  1. Probably because there would be confusion between the ‘breviary’ (i.e. the book of Divine Office that must be recited daily by those in holy orders) and ‘breviate’ anything. A novelist never introduces two characters in a row whose names begin with the same letter or syllable (Edwin, Edmund) and will use fancy tricks to stop that eye aggregation, even if it’s just adding an ‘a’ e.g. Eadwine and Œdmund, or whatever. Same principle, I think.

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