News Archive

Wednesday 26 August 2020

The York Salve Regina

St Mary's Abbey

This Sunday at the conclusion of 12 o'clock Mass, the schola will sing the York Salve Regina.

The piece was sung at the Benedictine abbey of St Mary's, York prior to its destruction under King Henry VIII. Now only the ruins of the abbey may be seen, together with the Abbot's lodgings, now the King's Manor.

The York Salve is recorded in square-note notation in a late medieval manuscript of the abbey, moreover it is recorded as being part of vespers. This setting bears more than a passing resemblance to that used in the Dominican tradition. The manuscript, dating from 14th–15th century, is titled “Consuetudinary of St Mary's, York” and currently resides at St John's College, Cambridge. It is catalogued online here.

The text of the York Salve is worthy of note, differing from the text more commonly used these days. For example, observe the lack of the word mater at the very start. Usually we would expect Salve, Regina, Mater misericordiæ. In fact this is a more recent addition to the ancient text, the older version simply beginning Salve Regina misericordiæ i.e. “Hail, Queen of mercy”. The text is as follows:

Salve Regina miſericordie vita dulcedo et ſpeσ noſtra ſalve. Ad te clamamuσ exuleσ filii eve. Ad te ſuſpiramuσ gementeσ et flenteσ in hac lacrimarum valle. Eya ergo advocata noſtra illos tuoσ miſericordeσ oculoσ ad noσ converte. Et Jhm benedictum fructum ventriσ tui nobiσ poſt hoc exilium oſtende.

In addition to the main text, the setting is troped with three lamentations: (Which we hope to hear on another occasion)

1) Virgo mater eccleſie eterne porta glorie eſto nobiσ refugium apud patrem et filium. O clemenσ.
2) Virgo clemenσ virgo pia virgo dulciσ o matia exaudi preceσ omnium ad te pie clamantium. O pia.
3) Funde preceσ tuo nato crucifixo vulnerato et pro nobiσ flagellato ſpiniσ puncto felle potato. O dulciσ Maria.

Approximately translated,

1) “Virgin Mother of the Church, eternal gate of glory, be our refuge in the presence of the Father and the Son.”
2) “Virgin clement, virgin pious, virgin sweet, o Mary, hear all our prayers which to thee we piously cry.”
3) “Pour out our prayers to thy son who was crucified, wounded, and for us scourged, punctured by thorns, made to drink bile.”

The Use of York, once a vibrant liturgical tradition and a gem of the North of England, was suppressed under King Henry VIII and fell entirely out of use shortly thereafter. At least we may still appreciate its ancient beauty through this chant.