Words and Music by Dr Ann Buckley
The Divine Office is a daily cycle of prayer, divided into eight ‘Hours’, such as Vespers, Matins, Lauds etc. In the Middle Ages, special texts and chants were composed for Holy Days, including feast-days of saints considered important to an individual community or locality. In the case of St Colmcille, whose feast is 9 June, two offices survive with music notation, one Irish, one Scottish, dating from the early 14th to the 15th centuries.
The Irish manuscript is a processional (a book containing chants for the office procession), used at the parish church of St John the Evangelist, Dublin, but probably originally from the neighbouring Christ Church Cathedral whose clergy served St John’s. It is now in Marsh’s Library Dublin. The Scottish source is a fragment of an antiphonary (a book containing all the music for the office) from Inchcolm Abbey, a 12th-century Augustinian foundation in the Firth of Forth dedicated to Colmcille.
Three pieces from these manuscripts can be heard at the links below. They are sung by the Amra Schola under the direction of Dr Ann Buckley. The recording was made at a live performance at Christ Church Cathedral Dublin on the 8th June 2019, the Vigil, or Eve, of the Feast. The performance was part of an event organised by Foras na Gaeilge and Bòrd na Gàidhlig to raise awareness of the 1500th anniversary of the birth of St Colmcille. The programme included a lecture by Dr Brian Lacey on St Colmcille, and story telling by Gearóidín Bhreathnach, and an illustrated lecture by Dr Ann Buckley on the liturgical offices of St Colmcille.
Texts and further information are available in a pdf file here.
The Amra Project
Amra (pronounced ‘avra’) is an Old Irish term for a eulogy or song of praise, as in the case of the famous eulogy for St Colm Cille (Columba) of Iona, Amra Choilm Chille.
The aim of the Amra project is to collect, study, and disseminate the corpus of offices for Irish saints in the medieval liturgy. A saint’s office (also known as Historia) was a specially composed cycle of prayers, chants, and sacred readings used to celebrate their feastday. These survive in manuscripts in research libraries throughout Europe, a witness to the lasting impact of Irish saints both in Ireland and through their extensive mission abroad.
The project is under the direction of Dr Ann Buckley, Medieval History Research Centre, Trinity College Dublin.
Foras na Gaeilge and Bòrd na Gàidhlig are grateful to Dr Ann Buckley, Director of the Amra Project, for permission to post the texts and recordings from the Office of St Columba.