Cappella Romana Holy Week in Jerusalem Program Notes – Part One

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Saturday, February 2nd, after their sold-out Bing Concert Hall debut, amid the natural acoustics of Memorial Church, Cappella Romana will perform music composed for 8th and 9th-century celebrations of Holy Week in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Great and Holy Friday in Jerusalem (Part One)

In the year 637 A.D. the orthodox Christian Patriarch Sophronios (d. 638) surrendered Byzantine Jerusalem to the Arab Caliph Umar, inaugurating a period of Muslim rule in the Holy City that would last until its conquest by Latin Crusaders in 1099. Although subject to tribute, Jerusalem’s Christian inhabitants retained the right to continue celebrating both for themselves and for visiting pilgrims its distinctive forms of worship. These services made extensive use of the shrines associated with life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that had been created with imperial patronage in the years that followed the legalisation of Christianity by the Emperor Constantine in 313.

Constantine and his mother Helen had sponsored the most important of these edifices: the cathedral complex of the Holy Sepulchre built on the accepted site of Jesus’ crucifixion and entombment. Its major components were a large basilica (the Martyrium), an inner atrium incorporating the hill of Golgotha, the Rotunda of the Anastasis (Resurrection) over Christ’s tomb, and a baptistry. Egeria, a Spanish pilgrim of the late fourth century, describes in her diary how every week the clergy, monastics and laity of late fourth-century Jerusalem would gather on Saturday evening and Sunday morning to remember the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus with readings, prayers and psalmody performed at historically appropriate locations within the cathedral compound. These same events of sacred history were commemorated annually in a more elaborate fashion during Great and Holy Week, which climaxed with Easter Sunday (Pascha). Holy Week services in Jerusalem incorporated the buildings on Golgotha into a larger system of stational liturgy that made full use of the city’s sacred topography.

The musical repertories created for worship in the Holy City developed gradually over the centuries out of patterns of interaction between the secular and monastic singers of Jerusalem and those of other ecclesiastical centers. Monks from the monastery founded by St Sabas (439–532) in the desert southeast of Jerusalem became active participants in worship at the Holy Sepulchre, which maintained a resident colony of ascetics later known as the spoudaioi. Responsorial and antiphonal settings of biblical psalms and canticles formed the base of cathedral and monastic liturgical repertories. Palestinian poet-singers subsequently increased the number, length and musical complexity of the refrains sung between the biblical verses, leading by the sixth century (and possibly earlier) to the creation of hymnals organised according to a system of eight musical modes (the Octoechos). These early hymnbooks from Jerusalem exist today only in Armenian and Georgian translations.

The earliest surviving Greek witness to cathedral worship in the Holy City is the so-called Typikon of the Anastasis. Copied in 1122, this manuscript (Hagios Stauros 43) contains services for the seasons of Lent and Easter as celebrated prior to the destruction of the Holy Sepulchre complex by the Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim in 1009. Older and newer chants presented without musical notation coexist in the Typikon of the Anastasis. Thus works from the apogee of Christian Palestinian hymnody—a period initiated by the liturgical works of Sophronios and continued by the eighth-century poet-composers Andrew of Crete, John of Damascus and Kosmas the Melodist—are integrated with hymns by writers working within the traditions of the Constantinopolitan monastery of Stoudios. The latter had, at the behest of its abbot Theodore, adopted a variant of the monastic liturgy of St Sabas at the beginning of the ninth century. The resulting Stoudite synthesis of Palestinian and Constantinopolitan traditions was a crucial stage in the formation of the cycles of worship employed in the modern Byzantine rite.

…(check for Part Two tomorrow)

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