Vespers was sung in the later afternoon, and was often followed directly by Compline (except in Lent, when the two services were separate). By the end of the Middle Ages, Vespers often complemented the Mass in emphasis and musical elaboration, over and above the other services of the daily Office.
In addition to Vespers of the day, it was normal to recite Vespers of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In some institutions (especially monasteries with a separate Lady Chapel choir) this might be sung as a separate observance in the Lady Chapel. More often, it was recited after Vespers of the day.
In this enactment a small group of nuns who are on a pilgrimage to St Davids in west Wales arrive at St Teilo’s Church. Before they cross the River Loughar (by which the church was originally situated), they stop to sing Vespers of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the antiphon Salve regina. Vespers is sung antiphonally in the chancel; the nuns move to the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the nave to sing Salve regina, with the versicle and collect.
For the lay people attending in the nave, Vespers with its long recitation of the psalms was a far less engaging experience than the Lady Mass held earlier in the day. However, the antiphon was sung in ‘their’ part of the church, and the proximity of the nuns singing a text that was well known was very different. The use of candles for the antiphon proved essential in the dim light of the church, though medieval nuns would have known this chant from memory.
On the first day of enactment at St Teilo’s, Compline continued after Vespers, and was followed by the antiphon. For practical reasons, just Vespers and the Antiphon were recorded – though you can find Compline in the service book.
The enactment also enabled us to explore the alternation of voices and organ in the singing of Magnificat, using the sole surviving setting for organ found in British Library, Add MS 29996.
View the complete recording of Vespers and Antiphon of the Blessed Virgin Mary here .
You can view, download, print and follow the main ‘performance’ text used by the participants for this enactment:
The full sequence of text resources used in the enactment can be found here.