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The Sarum Rite (more properly called Sarum Use) was a variant of the Roman Rite widely used for the ordering of Christian public worship, including the Mass or Eucharist, in the British Isles before the English Reformation.

Various parts of Britain and Ireland developed local variants of the Pre-Tridentine Mass, and the Sarum Rite was originally the local form used in the Cathedral and Diocese of Salisbury in the west of England, but it later became prevalent throughout the British Isles, particularly in southern England. Although abandoned after the 16th century, it was also a notable influence on the pattern of Anglican liturgy represented in the Book of Common Prayer. Occasional interest in and attempts at restoration of the liturgy by Anglicans and Roman Catholics have not produced a general revival, however.


A page from a Sarum missal. The woodcut shows an altar shortly before the English Reformation.

In 1078, William of Normandy appointed St Osmund, a Norman nobleman, as bishop of Salisbury (the modern name of the city known in Latin as "Sarum"). As bishop, Osmund initiated some revisions to the extant Celtic-Anglo-Saxon rite and the local adaptations of the Roman rite, drawing on both Norman and Anglo-Saxon traditions.

19th century liturgists theorized that the liturgical usage of Rouen in northern France served as an inspiration for the creation of the Sarum liturgical books. Because the Normans deposed the Anglo-Saxon episcopate, replacing them with Norman bishops, of which Osmund was one, and in light of the similarities between the liturgy in Rouen and that of Sarum, it appears the Normans imposed their French liturgical books as well.

"This conjecture approaches certainty when it is found that the Use of Rouen and that of Sarum were almost identical in the 11th century. A curious and interesting illustration of this will be found in an extract of a Rouen manuscript missal, assumed to be 650 years old... The Rouen Pontifical, of about 1007 A.D., quoted in the same work, shows a like affinity of that of Sarum and Exeter in later days."[1]

The revisions during Osmund's episcopate resulted in the compilation of a new Missal, Breviary, and other liturgical manuals, which came to be used throughout southern England, Wales, and parts of Ireland.

Some dioceses issued their own missals, inspired by the Sarum rite, but with their own particular prayers and ceremonies. Some of these are so different that they have been identified as effectively distinct liturgies, such as those of Hereford, York, Bangor, and Aberdeen. Other missals (such as those of Lincoln Cathedral or Westminster Abbey) were more evidently based on the Sarum rite and varied only in details.

Liturgical historians believe the Sarum rite had a distinct influence upon other usages of the Roman rite outside England, such as the Nidaros rite in Norway and the Braga rite in Portugal.

When the Church of England separated from the Roman Church in the 1530s, it initially retained the Sarum rite, but Protestant pressure for public worship in English resulted in its replacement by successive versions of the Book of Common Prayer, although it was briefly reintroduced to general use in England under Queen Mary. The Sarum rite continued to be used by Roman Catholic recusants until the mid 16th century, when it was gradually replaced by the Tridentine use.


Many of the practices of the Sarum rite - though not the full liturgy itself - were revived in the Anglican Communion in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as part of the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement in the Church of England. Some Anglo-Catholics wanted to find a traditional formal liturgy that was characteristically "English" rather than "Roman", and they took advantage of the 'Ornaments Rubric' of 1559 which directed that English churches were to be furnished as they had been at the start of Edward VI's reign, which is to say, in Sarum fashion with few concessions to Protestant practice. However, there was a tendency to read back Victorian centralizing tendencies into mediaeval texts, and so a rather rubrical spirit was applied to liturgical discoveries. It was asserted, for instance, that Sarum had a well-developed series of colours of vestments for different feasts. Indeed, there may have been tendencies to use a particular colour for a particular feast (red, for instance, was used on Sundays, as in the Ambrosian rite), but most churches were simply too poor to have several sets of vestments, and so used what they had. There was considerable variation from diocese to diocese, or even church to church, in the details of the rubrics: the place where the Epistle was sung, for instance, varied enormously; from a lectern at the altar, from a lectern in the quire, or even on the rood screen.

Chief among the proponents of Sarum customs was the Anglican priest Percy Dearmer, who put these into practice at his parish of St Mary's, Primrose Hill, in London, and explained them at length in The Parson's Handbook, which ran through several editions. The rite has been retained in use into the present in some Anglican churches and monastic institutions.

The Sarum Mass has occasionally been celebrated within the Roman Catholic Church. A brief resurgence of interest in the 19th century did not lead to a revival. It had been suggested for the opening of Westminster Cathedral in 1903, but the idea was rejected.

Another notable Roman Catholic use of the Sarum Mass was the celebration organised by Oxford University Newman Society on the Feast of Candelmas at Merton College, England, in 1997. It was celebrated recently in April 2000, when Mario Joseph Conti, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow, celebrated the Sarum Mass in the University of Aberdeen's King's College Chapel to commemorate the quincentenary of the pre-Reformation founding of the chapel by William Elphinstone, Bishop of Aberdeen.

The Sarum Use also is used by Western rite members of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, and in particular by Saint Petroc Monastery and its missions[2].

Sarum ritual

The ceremonies of the Sarum liturgy are often elaborate, compared to many other Roman rites. The Mass of Sundays and great feasts involved up to four sacred ministers: priest, deacon, subdeacon, and acolyte. It was customary to visit in procession all the altars of the church and cense them, ending at the great rood screen, where antiphons and collects would be sung. Finally here at the screen would be read the Bidding Prayers, prayers in the vernacular directing the people to pray for various intentions. The procession then went to vest for Mass. (This vesting would usually have taken place at the altar where Mass was to be celebrated, since vestries and sacristies are, except in the largest churches, largely a modern introduction.)

Some of the prayers of the mass are unique, such as the priest's preparation prayers for Holy Communion. The ceremonies are unique also: the offering of the bread and wine was made by one act; after the Elevation the celebrant stood with his arms outstretched in the form of a cross; the Particle was put into the chalice after the Agnus Dei. Communion under one kind was followed by a 'rinse' of unconsecrated wine. The Last Gospel (the first chapter of St John's Gospel) was read while the priest made his way back to the sacristy. [2] Two candles on the altar were customary, though others were placed around it and on the rood screen. The Sarum missal suggests that the genuflection is not used, a low bow being customary, but it is not impossible that by the sixteenth century it had been introduced.

The Sarum rite was the original basis of the liturgy in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. This is most evident in its sequence of Major Propers for the Sundays in Advent, which vary considerably from those used in the Roman Tridentine Rite. It also inspired the counting of Sundays after Trinity rather than Pentecost. One may also take note of the marriage rite and the Sarum custom of "plighting troths".

read also


External links

The Sarum Mass

The Sarum Breviary and Antiphonale