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Gonzalvez R. Mozarabic Rite.

Mozarabic rite

by Ramón Gonzálvez


Mozarabic rite is a special liturgy that originated in the Iberian Peninsula, spread through Spain and Gaul during the Visigothic period, and was in use until 1080. Today this liturgy persists in the city of Toledo. Since its suppression the rite has been generally known as Mozarabic, but modern scholars vacillate between the designations Mozarabic, Visigothic, and Hispanic.

The development and formulation of the rite probably began in the mid third century when the first Christian missionaries preached the Gospels in the Peninsula, and was further influenced by contacts with Eastern and Western churches, and particularly by the Roman-Gallican rite. Some features of the rite show influences from the East (Alexandria, Jerusalem, Ethiopia), north Italy (Milan), and North Africa (Carthago), but these features are integrated into a purely Western and Latin liturgy. Its basic structure was fixed in the late Roman Empire and then it flourished in the Visigothic period, particularly during the seventh century. The rite displayed a broad range of regional variants, as attested by unsuccessful efforts of the Council of Toledo (633) to reach a liturgical unification. In the late sixth and seventh centuries, a number of Hispanic Fathers created new liturgical texts and introduced new melodies into the chant, purifying it of spurious elements. The most important among them were the brothers Leandcr anil Isidore of Seville, Braulio of Saragossa, Conancio of Palcncia, and Ildefonsus and Julianiis of Toledo, the latter submitting the rite to the most profound revision.

The Arab invasion of Spain in 711 did not paralyze the creative evolution of the liturgy, because Christians obtained a statute of religious liberty, which guaranteed them the practice of their religion inside their churches. The Christian population, initially more numerous than the Muslims, began to be known as the Mozarabs. Arab tolerance did not mean equality, however, and many Christians even runlly converted to Islam or became culturally arabized.

In the eleventh century, Christians from the independent northern kingdoms prevailed militarily and economically over the divided Muslim south. This development coincided with the rise of the Roman papacy to the forefront of the European political scene, which encouraged unification and centralization efforts, which in turn did away with the autonomy of peripheral churches such as the Hispanic one. By the orders of Gregory VII the rite of Christian kingdoms in the Iberian Peninsula was replaced by the Roman rite at the Council of Burgos in 1080. The abolition provoked resistance, and Christians in Moslem areas continued practicing the rite. At the time of the Council of Burgos, Toledo was still in Arab hands. When it was reconquered by Alfonso VI of Castile in 1085, the king had to make concessions to Mozarab citizens in matters of fиeras and liberties, and the Mozarabie rite was thus unofficially permitted to be used in six Toledan parishes.

The Mozarabic community in Toledo flourished during the twelfth century, when Mozarab refugees from the south came to the city. By the end of the fifteenth century, however, the Mozarabic rite had almost disappeared, and at this point it was revived by Cardinal Jimenez de Cisneros, archbishop of Toledo. He founded the chapel of Corpus Christ i in the cathedral of Toledo and ordered the printing of a Mozarabic missal (1500) and a breviary (1502). The Mozarabic community of Toledo was revitalized by the impact of the First International Congress of Mozarabic Studies in 1975, and by the subsequent creation of the Institute of Visigothic-Mozarabic Studies of San Eugenio (1977).


There are considerable differences between individual Mozarabie manuscripts. These differences have been interpreted in various ways, but most recently there arose a hypothesis of two traditions, or variants, of the rite, called A and B. The traditions differ in the Mass, the office, and the calendar. According to one view, tradition A was common in Toledo and in the north, while tradition В originated in Seville and in the south and came to Toledo with Mozarabic immigrants from Andalusia. What is certain is that both variants coexisted peacefully in Toledo and that each was practiced in three parishes. Medieval authors, for instance. Chancellor Lopez de Ayala, knew about this difference and attributed the variant A to St. Leander and the variant В to St. Isidore. Alonso Ortiz, the editor of the Mozarabic missal and breviary, transmitted only tradition B, which is the only one now in force.

The most characteristic differential features of Mozarabic rite are as follows: In the Mass, there are always three lessons (Prophecy, Epistle, Gospel). Despite a common general scheme, the prayers of the eucharistic anaphora are different for each celebration (except the narrative and the consecrarory formula of the Lords Supper).

The diptychs and the prayer of peace go before the illatio or preface. Then the host is broken into seven pieces (tradition A) or nine pieces (tradition B) and a proclamation of faith follows. The main books used for the service are the manuale, sacramentary or altar book, liber commicus or lectionary, and antiphonarium, which contains the musical part.

In the cathedral office, there were two basic hours, vespers and matins. At the end of the fourth century, Egeria, in Itinerarium Egeriae, compared the Mozarabic vespers to the Jerusalem office, and the first Council of Toledo in 400 regulated in its canon 9 the celebration ol vespers in cities and towns. Matins had the character of a vigil and tended to integrate with the Mass. Later, the three classical minor hours were added. The basic service books are the psalter, psalmographus, liber canticorum, antiphonarium, and liber orationum.

The monastic office added numerous hours, with the intention to sanctify all moments of day and night. For their recitation, the monks used the psalter and/or liber horarum.

For the administration of sacramenrs, the liber ordinum was used. It existed in two types, one, the maior, for episcopal use, and the other, known as minor, for presbyters.

The most elaborate offices and masses were centered around Easter, with the Lent preparations and post-Easter celebrations until Pentecost. The cycle of Advent consisted of five or six Sundays as a preparation for Epiphany (the Nativity was introduced later). During this period the Marian feast of expectation was celebrated on 18 December. For the ordinary time, the rite lacked a set system of masses and offices.

Source: Gonzalvez R. Mozarabic Rite // Dictionary of the Middle Ages. New York, 1982-2003. P. 516-517.

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