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Sacred FollyA New History of the Feast of Fools$

Max Harris

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780801449567

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801449567.001.0001

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The Feast of the Ass

The Feast of the Ass

(p.74) Chapter 7 The Feast of the Ass
Sacred Folly

Max Harris

Cornell University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the “feast of the Ass” as part of the Feast of Fools during the mid-twelfth century. According to Pierre Louvet's account, the feast of the Circumcision was celebrated with an increasingly elaborate liturgy in the third quarter of the twelfth century in a few cities of northern France. In Beauvais, however, a further liturgical innovation was introduced. Before the beginning of first vespers on the eve of the feast, in front of the cathedral's west doors, the choir sang. An ass was then led into the church to the processional chanting of “Orientis partibus,” now known as the song (or prose) of the ass. This chapter considers the processional song of the ass in Beauvais and how the drunken prologue to vespers (or mass) has been associated with the liturgy of the Feast of Fools.

Keywords:   feast of the Ass, Feast of Fools, Pierre Louvet, feast of the Circumcision, liturgy, France, Beauvais, vespers, song of the ass

The story of the early Feast of Fools in Beauvais is a tangled one, confused rather than clarified by centuries of scholarly retelling. Amid the wealth of tantalizing details ascribed to the feast in twelfth-century Beauvais, its rootedness in the liturgy is easily overlooked. Captivated instead by rumors of impropriety, historians have fabricated lively narratives of clerical disorder. But the testimony on which these stories depend is second- or third-hand, surviving only in seventeenth-century accounts of earlier manuscripts now lost or destroyed.

Careful local history is nowhere more vital to the larger history of the Feast of Fools than in Beauvais. Dubious tales of the early Feast of Fools there have disproportionately shaped preconceptions about the feast elsewhere and at other times. Distortions in local history have become the stuff of grand narratives. It is thus crucial to separate what we know from what we think we know about the early Feast of Fools in Beauvais.

In 1635 Pierre Louvet published a brief description of the divine office and mass during the week after Christmas “in the time of M. Henri de France, bishop of Beauvais” from 1149 to 1162.1 “On the day of the Circumcision,” (p.75) Louvet wrote, “the divine service was conducted with greater solemnity and with greater joy than on any other day of the year.” During matins, nineteen polyphonic proses were sung,2 “among them one beginning with the words ‘Kalendas ianuarias solemne Christe facias.’” Set to a stately melody, “Kalendas ianuarias” sees the joys of the New Year as an anticipation of the eschatological marriage supper of the exalted Christ. It begins:

  • Kalendas ianuarias
  • sollempnes, Christe, facias
  • et nos ad tuas nuptias
  • vocatos, rex, suscipias.3

  • O Christ, may you sanctify
  • the Kalends of January
  • and welcome us who are called
  • to your wedding feast, O King.

During mass, three more proses were sung, and several of the set pieces (the Introit, Kyrie, Gloria, Epistle, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei) were “chanted with paraphrase,” that is, with alternating lines of traditional text and interpolated gloss. Prayers (or, more accurately, laudes)4 were offered “not only for the pope and for the bishop in charge of the diocese, but also for the king, the queen, and for the Christian army.” Louvet named, as recipients of the laudes, Bishop Henry of France, Pope Alexander III (1159–1181), King Louis VII (1137–1180), and his queen, Adèle of Champagne, whom Louis married in 1160. Louvet’s source is therefore believed to be a manuscript, now lost, from the period between the royal wedding in 1160 and the close of Henry’s episcopacy in 1162.5

Thus far, Louvet’s account confirms what we know from Beleth and Guy of Bazoches: in the third quarter of the twelfth century, in a few cities of northern France, the feast of the Circumcision was being celebrated with an increasingly elaborate liturgy. But in Beauvais a further liturgical innovation (p.76) was introduced. Before the beginning of first vespers on the eve of the feast, in front of the cathedral’s west doors,6 the choir sang:

  • Lux hodie, lux laetitiae, me iudice tristis
  • quisquis erit removendus erit sollempnibus istis.
  • Sint hodie procul invidie, procul omnia mesta,
  • laeta volunt quicumque colunt asinaria festa.
  • [Light today, the light of joy, I banish every sorrow;
  • wherever found, be it expelled from our solemnities to-morrow.
  • Away be strife and grief and care, from every anxious breast,
  • and all be joy and glee in those who keep the Ass’s feast.]7

An ass was then led into the church to the processional chanting of “Orientis partibus,” now known as the song (or prose) of the ass.

Louvet failed to see the point of either the song or the ass. Misreading the song’s vernacular chorus of “Hez, hez, sire asnes, hez,” so that it became a Latin apostrophe to Silenus (“Silenus es” = “you are Silenus”) rather than a French apostrophe to the ass (“sire asnes” = “Sir Ass”), he supposed the procession had something to do with Bacchus. He was wrong. The words of the song evoke the beauty, strength, and virtues of an ass as it journeys from the East, across the river Jordan, to Bethlehem:

  • Orientis partibus
  • adventavit asinus,
  • pulcher et fortissimus,
  • sarcinis aptissimus.
  •     Hez hez sire asnes hez.
  • Hic in collibus Sichen
  • iam nutritus sub Rub[en]
  • transiit per Iordanem
  • saliit in Bethlehem.
  •     Hez hez sire asnes hez.
  • Saltu vincit hynnulos,
  • damnas et capreolos,
  • super dromedarios
  • velox madianeos.
  •     Hez hez sire asnes hez.
  • Dum trahit vehicula
  • multa cum sarcinula
  • illius mandibula
  • dura terit pabula.
  •     Hez hez sire asnes hez.
  • Cum aristis ordeum
  • comedit [et carduum,
  • triticum a pale]
  • segregat in area.
  •     Hez hez sire asnes hez.
  • Amen dicas, asine,
  • iam satur ex gramine,
  • amen amen itera,
  • aspernare vetera.
  •     Hez va hez va hez va hez
  •     biax [sire asnes] car allez
  •     bele bouche car chantez.

  • Out from the lands of Orient
  • was the ass divinely sent.
  • Strong and very fair was he,
  • bearing burdens gallantly.
  •     Heigh, sir ass, oh heigh.
  • In the hills of Sichem bred
  • under Reuben nourishèd,
  • Jordan stream he traversèd,
  • into Bethlehem he sped.
  •     Heigh, sir ass, oh heigh.
  • Higher leaped than goats can bound,
  • doe and roebuck circled round
  • median dromedaries’ speed
  • overcame, and took the lead.
  •     Heigh, sir ass, oh heigh.
  • While he drags long carriages
  • loaded down with baggages,
  • he, with jaws insatiate,
  • fodder hard doth masticate.
  •     Heigh, sir ass, oh heigh.
  • Chews the ears with barley corn,
  • thistle down with thistle corn.
  • On the threshing floor his feet
  • separate the chaff from wheat.
  •     Heigh, sir ass, oh heigh.
  • Stuffed with grass, yet speak and say
  • Amen, ass, with every bray:
  • Amen, amen, say again:
  • ancient sins hold in disdain.
  •     Heigh ho, heigh ho, heigh ho, heigh
  •     fair sir ass, you trot all day;
  •     fair your mouth, and loud your bray.8


“Orientis partibus” was chanted to a lively and highly memorable tune. But liveliness in church—even merriment—should not be confused with Bacchic revelry. Unlike Gryllos’s burlesque ninth-century ride through the streets of Constantinople, the entry of the ass into Beauvais cathedral was part of the liturgy, recalling key moments in Christian history. Moreover, Beauvais was not the only church to welcome a live ass to this end. The Benediktbeuern Christmas Play brought an ass into the church to reenact the story of Balaam. When Francis of Assisi erected a crib for the newborn Christ in Greccio in 1223, he added a live ox and ass to the scene.9 A live ass was also (p.78) to play an important part in the thirteenth-century Padua Representation of Herod, recalling the ass that carried the Holy Family to Egypt. Many Palm Sunday processions included a reenactment of Jesus riding an ass into Jerusalem. The Beauvais procession was unusual only in that it introduced an ass to the feast of the Circumcision.

A few later French scholars were more sympathetic than Louvet to the song of the ass. In 1697 Leonor Foy de Saint-Hilaire unscrambled Louvet’s transcription of the refrain so that it celebrated “sire asnes” rather than Silenus.10 In 1853 Chérest defended the music: “The melody of the prose is singularly remarkable for its grace, and the refrain itself ‘hez, sir asne, hez,’ which has so often been portrayed as a barbarous cry, provides an ending for each verse as sweet as it is simple.”11 Other nineteenth-century scholars proposed allegorical readings, in which the ass represented the Jewish people bearing the true faith as far as Bethlehem, Christ bearing the burden of human sin to the cross, or the Gentiles coming to faith in Christ.12 Certainly the song’s language of bearing others’ burdens, separating the chaff from the wheat, and overlooking ancient sins suggests some kind of allegorical connection between the ass and Christ.

Functionally, the processional song of the ass took the participants to “the reading of the tabula”—a list of assigned liturgical duties—with which vespers ordinarily began. The service then continued with “Deus in adiutorium” (O God, make speed to save me); “Veni creator” (O come, Creator); “Haec est clara dies” (This is the bright day), sung on the steps of the sanctuary; “Salve festa dies” (Hail festive day), sung in front of the altar; “two other proses”; and the paired antiphon “Ecce anuntio” (Behold, I bring a message of great joy) and psalm “Dixit dominus” (The Lord said). How far into the church the ass progressed is unclear. Perhaps it stopped in the nave, where it would not have been unduly out of place. The nave was “the people’s portion” of the church, “open to all, day and night. Business was transacted there. Pilgrims often slept there, sometimes with their animals.”13 Perhaps, exceptionally, the ass entered the choir. However far it progressed, we can be confident that the ass was seen not as a disorderly intrusion but as a lively act of processional worship.

In 1697, some sixty years after Louvet published his account, Foy de Saint-Hilaire, a canon in Beauvais, responded to a written inquiry from a (p.79) librarian in Paris concerning “the service of the ass.” After referring his correspondent to Louvet’s account and to a dependent entry in the 1678 first edition of Du Cange’s encyclopedic Glossarium, Foy de Saint-Hilaire added that he had confirmed the details of the prose of the ass in “a five-hundred-year-old manuscript.”14 Although Foy de Saint-Hilaire’s reference to Louvet might suggest that he was consulting the same manuscript as his predecessor, this was almost certainly not the case. David Hughes has argued that Foy de Saint-Hilaire had in front of him the manuscript now known as Egerton 2615.15 This manuscript, which includes a complete Beauvais office of the Circumcision as well as the Beauvais Play of Daniel, was prepared in Beauvais between 1227 and 1234, and “kept in the Beauvais cathedral library at least through the fifteenth century, and in the city of Beauvais through the seventeenth.”16 It is now in the British Library.17

Confusion over the identity of the “five-hundred-year-old manuscript” consulted by Foy de Saint-Hilaire has generated much subsequent confusion about what actually happened in Beauvais in the late twelfth century. The Benedictine editors of the 1733 second edition of Du Cange’s Glossarium ascribed matters indiscriminately to “MSS. huiusce festi” (manuscripts of this same feast), a “MS. codex 500 annorum” (a five-hundred-year-old manuscript volume), a “MS. codice Bellovac. ann. circiter 500” (a manuscript volume from Beauvais of about five hundred years of age), and “alibi” (elsewhere).18 None of the events ascribed to these sources by the 1733 (p.80) edition of Du Cange is found in Louvet. Most, but not all, can be found in Foy de Saint-Hilaire. Some we now know to belong to Egerton 2615. Others are from a manuscript apparently known to Foy de Saint-Hilaire’s father but since destroyed. One item, a longer version of the prose of the ass, is from a now unidentifiable source.19

The confusion was further compounded by Pierre Grenier (d. 1789), whose unfinished but influential introduction to the history of Picardy was published posthumously in 1856. Grenier cited Louvet sporadically elsewhere in his book, but not when it came to the “feast of the ass.” For that he largely relied on Du Cange, from whom he also derived his secondary knowledge of the material in Foy de Saint-Hilaire’s letter. In so far as he consulted Egerton 2615 at all, he seems to have worked from an incomplete copy rather than from the original.20 Failing to distinguish among these sources, Grenier merged into a single “twelfth-century” narrative items traceable to texts from very different periods: Louvet’s early-seventeenth-century account of a lost manuscript thought to date from between 1160 and 1162; Foy de Saint-Hilaire’s late-seventeenth-century reading of Egerton 2615, which itself dates from between 1227 and 1234; Foy de Saint-Hilaire’s memories of his father’s account of a destroyed manuscript, whose original date is unknown; Du Cange’s early-eighteenth-century collection of materials on the “feast of the ass” (festum asinorum) and “Kalends” (kalendae) in Beauvais, whose sources—when not traceable to Louvet or Foy de Saint-Hilaire—remain unidentified; and Grenier’s own incomplete late-eighteenth-century copy of Egerton 2615.21 Although Grenier correctly dated Louvet’s source to around 1160, he incorrectly identified it with Du Cange’s—and hence with (p.81) Foy de Saint-Hilaire’s—“five-hundred-year-old ceremonial,”22 reinforcing the mistaken impression that every event in his own composite narrative belonged to the single early period of Louvet’s lost source.

Unfortunately, Chambers trusted both Grenier and Du Cange. Unable to find a copy of Louvet’s book, and assuming that Grenier had independently consulted Louvet’s source, Chambers quoted Grenier’s garbled account as if it were reliable. Moreover, he added details from Du Cange as if these were all derived from the same “codex 500 annorum.”23 Chambers seems not to have known of Foy de Saint-Hilaire’s letter. From Chambers, the confusion passed into subsequent writings on the Feast of Fools.

Cautioned by this confusion, we can now look more carefully at what Foy de Saint-Hilaire actually wrote. He began by correcting several errors in Louvet’s transcription of the prose of the ass. But he then made a mistake of his own, suggesting that the prose had been sung not at first vespers on the feast of the Circumcision but a week earlier at the feast of the Nativity. He was drawn to this conclusion by Louvet’s mention of a brief chant sung in front of the altar after the reading of the tabula:

  • Salve festa dies toto venerabilis aevo
  • qua deus est ortus virginis ex utero.
  • [Hail festive day, blessed for all eternity,
  • when God sprang from the womb of the Virgin.]

Had Foy de Saint-Hilaire read a little further in Egerton 2615, he would have discovered that these same lines occupied an identical place in the thirteenth-century office of the Circumcision in Beauvais.24 The Virgin Birth was a recurrent theme of medieval worship, by no means confined to the feast of the Nativity.

Foy de Saint-Hilaire then chided Louvet for omitting a savory detail from his account of the feast of the Innocents. Louvet, he wrote, had failed to notice “that it was written on the tabula hac die incensabitur cum boudino et saucita [on this day censing was done with black pudding and sausage].” A “perfume so rare,” Foy de Saint-Hilaire wryly observed, “deserves not to be (p.82) forgotten.”25 Unfortunately, he failed to identify his source more carefully, reducing the editors of Du Cange to a noncommittal “elsewhere.”26 Grenier was less cautious: he added the censing rubric to his summary of mass at the feast of the Circumcision in 1160, claiming the ubiquitous “five-hundred-year-old ceremonial” as his source for the rubric, and acknowledging only Du Cange in his footnote.27 By moving the incense of black pudding and sausage from the feast of the Innocents, where Foy de Saint-Hilaire had found (and rather enjoyed) it, to the feast of the Circumcision, Grenier added yet again to the impression that 1 January was a day of irreverent license.

Next, Foy de Saint-Hilaire quoted “the first rubric” of “the day of the Circumcision.” By this he meant the rubric following lauds, which was sung just before dawn. The rubric read, according to Foy de Saint-Hilaire, “The lord cantor and the canons stand before the closed doors of the church outside, each holding a flagon full of wine and a glass goblet. One of the canons begins ‘Kalendas ianuarias,’ then the doors are opened.”28 In Wulf Arlt’s modern edition of the Egerton 2615 office of the Circumcision, the first part of the rubric is worded slightly differently: “Afterward all go before the closed doors of the church, and four [canons] stand outside each holding a flagon full of wine and a glass goblet.”29 Significantly, Arlt’s edition limits to four the number of men holding a flagon of wine and a glass. If Hughes is right in affirming that Foy de Saint-Hilaire copied this rubric from Egerton 2615, and if Arlt’s later reading of Egerton 2615 is reliable, then Foy de Saint-Hilaire transcribed the rubric inaccurately, crucially omitting the limiting number “four.”30

Gustave Desjardins believed that the wine and drinking vessels were simply carried into the church to be blessed for later use.31 Specifically, the four (p.83) men holding the vessels may have been subdeacons, whose office it was to prepare the bread and wine for the mass and to present them at the altar during the offertory. But Chambers called the episode a “drinking-bout.”32 His charge is unwarranted: the text makes no mention of drinking; the outdoor gathering took place at daybreak in midwinter, hardly the most likely time and place for a clerical “drinking-bout”; and if Arlt’s version is correct, there were only four glasses on hand, far too few for the entire chapter of Beauvais cathedral to drink itself silly.33

Chambers’s charge has stuck nevertheless. Worse, Louvet’s account of the entry of the ass at the beginning of first vespers and Foy de Saint-Hilaire’s citation of the rubric concerning wine after lauds have been combined to create both a reentry of the ass at mass34 and an earlier “drinking-bout” before first vespers. Validated and magnified in the retelling, the drunken prologue to vespers (or mass) is now assumed by some to be an essential feature of the liturgy of the Feast of Fools at all times and everywhere. Imaginatively conflated into a single series of events, the “drinking-bout,” the invocation of the “pagan” January Kalends, the procession into the church of an ass (“recalling Silenus”), and the lively communal singing (to anachronistic musical accompaniment) have combined to create a narrative of drunken clerics subverting the divine office with Bacchic disorder.35 The sources do not warrant such a misreading.

Moreover, none of these feasts, according to Foy de Saint-Hilaire, was the true “feast of the Ass” (feste de l’Asne). Foy de Saint-Hilaire remembered being told by his father of a complete manuscript of “la messe … de l’asne,” which had been preserved in the collegiate church of Saint Stephen until the document was “cruelly burned” by an overscrupulous priest. Foy de Sainte-Hilaire recalled the priest from his own childhood. According to his father’s (p.84) memory of this destroyed manuscript, the full feast of the ass took place on the octave of Epiphany. A girl with a child in her arms rode an ass in procession from the cathedral to the church of Saint Stephen to represent the flight into Egypt. During the subsequent “solemn mass” inside the church, “the ass and its beautiful charge were placed in the sanctuary on the side where the gospel is read.” The Introit, Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, and other choral chants ended in “hin ham” (hee-haw). The celebrant, instead of ending the mass with “Ite, missa est,” brayed three times (“ter hinhannabit”). The people responded in like fashion (“hin han, hin han, hin han”).36 Afterward, the ass was led back to the cathedral.

The presence of the ass at the altar and the braying of the priest and the congregation, derived solely from Foy de Saint-Hilaire’s unsubstantiated third-hand report of a destroyed and undatable manuscript, have also been folded into the popular narrative of disorderly Feast of Fools revels. Even if Foy de Saint-Hilaire’s report were substantially correct (and it may be), such a characterization would still be much exaggerated. Not only did the feast of the ass reportedly take place in a different church two weeks later than the feast of the Circumcision, but Foy de Saint-Hilaire, himself a cathedral canon, saw nothing untoward in it, observing simply that the messe de l’asne was “celebrated in honor of the bourique [ass] that carried the son of God and his mother into Egypt.”37

It is unwise to trust too much in second- or third-hand accounts of missing manuscripts. It is also foolish to combine details of disparate sources from different periods into a single synchronous narrative. And it is even more foolish to generalize further, supposing such events to have taken place everywhere just because some of them may have taken place in Beauvais at some time.

Nevertheless, we need not entirely dismiss these later reports of the early Feast of Fools in Beauvais. Louvet’s description of the office of the Circumcision in Beauvais around 1160 is credible. The processional entry of the ass before first vespers is confirmed from surviving early-thirteenth-century manuscripts. Where Foy de Saint-Hilaire corrects Louvet’s transcript of the prose of the ass from his own reading of Egerton 2615, we can be thankful. (p.85) But other details provided by Foy de Saint-Hilaire are less certain. Censing with black pudding and sausage at the feast of the Innocents is otherwise unreported. If in fact it was done in thirteenth-century Beauvais at the feast of the Innocents, there is no reason to believe that it was also done sixty years earlier (and four days later) at the twelfth-century feast of the Circumcision. Foy de Saint-Hilaire’s careless transcription of the “wine” rubric following lauds during the thirteenth-century feast of the Circumcision has allowed scholarly imagination to run riot: the consequent images of drunken twelfth-century clerical revels are false. Finally, if we choose to trust Foy de Saint-Hilaire’s story of his father’s memory of a destroyed manuscript of the “feast of the ass” on the octave of Epiphany, we should remember that Foy de Saint-Hilaire made no attempt to date the manuscript. It was Grenier who blended all these details into a single narrative, assumed to have taken place around 1160, and it was Chambers who perpetuated Grenier’s error.

In short, most of what we learn from Louvet about the liturgy of the feast of the Circumcision in Beauvais, duly corrected with regard to the text and propriety of the prose of the ass, may be cautiously placed alongside Beleth’s brief notice and the letters and poems of Guy of Bazoches in a small collection of more or less trustworthy reports of the early Feast of Fools in northern France. Very little from Foy de Saint-Hilaire or Du Cange can be safely added to this collection. Despite all the imaginative reconstructions of generations of historians, all we really know of the mid-twelfth-century Feast of Fools in Beauvais is that it had at its heart an expanded, but still dignified, festive liturgy that, contrary to modern sensibilities, included a processional ass.


(1.) Louvet, Histoire, 2:299–302; for a partial translation of Louvet’s description, see Greene, “Song,” 538–39.

(2.) Louvet, Histoire, 2:299, wrote, “Se chantoient dixneuf proses avec le ieu des orgues” (nineteen proses were sung to the playing of the organ), but, as Hughes, “Another,” 22, points out, Louvet must have misunderstood the phrase cum organo in the original manuscript. “Organum,” in the twelfth century, referred to polyphonic (or “organized”) song, not to the musical instrument we now call an organ (Wright, Music, 143–44; Reckow, “Organum”). Grenier, 363, repeated Louvet’s mistake. Strictly, a prose, or prosa, is “a text for a sequence,” but the two terms are often used synonymously (Crocker, “Prosa”).

(3.) Villetard, 122, 185–87. For a recording of the first part of the song, see Messe, track 5–1.

(6.) The cathedral in question was not the Gothic cathedral begun, circa 1225, under Bishop Miles of Nanteuil, but the late-tenth-century cathedral, now known as the basse oeuvre, which preceded it (Bonnet-Laborderie and Rousset, Cathédrale, 23–42, 246–47; Murray, Beauvais, 4, pls. 3–5).

(7.) Louvet, Histoire, 2:300; translation from Hone, Ancient, 163. For a recording, see Tempus, track 11a.

(8.) Louvet, Histoire, 2:301; corrected text and translation from Greene, “Song,” 535. For recordings, with added instrumentation, see Medieval, track 14; Tempus, tracks 11b, 16b.

(9.) Bonaventura, Vita altera S. Francisci Confessoris 10, in Acta sanctorum, October, 2:742–98 (770); Young, 2:27, 430; translation in Tydeman, 103.

(10.) Leonor Foy de Saint-Hilaire to M. de Francastel, assistant librarian of the Bibliothèque Mazarine in Paris, 18 December 1697, in Denis, Lettres, 311–313 (311).

(14.) Denis, Lettres, 311, and, for the inquiry on behalf of a “very curious man of letters” and subsequent acknowledgment of Foy de Saint-Hilaire’s response, 319–20.

(15.) Hughes, “Another,” 17 n. 11 (cf. Greene, “Song,” 537 n. 4; Arlt, Festoffizium, 1:22). Hughes’s argument depends primarily on the fact that Foy de Saint-Hilaire “cites material from a manuscript having a lacuna at just the same point” as Egerton 2615. The latter’s missing pages stretch from the rubric following the end of lauds to the Gloria at the beginning of mass (Arlt, Festoffizium, 1:141, 2:90–93). But Foy de Saint-Hilaire confuses matters by saying that the missing pages in his manuscript stretch from “the first rubric” of “the day of the Circumcision” to the pages “of Epiphany” (Denis, Lettres, 312). The context makes clear that he means the first rubric of the day, following lauds, rather than the first rubric of the feast, at the start of vespers the previous evening (Desjardins, Histoire, 123). Moreover, “Epiphany” is a mistake, either in Foy de Saint-Hilaire’s original letter or in Denis’s published edition, for “Epistle,” that is, the Epistle following the Gloria at mass. Despite this confusion, Hughes concludes that “the identification” between Foy de Saint-Hilaire’s manuscript and Egerton 2615 “is assured.” The case for Egerton 2615 is further strengthened by Foy de Saint-Hilaire’s observation (Denis, Lettres, 312–13) that the manuscript before him contains a play of Daniel. Egerton 2615 contains the well-known Danielis ludus, but Louvet mentions no such play in his source.

(17.) Arlt, Festoffizium, 1:21–25, traces the travels of Egerton 2615 from Beauvais to Italy and finally, in 1883, to the British Museum.

(18.) Du Cange, s.vv. festum asinorum (3:461), kalendae (4:483). Greene, “Song,” 536 n. 3, suggests that Foy de Saint-Hilaire’s letter of response may have ended up in Paris in the hands of the editors of the 1733 edition of Du Cange (cf. Arlt, Festoffizium, 1:22). Chambers, 1:287 n. 2, points out that Du Cange’s “five hundred years” should be counted back from 1733, not from the first edition of 1678, in which much of the Beauvais material did not appear. But the later editors were borrowing the phrase from Foy de Saint-Hilaire, who used it in 1697. The phrase, in any case, indicates a rough estimate, not a precise age.

(19.) Du Cange’s version of the prose of the ass adds three stanzas (2–3, 5) not found elsewhere and one stanza (7) that is included in the Sens but not the Beauvais version: cf. Du Cange, s.v. festum asinorum (3:461); Villetard, 86–87, 130–31; Arlt, Festoffizium, 2:3, 104. Chambers, 2:279–81, prints the Du Cange version, describing its source as “a lost MS.”

(20.) Bourquelot, “Office,” 148, 171, consulted “an incomplete and modern copy” of Egerton 2615 found among Grenier’s papers. Desjardins, Histoire, 124 n. 1, cited two eighteenth-century copies that he identified as Grenier and Bourquelot’s sources. Chambers, 1:286 n. 1, wondered if the later copies were BNF Picardie 14 and 158, two of several MSS Picardie cited incompletely in Grenier’s footnotes. Villetard, 232, decided on Picardie 158, which he called “a copy made at a time when one did not pay such close attention to matters of exactitude.” Arlt, Festoffizium, 1:23, believes Picardie 158 to be a “limited” copy of Egerton 2615 made by Grenier himself.

(21.) Grenier, 362–64. For another case of Grenier jumbling secondary historical data, see chapter 5, note 29.

(22.) Grenier, 363. A ceremonial was “a book detailing the liturgical customs of collegiate and cathedral churches” (Harper, Forms, 292).

(24.) Arlt, Festoffizium, 2:5. Originally an Easter song excerpted from a longer poem by Fortunatus (ca. 540–ca. 600), “Salve festa dies” was adapted for use at many other feasts (Messenger, “Salve”).

(26.) Du Cange, s.v. kalendae (4:483). Chambers, 1:286–87, cites both Grenier and Du Cange.

(28.) Denis, Lettres, 311: “Dominus Cantor et Canonici ante januas Ecclesiae clausas stent foris tenantes singuli urnas vino plenas cum Cyfis [= scyphis] vitreis, quorum unus Canonicus incipiat Kalendas januarias tunc aperiantur januae.” Cf. Du Cange, s.v. kalendae (4:483).

(29.) Arlt, Festoffizium, 2:90: “Postea omnes eant ante ianuas ecclesie clausas, et quatuor stent foris tenentes singuli urnas vino plenas cum cyfis vitreis.”

(30.) Augustin Le Cat, Histoire des Évèques de Beauvais (unpublished MS, written ca. 1697, quoted by Greene, “Orientis,” 484), offers a version of the rubric closer to Arlt’s version but still omitting “quatuor.” Le Cat is thought to have worked from Egerton 2615 (or a later copy). Bourquelot, “Office,” 171, who admits to working with “an incomplete and modern copy” of Egerton 2615, cites a similar version, but includes an ellipsis where Arlt finds “quatuor”; he also corrects the spelling of “Cyfis” to “scyphis.” Sandon, Octave, 70, is one of the few scholars to have followed Arlt in noticing that only “four people held jugs of wine.”

(33.) Chambers, of course, did not have the benefit of Arlt’s modern edition: both Grenier and Du Cange, on whom Chambers relied, had repeated Foy de Saint-Hilaire’s version of the rubric. Moreover, Du Cange, s.v. kalendae (4:483), had cut the rubric loose from its mooring at the close of lauds, citing it immediately before the rubric that spoke of censing with sausage and black pudding and offering no liturgical context for either rubric.

(34.) Because of the missing pages, mass immediately follows lauds in Egerton 2615. Villetard, 232, traces the legend of the reentry of the ass at mass to the addition of a rubric, “Conductus asini, cum adduciter” (Conductus of the ass, while it is led), at this point in the late, imperfect copy of Egerton 2615 made by Grenier and used by Bourquelot (Grenier, 363; Bourquelot, “Office,” 172). Grenier may have thought the addition necessary because the prose of the ass was used, in an arrangement for three parts, as the conductus taking the two subdeacons to read the epistle at mass (Arlt, Festoffizium, 1:53–64, 146, 2:3–4, 104).

(36.) Le Cat (see note 30) believes that the sheaf of pages missing from Egerton 2615 “contained the procession [conduite = conductus] of the ass from the Cathedral Church to the Church of Saint Stephen.” Greene, “Orientis,” 484, quotes and accepts this suggestion. Both seem to have forgotten that the office of Egerton 2615 is for the feast of the Circumcision, while Foy de Saint-Hilaire insisted that the feste de l’Asne was celebrated in Saint Stephen’s on the octave of Epiphany. For more on the church of Saint Stephen, see Henwood-Reverdot, Église.