The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Compotus Rolls of the Priory of Worcester
of the XIVth and XVth Centuries

Note from the Introduction Concerning Expenditures Related to the Great Os

See: Notes on Veni, Veni, Emmanuel

Source: Sidney Graves Hamilton, ed., Compotus Rolls of the Priory of Worcester, of the XIVth and XVth Centuries (1910), Introduction, pp. viii-ix.

There remains one more head of expenditure, occurring in some of the accounts, which requires special notice. On December 16th, the day still noted in our calendar as O Sapientia, began the series of Advent antiphons beginning with O, which were sung at Vespers immediately before Magnificat. Each of these O’s was assigned to one of the officials of the Convent, whose duty it was to begin01 the antiphon in the choir, and to provide the special pittance and allowances which were appointed for the day. O Sapientia was assigned to the Prior ; and the other antiphons to certain of the Obedientiaries, following the order of the Sarum Breviary, thus :

1. O Adonai. Precentor,
2. O Radix Jesse. Coquinarius.
3. O Clavis David. Cellerarius.
4. O Oriens splendor. Sacrista.
5. O Rex Gentium. Magister Operum.02
6. O Emanuel. Camerarius.
7. O Virgo virginum. Pitanciarius.

The Breviary adds an eighth, viz., O Thoma Didyme, to be sung on the festival of St. Thomas, the fifth day after O Sapientia. But this can hardly be considered as one of the series, and we should not be justified without further evidence in assigning it to the Subcellarer, who nevertheless ‘ made his O,’ as the phrase was (p. 34) : possibly he combined with the Cellarer, who gave to the Convent on the occasion of his O an allowance more than double that of any other Obedientiary (p. 19). The O Clavis David was also marked by some form of ‘recreation,’ provided by the Chamberlain (p. 9)03 

Besides the allowance in money distributed among the monks. Which differed greatly in amount in different cases, every one of the officials, when he was making his O, seems to have made a uniform payment of 10s to the Pitancer to provide a pittance for the Convent; but it is not always clear whether this is intended for the donor’s pittance, or as a contribution to the Pitancer’s own O, as it is described as ‘pro O virgo virginum' on pp. 41, 46, and at the last reference there is a further payment of 10s. ‘to the work of the Cloister’ in lieu of pittance. Altogether there are so many cross payments in this matter of the O’s that it would require an exhaustive study of all the Rolls to exhibit them in an intelligible form.


1. In the technical sense of singing the first words ; as in the rubric before the Nicene Creed in the Prayer Book of 1549, the Priest shall begin, "I believe in one God", The Clearkes shall sing the rest. Return

2. There is no account roll extant of the Master of the Works : but his O is mentioned p. 34 : and in the Registrum, p. 99, it is stated that he receives the profits of a windmill outside St. Martin’s, ‘ et facit inde O Rex Gentium.' Return

3. There is no mention in these accounts of the Gardiner's O, which occurs in those edited by Canon Wilson (pp. 55, 64), but it is plain from the Registrum that the Gardinarius is the same person as the Coquinarius, since it is there stated (p. 111b) that O Radix Jesse and the duty of providing the Convent with sapores, that is, pepper, saffron, and the like, belong to the same person ; and this latter duty is clearly seen in our accounts to fall on the Coquinarius. Besides it was the Coquinarius who managed, and accounted for, the land called ‘the Garden,’ of which the original monastery garden was presumably the nucleus. Return

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