The Foundation Document
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Click here for a transcription of the Flemish text highlighted and translated below.

Foundation Document

This legal document, drawn up in the spring of 1487, enabled musicologist Reinhard Strohm, almost five hundred years later, to identify the occasion for which ObrechtJacob Obrecht was a South Netherlandish composer known mainly for his substantial output of Mass Ordinary settings in the late 15th century, as well as for his motets and songs… composed his Missa de Sancto Donatiano. It is the foundation charter that establishes annual memorial service for Donaes de MoorDonaes de Moor belonged to the upper eschelon of the merchant class in Bruges… through an endowment given to the Sint JacobskerkIn Donaes de Moor’s and Adriane de Vos’s time, the Sint-Jacobskerk, dedicated to St. James the Apostle, was the most affluent of the parish churches in Bruges… by his widow Adriane de Vos. The original document – too large to photograph! – is Bruges, Rijksarchief, Inv. nr. 88 (Archief Sint-Jacobskerk Brugge), nr. [970] = regest 600 = charter 447; shown here is an exact copy preserved in the register of the Sint Jacobskerk’s foundation acts under the shelfmark Bruges, Rijksarchief, Inv. nr. 88 (Archief Sint-Jacobskerk Brugge), nr. 888. Still another copy, dated 14 March 1487, is found in a charter of the guild of the furriers, which was responsible for carrying out the service provided for by the foundation (Bruges, Stadsarchief, nr. 345, liasse 45).

Precious details concerning De Moor’s memorial Mass emerge within this charter, imparting a vivid impression of the ceremony that began with bell-ringing on the eve of the feast day. The excerpts most relevant to the occasion are noted on the photograph above, and translated below:

Every year, on the eve of St. Donatian and on the day of St. Donatian beginning at seven o’clock in the morning, the biggest bell named Jacob … should ring (luden) for half an hour; then the same bell should chime (beyaerden) without cease until eight o’clock in the morning. Item. Also every year, on the aforementioned day of St. Donatian, we must sing a solemn Mass of St. Donatian in discant in the aforementioned chapel (of Donaes de Moor and Adriane de Vos) with a priest, deacon, and subdeacon, at seven o’clock in the morning, with the great organ, and with the polyphonic singers of the same church (of Sint Jacob). And throughout the mass the bells should ring … and after the mass the priest, with deacon and subdeacon, and the priest wearing his cope (cappe), should go to the grave (of Donaes de Moor), and there read the psalm De profundis with collect … Item. Every year the polyphonic singers of the church should be paid; there must be at least six of them; if not, the zangmeester (cantre) with his children shall fulfill their task. To sing the polyphonic mass, seventeen grooten will be paid (to the entire group of singers). Item. Every year the organist who plays the great organ for this mass should be paid three grooten and the organ blower one grooten for a total of four grooten.

Why, when, where, who – the basic contextual information that has disappeared for almost all music of the period – is here spelled out in vivid detail. We learn to our surprise, for example, that the tower bells rang throughout the Mass ceremony; the charter describes a progression from ‘ringing’ to ‘chiming’ (luden to beyaerden), the latter term denoting a special bell-ringing technique that involved rhythmically playing a swinging-bell or -bells, either indirectly by rope pulls or directly with hammers or clappers. Such pealing of bells throughout memorial Masses was in fact customary in Bruges; the change to a more animated peal after a half hour suggests a connection to the progress of the ritual underway within the church, possibly signaling the transition to the eucharistic phase of the liturgy and the impending Elevation.

M. Jennifer Bloxam

Select Bibliography:

Strohm, Reinhard. Music in Late Medieval Bruges. Rev. ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990. See in particular pp. 146-47.

Bloxam, M. Jennifer. “Text and Context: Obrecht’s Missa de Sancto Donatiano in its Social and Ritual Landscape.” Journal of the Alamire Foundation 3 (2011): 11-36. See in particular pp. 12-16.

Lehr, André, Wim Truyen, and Gilbert Huybens. The Art of the Carillon in the Low Countries. Tielt, Belgium: 1991. See in particular pp. 90-94.