N.B. Museum archivist discovers ‘spooky’ songbook in basement library | CBC News


It could possibly be the opening scene of a horror film.

A younger archivist ventures into the darkish basement of the museum library the place he is appearing as supervisor and stumbles throughout a stained and tattered e book lined with symbols of demise — crossed bones, an hourglass, a scythe, a snake consuming its tail.

Contained in the e book is what seems to be a Latin incantation. The music is written in a bizarre means. The notes are sq. and the employees has solely 4 strains.

Officium Defunctorum, it says on the prime of the web page. Workplace of the Lifeless.

Ought to he dare to utter the phrases on the paper, you may think the subsequent scene would present a torrent of spirits being unleashed.

“That is undoubtedly the factor that you do not learn on Halloween whilst you’re alone within the basement,” mentioned Nathan Gavin, appearing supervisor on the New Brunswick Museum’s Archives and Analysis Library.

“I’ve watched too many horror motion pictures to tug the set off on that one.”

Frightful discover for any horror-loving bibliophile

New Brunswick Museum archivist stumbles upon centuries-old e book, Officium Defunctorum, or Workplace of the Lifeless. 2:32

All kidding apart, Gavin is aware of that is precisely the factor that was learn, or sung, round All Souls Day, Nov. 2, a few hundred years in the past.

He was a pupil in historical past, non secular research and music at St. Thomas College and has been working within the heritage sector for a number of years. 

This e book was a part of a “prayer cycle of canonical hours,” he mentioned, that means a set of prayers chanted at completely different instances of day for the repose of the souls of the useless.

Phrases could also be acquainted 

Web page one is a morning invitation, or Advert Matutinum.

The phrases, or a minimum of their English translations, will likely be acquainted to many modern-day churchgoers.

Regem, cui omnia vivunt, Venite adoremus / The King, unto whom all issues do stay, come allow us to adore.

Venite exultemus Domino, iubilemus Deo salutari / Come allow us to rejoice unto our Lord, allow us to make pleasure to God our saviour

The time period “workplace” was used as a result of it was a part of an “official” set of prayers.

The musical notation is monophonic, mentioned Gavin, one line of melody with no concord or chords, typical of one thing like a Gregorian chant.

Another sections within the e book are titled advert laudes (to reward), advert missam (to mass), responsorium (in reply), and professional defunctis (for the useless).

Nathan Gavin fastidiously opens the Workplace of the Lifeless e book on the New Brunswick Museum library, believed to this point again to the late 1700s. (Julia Wright/CBC)

The songs “do not line up with any of the opposite extra well-liked” Officium Defunctora Gavin has seen.

He believes it was a private, handwritten copy that belonged to the daddy of the lady who donated it to the museum round 1925. 

Thomas Morley was born round 1845, mentioned Gavin, in Oxford, England, and moved to Saint John in 1887.

Morley was an organist on the Anglican Mission Church on Paradise Row. That church stood roughly throughout from the place Brenan’s Funeral House is immediately however was torn down within the late Nineteen Sixties as a part of a North Finish renewal challenge, Gavin mentioned.

Might have been made in 1790s

Morley was additionally the conductor for the Oratorio Society and the Rothesay Choral Membership.

The e book itself doubtless had a earlier proprietor, mentioned Gavin.

“Once you maintain the pages as much as the sunshine, you may see the watermarks and oftentimes these watermarks would have dates on them or the years that they have been made.

“We suspect this dates again to the late 1790s.”

Greater than its age, what actually makes the e book stand out to Gavin is “the dichotomy” between the non secular texts inside and the secular and pagan cowl artwork.

The primary web page is a chant sung early within the day. (Julia Wright/CBC)

“I’ve by no means seen something like this earlier than,” he mentioned.

Gavin is not positive why a non secular man like Morely would personal a e book with that form of symbolism.

“Actually, it is odd,” he mentioned.

However he has some theories.

Many of the symbols are doubtless memento mori, he mentioned.

“These are symbols to remind people that demise is inevitable, demise is one thing for everyone,” Gavin mentioned. “That’s one thing that you just do see in numerous Christian readings and writings.

Memento mori was all the trend all through the nineteenth century.”

He feels the artist doubtless took inspiration from that idea.

“The crossed bones, the hourglass and the scythe all make sense below this rationalization.”

Can solely speculate about tail-eating snake

However the snake consuming its tail, known as an ouroboros, with origins in each Egyptian mythology and Norse mythology, presents “a little bit of a conundrum,” Gavin mentioned.

“It is normally used as an emblem of rebirth, of regrowth. I feel it nonetheless flows in the identical thought sample of the artist, however it could simply have been misguided or primarily based in delicate ignorance.”

It could all appear just a little “spooky” from a contemporary cultural perspective, mentioned Gavin, however the symbols held completely different that means again then.

“This was most likely extra comforting for them than it’s for us.”



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