In Peter Anson’s remarkable volume, Bishops at Large: Some Autocephalous Churches of the Past Hundred Years and their Founders (1964), we learn of many episcopi vagantes and their kindred spirits. It seems that several of these strange fellows dabbled (or more than dabbled) in the occult. Many also coupled that occultism with an interest in ancient heresies, which they sought to resurrect. In a chapter on the succession from René Vilatte, we stumble across a shocking little paragraph:
Mgr. Giraud and most of the priests and layfolk of the Gallican Church, even if not Gnostics themselves, were closely associated with them. Gnosticism was very much in the air fifty or sixty years ago. Even the Benedictine monks of Solesmes felt it worth their while to study what are known as the ‘Magic Vowels’ used in Gnostic rites and ceremonies. In 1901 they published a book entitled Le chant gnostico-magique. (Anson 309)
What an extraordinary claim. The monks of Solesmes, Dom Prosper Gueranger’s own sons, publishing studies of Gnostic chants! Dear readers, do any of you have any information on this bizarre note? I have been able to find evidence, however scanty, that the book Anson mentions was indeed published. But it surely must count as one of the rarest volumes in the assembled miscellanea of liturgical history. I would appreciate any leads whatsoever. Might some of my liturgically minded friends have any clue? Whatever comes of it, there is no doubt a very interesting story lurking behind this utterly unique publication.
4 thoughts on “A Startling Passage out of Peter Anson”
“Le chant gnostico-magique des sept voyelles grecques” is actually a thirteen-page article, not an independent book; it’s part of a set of proceedings from a music history conference, published by Solesmes in 1901. The author of the article, Charles-Émile Ruelle, was a classicist, not a monk of Solesmes. So Anson is rather misrepresenting the origin and significance of this publication.
The whole conference book has been digitized, so you can read the article for free here:
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Ah! Many thanks. It seemed very strange that even in the hallowed halls of Solesmes, the spirit of revivalist Gnosticism had taken root.
How weird and totally fascinating. Reminds me a bit of the Kovalevsky brothers of the l’Eglise Catholique Orthodoxe de France and the chant that they “restored” for their “restored” Gallican Divine Liturgy of Saint Germain of Paris. The chant is historical fantasy but not without charm. It seems to have a kind of Gregorian substratum submerged under extremely generous helpings of Russian falso bordone. The cantillation of the clergy is really betrays the Byzantine influence. Search for “Maxime Kovalevsky” on Youtube and you will find that even the great Schola Saint-Cecile in Paris (trad RC) sing Maxime’s compositions from time to time.
From what we can tell, Gnosticism had its roots in Iran, which borders India. Also in India you have the tradition that certain sounds have powerful spiritual effects. “Om” is an example of this. Even some Catholics have fallen for this nonsense.