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Everyone knows about the uniqueness of Venice because of its planning and architectural features, whereas the uniqueness of the liturgy used in the Doge’s Chapel at St. Mark’s is almost unknown. Its liturgy differs not only from that of the whole Catholic world, but also from that of the Patriarchy of Venice, which had its seat in the church of San Pietro in Castello until 1807, immediately after the fall of the Venetian Republic. Before this time, Saint Mark’s Basilica was the official church of the Venetian Republic as it was the Doge’s Chapel; the Bishop of Venice, who had assumed also the title of Grado’s Patriarch since 1451, previously linked to Grado’s Church, always resided in the Church of San Pietro in Castello, which was therefore his Cathedral. On the contrary, St. Mark’s Chapel – like other chapels established by the political authorities in Europe – was released from the common law, that is it was not dependent on the local bishop, but on a “primicerius”, directly appointed by the Doge, who had also some of the bishop’s prerogatives. Moreover, the care of the State Church was entrusted to the first of the Republic’s magistracies: the “Procuratia de supra”. Therefore – as St. Mark’s enjoyed a certain autonomy – it is not strange that some features which were typical of the so called “rito patriarchino” and even “rito marcolino” distinguished liturgical practice of the Doge’s Church from the ordinary Roman Rite. The observance of the law by Venetian authorities, as well as the respect for tradition by Mark’s clergy, enabled them to survive against every attempt to follow completely the Roman Rite. Indeed, the distinction was showed with pride to demonstrate the autonomy of a Church that owed nothing to anyone. The Roman Rite was officially introduced into St. Mark’s only after the patriarchal seat had been moved to St. Mark’s and the latter had its new role of Cathedral; however, this did not prevent that some of the previous melodies of liturgical recitatives (such as prefaces, lectures and so on) were orally handed down for decades also till the 20th century, until, and beyond, the reform of the Vatican II Council.

This new research work, which will be shortly described below, wants to draw a profile of the rites and melodies of Gregorian chant according to Mark’s usage as it comes out from the books used for centuries in the basilica and still preserved.

Indeed, in the past, a large number of Gregorian scholars devoted their efforts to rebuild the musical tradition at St. Mark’s, but, except for few attempts intended to shed light on the period before the fifteenth century, this was not very successful because of the shortage of documents preserved. At any rate, the starting-point was always the extraordinary production of the sixteenth century’s polyphony, while there were no earnest attempts to bring Gregorian Chant to light.
A recent discovery started from an occasional reason: in 1980 a private collector, lucky owner of an antiphonary rich in miniatures, applied to Mrs Giordana Mariani Canova – Lady Professor at the Department of History of the Miniature at the University of Padua – in order to hear her opinion about the beautiful handmade work he possessed. Mrs Mariani Canova was allowed to show it also to Mr Giulio Cattin – Professor at the University of Padua – for an analysis of the liturgical and musical aspects. Both of them agreed in estimating the code of Venetian origin, but there was not enough evidence to say it was a book that was used at St. Mark’s Church; moreover, they were sure that the beautiful choral book was worthy of further inquiry. With the owner’s permission, the research was resumed with renewed vigour and it spreads gradually to gather evidence regarding first of all the divine service held every day in the basilica, and then the books that were used for the celebration of the service itself. With the collaboration of Mrs Susy Marcon – responsible for the collection of ancient manuscripts at the Marciana Library – almost without realizing it, they started the total recovery of the library artistic patrimony of St. Mark’s.

A peculiar feature distinguishes St. Mark’s sources from the other northern sources: their strong conservatism. So, the period of the draft of the manuscripts is less important than the age of the repertoire that is preserved. Especially for the oldest codex that comes down to us, i.e. the Berliner gradual (so called because it is kept at the Berliner Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz, ms. Mus. 40608), it is possible to assert that it reflects the liturgical situation of the twelfth century, a period that is not far from the date of the construction of Mark’s building (1094).
The uniqueness of Mark’s musical heritage lies also in the calendar of saints that were celebrated during the year. This is one of the richest and peculiar field of Mark’s liturgy: the number of feasts is exceptionally high when compared with the Church of Aquileia or other Churches. The religious architecture in Venice in the eleventh century is already defined in its final configuration, with worship buildings dedicated to many saints : that was for centuries a privilege of the Venetian Sanctorale (patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament; Eastern martyrs, such as Theodore, George and others; saints typical of Ravenna’s area and so on). The liturgical-musical repertoire is already developed in the eleventh century and it shows a greater number of saints, which will be portrayed in the mosaics of the vaults and arches of the basilica and which will form the set of the annual celebration in Mark’s rite. In fact, the tendency in Venice was always to bring the cults/worships (and, if possible, the bodies) of the saints found elsewhere to Venice (just think of the relics that were brought from the East, of St. Mark’s body and of those following Constantinople’s conquest). Hence the different origins and components in the liturgical-musical repertoire of the Venetian Doge’s Chapel.

This is in short the work that some years ago the above-mentioned professors did, discovering a rich and unique musical treasure , that is the Venetian Gregorian Chant. However, music – that is an art of movement such as dance and theatre, unlike static arts (such as painting, sculpture and architecture) – lives on only when it is performed. That is why the work of researching and recovering of this musical repertoire is to be supported by the performance itself, in order to bring it to life again. This is the aim of the Schola Gregoriana “Aurea Luce”: to study and to perform such repertoires showing the uniqueness of what has been produced by this great medieval musical culture for our Venetian Church of Saint Mark.