BOOK REVIEW: The Use of Hereford: The Sources of a Medieval English Diocesan Rite (William Smith)-Review by Matthew T. Vander Vennet

William Smith. The Use of Hereford: The Sources of a Medieval English Diocesan Rite. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Co., 2015. Paper. Pp. xiii, 830. ISBN: 9781472412775.

William Smith’s The Use of Hereford: The Sources of a Medieval English Diocesan Rite is an examination of a localized English diocesan rite and its origins and development. The purpose of his study is to “provide a survey and description of the extant Hereford sources, so far as they are known, discussing in particular all the missals[1] and the gradual[2], which hitherto have received little attention” (xiii). Smith aims to place the Hereford rite, or ‘use’[3], in the wider context of medieval rites and to show how they relate and differ from one another as valid local forms of the Roman rite.

The introduction of the work provides background on the way that certain ‘uses’ (consuetudo) of the Roman rite came into existence during the Middle Ages and describes previous attempts at a study of the Hereford rite. The major uses, or forms, in England during this time period, which Smith covers from the post-Conquest (c.1066) until the Reformation (16th century), were the Sarum, York, and Hereford rites. Smith reiterates that he wishes his study to contribute further research into a relatively unexplored field of the development and origins of English medieval secular liturgical forms. He admits that due to a lack of primary source material, extrapolation of the extant sources is necessary, complicating the interpretation of the results of the study. Smith introduces the material and the setting in which to interpret the findings, and conducts a brief survey of the history of British Diocesan rites and where the Hereford fits within this history. He outlines secular forms, Welsh forms, and Scottish forms of particular rites, as well as forms used within monastic dioceses.

In chapter three, Smith begins a pointed examination of the use of Hereford. Here he lays out the history of the rite in the context of the history of the cathedral and diocese wherein it was formed. The origins of the cathedral and diocese antedate the Norman Conquest and the presence of relics from a martyred adolescent local king ensured that Hereford would become a prominent pilgrimage site and principal see of the diocese. The history culminates in discussion of the medieval cathedral and the prominent bishops associated with its rise. Next, Smith discusses the liturgical origins of the rite and the possible influences from a variety of difference sources, including prominent churchmen, cathedrals, and liturgical books from the mainland. Smith offers an example of the early study of the rite and its possible origins conducted during the 19th century, and then offers a more nuanced and corrected view of the findings of that study based upon the writings of John of Avranches (d.1079), Archbishop of Rouen. Smith wishes to update the scholarship of the rite based upon new evidence collected over the last century and because of the advances in manuscript study to offer a more balanced view. Smith’s ends this chapter explaining the extent of the rite, truly only within its diocese, the cessation of the rite, its abolition occurring during the Reformation, and a brief discussion of the available sources.

Smith looks at various missal manuscripts and fragments and their contents from the British Library, Oxford, Worchester, Stratton-on-the-Fosse, and an untraced edition with a view to their structure (including calendars), dating, authorship, decoration, and individual history in chapter four. Breviaries and various fragments, also found in several locales, as well as graduals and fragments are also presented via their own structure, dating, etc. Antiphoner fragments, obituaries with martyrologies, pontifical fragments and other liturgical/liturgically related manuscripts along with Collectar (medieval service book with lessons for office except matins) are also detailed at length in the same way as described above. Smith does the same for the printed materials still in existence.

Priming the reader for a discussion on the modern editions of the Hereford missal and breviary in the following chapter, Smith focuses specifically upon the printed Hereford missal and breviary as “rare early printed liturgica” (381). Smith discusses the printing deficiencies of some editions and especially the errors contained within a particular printed version; helpful in determining the quality of the sources to reference should the reader wish to do so on their own. He notes another edition of Frere’s and Brown’s printed breviary of 1505 for its deficiencies, but does so because it is an early example of diligent scholarship due to its desire to reproduce a reliable and usable text for English liturgical studies. Smith then examines the ordinaries and canons of the Mass as contained in a manuscript and the 1502 editions of the rite. The Sarum and Hereford rites are shown to be closer in alignment with one another than the York rite. Large sections of text are reproduced in this chapter and a side-by-side comparison of the texts contained within the manuscript, the printed, and the Sarum rite are also included. The parts shared by each are bolded for easy reference.

Chapter eight examines the Mass and office prayers and their possible development. Smith determines that the missal and breviary developed sporadically, borrowing from a variety of sources, though principally from the Sarum. These developments continued until the 1502 printed edition which represents the final stage of its evolution before its abolishment. Smith admits that due to the scarcity of sources the exact determination of this evolution remains and may remain a mystery. Tables show the various comparisons between the different sections of the Mass and where they are found in the various extant sources.

Smith shows that lectionaries are also an important component in the study of the Hereford rite. The gospel lectionaries developed especially because of the various ferial feast days as they related to local saint cults and as aids to preaching. Gospel readings on any given day could differ among even local dioceses showing the individuality and diversity possible. There are comparisons between various lectionaries and Smith uses the Frere edition to showcase them. Rare and unusual gospel readings are more prevalent in the Hereford and York rites and these are survivals from the pre-Carolingian period. Another chart is included which shows comparisons among the gospels in the three rites as well as examples of sermon headings associated with certain verses in each gospel.

Discussing the series of sequences, or melodic compositions, sung at the Mass on important feast days like Christmas and Easter, Smith determines that certain sequences remained the same in all three rites (Sarum, Hereford, York) and were used up until the abolition of the rites. Some sequences still survive within more modern hymns (Dies irae, Veni sancte spiritus). A chart showing the comparison of the sequences among the rites is given with overlap in bolded letters. Smith then discusses the correlation among Hereford, Sarum, and York in terms of the alleluyatic verses that follow the graduals and the pre- and post- canon prayers. While highlighting the areas where they overlapped, he shows that considerable diversity was possible and permissible at this time. Moving to discussion of the calendar and litany of saints, Smith traces the long and continuous development of the calendar of saints up to and including those found in the Hereford documents. He includes examples that show some differences between pre- and post- Conquest liturgical calendars, important in tracing the development of the rite. A survey of extant calendars and brief discussion of the Hereford litany closes the chapter.

Unique and distinctive Hereford festa[4] are discussed and listed, followed by calendar and litany notes on these distinctive festa. An entire chapter is then devoted to the principal cults of Hereford which include St. Ethelbert, St. Thomas Cantilupe, and St. Raphael the Archangel as found in the various documents including missals and breviaries. Other saints imported into the Hereford calendar and their histories of association with the Hereford form comprise another full chapter in the volume. Of the later nova festa that emerged towards the time of the Reformation such as the Transfiguration, the Name of Jesus, and the Five Wounds, only three were included in the Hereford rite: the Transfiguration, the Holy Name, and the Visitation. Smith offers the Reformation as a possible reason preventing the full flourishing of these new festa and their subsequent development.

The origin and development of the Hereford rite was due to an untidy variety of factors — from reforming bishops, to the construction of the cathedral itself, to the local cult of saints — all contributing to its long evolution and distinctive local flavor. These factors also contributed to its similarities and differences with other local rites, while always preserving its essential character. Through a thorough and systematic study of the extant documents of the Hereford and the use of secondary source support in the form of historical studies, encyclopedias, theses, journals, on-line sources, bibliographies, biographies, handbooks, reports, maps, etc., Smith is able to plausibly construct the development of the origins and evolution of the Hereford form of the Roman rite, thus contributing not only to the study of this particular rite, but the way in which liturgical studies such as this can be conducted.

Though there are a few, more images throughout the work would have been a welcome addition, especially in reference to certain manuscripts or printed works discussed. A picture and map of the cathedral and diocese of Hereford somewhere in the work would have been helpful as well. Smith is logical and clear in his approach to this study; quite welcome to someone not familiar with the material. The use of footnotes rather than endnotes makes referencing easy. Copious annotation throughout the work shows the depth of the research undertaken by the author.

Overall the work is foundational for the study of the use of the Hereford rite and as a starting point in the study of the development of other English rites. Though geared towards the academic community, primarily liturgical specialists and students at the graduate level or higher, anyone interested in the history of liturgy, Church history in general, or in how to properly utilize ancient manuscripts in a study will benefit from this work.


Matthew T. Vander Vennet has currently finished his first year of doctoral course work at the Catholic University of America. His research interests lie in the field of Church History, especially the patristic period. Secondary interests include the development and praxis of the liturgy in its various forms. He currently resides in Virginia with his wife and newborn daughter.


[1] Missals are liturgical books containing the order of the Mass, the ordinary and the propers, used throughout the liturgical year. Missals sometimes contained notations relating to the music of the Mass and other special instructions for various other services such as suffrages, votive Masses, commemorations of the dead, and marriages.

[2] Graduals are collections of antiphons, verses, or songs recited or sung during the liturgy usually after the reading of the epistle and before the recitation of the Gospel.

[3] The term ‘use’ refers to the form of the liturgy and all attached to it in a particular location or instance. Smith refers to a ‘use’ as “the liturgical customs peculiar to a particular ecclesiastical foundation, here Hereford Cathedral” (xiii). In the case of the Hereford Use, we may refer to it as the local expression of the Roman rite in a given diocese or territory. These expressions varied from diocese to diocese and developed up until the abolition of the rite during the English Reformation and the Council of Trent.

[4]Festa, (plural of festum, from the Latin) are feast days or holidays celebrated for any variety of reasons, though most commonly a saint’s feast day.