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Leonardo da Vinci, a study of the Head of Madonna, c. 1484 CE. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Marian Antiphons

The Marian antiphons are:

These four antiphons are sung during the eight Canonical Hours, or Divine Office. They may precede or end a psalm. The Salve Regina is sung at Compline and is the best-known of antiphons. Antiphons have been associated with Benedictine monasticism. They are in the Catholic Gregorian Chant repertory which is perhaps rooted in part in Iberian Mozarabic Chant and also originates in Judaism. There are 150 psalms. Many psalters are illuminated manuscripts. The Marian Antiphons were written in Latin, but Wikipedia entries provide an English translation.

Britannica[1] describes antiphons as “Roman Catholic liturgical music, chant melody and text sung before and after a psalm verse. These were sung originally by alternating choirs (antiphonal singing). The antiphonal singing of psalms was adopted from Hebrew worship by the early Christian churches, notably that of Syria.” But Marian antiphons are not “true antiphons.”[2]

In its description of antiphons, Britannica adds that “[t]he four Marian antiphons are long hymns, not true antiphons but independent compositions especially noted for their beauty.” The four Marian antiphonies may have changed as polyphony developed. Moreover it is not uncommon for composers to set a known text to music. In an earlier post, I noted that Michel-Richard de Lalande wrote a Regina CæliSeveral composers have written a Regina Cæli and several, a Salve Regina. Many of these liturgical texts have numerous settings. Mozart’s Requiem is a mass.

It may therefore be prudent to describe Marian antiphons as content rather than form. But they are in the Catholic Gregorian Chant repertory which may be rooted in Iberian Mozarabic chant.  Marian antiphons, however, are not psalmody. It should be noted as well that Marian hymnology includes antiphons that differ from the four Marian antiphons. For instance, the antiphon Ave Maris Stella (click on Ave Maris Stella) is the Acadians‘ national anthem. Acadians are the French-speaking inhabitants of Canada’s Atlantic provinces: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.


Salve Regina manuscript, 1787 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hermann of Reichenau

Scholars disagree, but the Salve Regina and the Alma Redemptoris Mater, a prayer, yet also a Marian antiphon, are attributed to Hermann von Reichenau [3] (18 July 1013 – 24 September 1054), also called Hermannus Contractus or Hermannus Augiensis or Herman the Cripple, a crippled son of the Count of Altshausen. Hermann was taken to a Benedictine abbey, where he was schooled, at the age of seven. He later entered the Benedictine order. He was a composer, a music theorist, mathematician, and astronomer. He was beatified (cultus confirmed) in 1863. (See Hermann of Reichenau, Wikipedia.) The Salve Regina is one of the Leonine Prayers.

Although the dates do not coincide precisely, there are four Marian antiphons just as there are four seasons. However, although Christian feasts are celebrated on or near solstices and equinoctial points, they also occur at other moments of the year. Christmas is celebrated near the longest night of the year, the winter solstice, and the summer solstice coincides with St John’s Day, or Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, Quebec’s national holiday, celebrated on 24 June. Easter is celebrated near the vernal equinox. It is Eastertide. As for the autumn equinox, it occurs near the mostly forgotten Michaelmas, la Saint-Michel, on 29 September.

An artistic rendering of “Herman the Lame” as he is sometimes called (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


St. Michael, detail from Abraham and the Archangel Michael, Lower Saxony, … Courtesy of the Institut für Denkmalpflege, Halle, Germany  (Photo credit: Encyclopædia Britannica)

As for liturgical seasons, there are eight : Advent, Christmastide, Epiphany, Pre-Lent, Lent, Easter Triduum, Eastertide. In the Catholic Church, there are eight Marian Feast Days. (See Marian Feast Days, Wikipedia).

The main Catholic Marian Feast Days are:

In the Eastern Orthodox and Greek-Catholic liturgical calendars, the most important Marian Feast Days are:


A complete discussion of Marian hymns would demand a closer examination of several Christian denominations: Armenian, etc. But for most Christians, the next Marian feast day is the Assumption of Mary, called the Dormition of Mary in the Eastern Church. It is celebrated on the 15th of August.

I will conclude by quoting, once more, Britannica’s entry on antiphons: “The antiphonal singing of psalms was adopted from Hebrew worship by the early Christian churches, notably that of Syria.” Moreover, Mary is venerated in Islam. (See Mary in Islam, Wikipedia.) This quotation points to the Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.


Love to everyone ♥ 


[1] https://www.britannica.com/art/antiphon-music

[2] https://www.britannica.com/art/antiphon-music

[3] https://www.britannica.com/biography/Hermann-von-Reichenau

The Music

I’m using Arvo Pärt‘s Salve Regina, with footage taken from Sátántangó (1994) for the second time. However, Wikipedia’s entry on  Herman of Reichenau includes a fine interpretation of the Salve Regina by Les Petits Chanteurs de Passy. It is delightful.

Homemade music video for Salve Regina by Arvo Pärt. Performed by The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. Conducted by Paul Hillier.
Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000…

Footage taken from Sátántangó (1994) directed by Béla Tarr.
Imdb link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0111341/


© Micheline Walker
3 August 2017