Rorate Caeli

In honor of Saint James

Apostolic Tomb-Reliquary, Cathedral, Santiago de Compostela

Santiago, protector of Christians, protect us this day from the enemies of the Church.

Guillaume Dufay
Rite maiorem Iacobus

Dufay wrote this startlingly beautiful Motet (c. 1426-1428) in honor of Saint James for his friend Fr. Robert Auclou, or Aclou, secretary to his master at the time, French Cardinal Louis Aleman, during the latter's time as papally-appointed Governor of Bologna. Aleman's personal church in Bologna was none other than the brand new Basilica of Saint James the Greater (San Giacomo Maggiore), hence the famous Missa Sancti Iacobi as well as this motet  -- and the play of words (cf. text at the end of post, read acrostic from top to bottom) Robert Auclou Saint James' Curate (ROBERTVS ACLOV CVRATVS SANCTI IACOBI).

The musical qualities of this startling piece explained by our contributor, Prof. Peter Kwasniewski:

Like many late medieval/early Renaissance motets, this one by Dufay, in honor of St. James the Greater, exhibits unbelievably intricate craftsmanship -- a beautiful aesthetic effect emerging out of strictly controlled mathematical units of repetition, where a melody is given again and again, with the same rhyhmic configuration (hence the musicological term "isorhythmic motet"). It is, to speak anachronistically, medieval minimalism. One is also reminded of the intricate ceilings of Gothic cathedrals with their repeated architectural, sculptural, and decorative elements. The final cadence is, to say the least, surprising!

A translation of the text is available here.

Rite maiorem Iacobus canamus,
Ordinis summi decus, o fideles.
Blanda sit semper tibi sors viator.
Exite, laudes, hominum patrono!
Rebus et frater paribus Iesus
Tam novas Christi facies uterque
Visit; ut Petrus sequitur magistrum
Sponte, dilectus fieri alumnus.

Audivit vocem Iacobi sonoram
Corda divinis penitus moventem
Legis acceptae Pharisaeus hostis;
Ora conversus lacrimis rigavit.

Vinctus a turba prius obsequente.
Cum magus sperat Iacobum ligare,
Vertit in penas rabiem furoris,
Respuit tandem magicos abusus.

Artibus summis miseri reclusi,
Tanta qui fidunt Iacob merenti,
Vinculis ruptis petiere terram
Saltibus gressu stupuere, planam.

Sopor annosae paralysis altus
Accitu sancti posuit rigorem.
Novit ut Christi famulum satelles,
Colla dimisit, venerans ligatum.
Tu patri natum laqueis iniquis
Insitum servas. Duce te precamur:
Iam mori vi non metuat viator,
At suos sospes repetat penates!

Corporis custos animaeque fortis,
Omnibus prosis baculoque sancto
Bella tu nostris moveas ab oris.
Ipse sed totum tege iam Robertum!