Preferred Citation: Bak, János M., editor Coronations: Medieval and Early Modern Monarchic Ritual. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1990 1990.

Four The Manuscript of the Ordo of 1250 and Its Illuminations


The Manuscript of the Ordo of 1250 and Its Illuminations

Jean-Claude Bonne

An all-round assessment of the ordo of 1250 can be achieved only when it is placed in the context of the manuscript that contains it and when it is studied in relation to the images that illustrate it. A consideration of the text alone—or especially of the isolated text in the printed edition—tends to obscure both the ambitious nature of the work and its considerable symbolic importance. Even though it is something of a dossier about a ceremony in the process of evolution with concomitant imperfections, the ordo of 1250 contributed greatly to the form of the idea of royal consecration by emphasizing its specifically French characteristics. The attention devoted to the miniatures and, more generally, to the manuscript itself, which was clearly conceived as a sort of prototype or ideal model, is an indication of the significance of the whole enterprise.

The inclusion of the ordo among the litanies of Châlons-sur-Marne suggests that its compiler or patron may have been the bishop of Châlons, suffragan of the archbishop of Reims, peer of France, and officiant in the coronation ceremony, but by no means proves that it ever formed part of a fuller manuscript of a pontifical, as Canon Leroquais believed.[1] There are, in fact, three signs that point in the opposite direction, that is, that it was an autonomous text, produced for a specific circumstance: first, the perfect arrangement of the quires, and especially the completeness of the first and last; second, the fact that the last original folio was left blank until another hand added to its recto a slightly later illumination (an indication that the parchment was not intended to be used as part of a larger, continuing manuscript); third, the small format (215 × 150 millimeters), which led to the extension of the ordo over fourty-two folios and which hardly seems compatible with the typically larger liturgical manuscripts containing numerous other episcopal services. The autonomy and particularity of the manuscript's de-


sign are most convincingly indicated by the elaborate connections between its four components: rubrics, prayers, "notated" chants, and illuminations. Before turning to the last, the focus of this paper, a few remarks on the first three are in order.

The rubrics, conspicuous by their color, not only fill their usual role of providing ceremonial direction but also offer occasional commentary, for example, on the nature of the Holy Ampulla, or on the priestly connotation of a royal vestment. More fully developed and more precise than those of earlier ordines, the rubrics of the ordo of 1250 offered the illuminator material that he could manipulate more easily than the liturgical texts.

The prayers are written in black, their sections and subsections indicated by the use of large and small initials. These filigreed letters, alternately blue and red, serve as guides and prompts to the brief responses. Other elements of page design, such as the subtle balance between rubrics, prayers, and chants further attest to the care given to the ordo's appearance. If there is nothing exceptional in this, it does nevertheless suggest the considerable pains that were taken to give the ordo the quality of a good liturgical manuscript. We might note, in contrast, that in the oldest known version of the "last Capetian ordo" (in the pontifical Paris, B.N., ms. nouv. acq. lat. 1202), which is probably slightly later than the ordo of 1250, such elements are less fully apparent.

A consideration of the chants adds to the sense of the manuscript's importance and refinement. That notation was added to chants newly introduced into the service while the more familiar were left unnotated, indicates, as Pierre Fénot had suggested, the participation of a specialist and adduces further proof for the care taken in the orchestration.

The fifteen illuminations (approximately one for every three folios) are distributed according to their relation to the text and to the space required by their size (varying from a third to the whole of the page). The important thing is that they are not conceived as separate, isolated pictures but rather constitute a whole set designed to throw into relief, through the illustration of over twenty steps of his consecration, the politico-religious image of the king of France. This cycle, although neither as continuous nor as detailed as the miniatures in the ordo of Charles V,[2] selects and orders a series of distinct and essential stages of the consecration that transforms the status of the king. The illuminations thus lend themselves to analysis in terms of a rite of passage. Perhaps we should think of the manuscript as a kind of double ordo in which the images go their own way, as a sort of summary, parallel to the text.

The relation between text and illumination, and particularly their discrepancies, can be treated here only in the most perfunctory way. The problem of consistency of the images still deserves some discussion since certain factors—particularly the handling of color—tend to negate a person's picto-


rial identity. Thus the features of the king, the color of his dress or of the seat on which he sits change from one illustration to another without its being justified by the demands of the coronation ceremony. However, the prevalence of the rhythmical or "musical" effects over the descriptive ones, such as the alternating blue and red backgrounds, has certain relevance to the importance of chant within the ceremony. One might say that color is to the figural meaning of the image what psalmody is to the semantic meaning of the prayers and formulae recited in the ceremony. Thus color, an element that historians too often neglect because they cannot assign it a documentary value, is actually fundamental to an understanding of the tone of these ceremonies. For it is color that, in a typically medieval way, "musicalizes" the image and integrates it organically into the ritual.[3]

There is obvious difference between two types of illumination. The nine largest of the fifteen pictures, each in its own frame, depict, separately or together, on one or two levels, one or more phases of the ceremony. The six others are smaller, placed in initials to illustrate a single scene. The difference between the two groups is, to a certain extent, functional: the illuminator chose the smaller format of the initial when he sensed incoherence or awkwardness in the text. When, for example, a long rubric describes a sequence of distinct ceremonial steps for which the accompanying prayers appear only some pages later, the illuminator chose to place certain of his illustrations in the initials of the relevant prayers. This procedure, which creates a definite visual hierarchy and gradation between the two sets of images, provided an ingenious way to accomodate and contain, if not completely to resolve, textual incoherence: the figurative initials make it easy to find the relevant prayers.

Images of royal or imperial investiture prior to the manuscript of 1250 reflect entirely different concepts, essentially of three kinds: biblical, "mythical," and historical. To begin with, there are those that refer to the unction of Old Testament kings, above all David, illustrating the Book of Kings or Psalm 26. Their political importance might be investigated through a study of iconographic change,[4] but it is hard to be precise about their implications, which remain relatively limited. Then there are images of investiture that one might term mythical because they attempt to establish or reaffirm the legitimacy of a ruler or dynasty through direct divine intervention. Those miniatures in Carolingian, Ottonian, and Salian manuscripts of the ninth through eleventh centuries that show investiture by the hand of God, Christ, the Virgin, or an angel come immediately to mind. In contrast to these, the images of the ordo of 1250 deliberately avoid all such "supernaturalism," a fact of considerable importance in understanding the place of the Holy Ampulla in them, the heavenly origin of which is emphasized in the text. The third category of images (to which those of our ordo belong) might be called historical because they try to evoke the sense of an actual ceremony,


whether real or idealized. They begin to appear toward the end of the tenth century (Pontifical of Mainz, 960 A.D.; Ivrea Sacramentary, around 1000 A.D.), but the images do not become widespread in historical or liturgical manuscripts until the thirteenth century, and even at that date remain isolated collages that cannot escape supernaturalism or marked biblical allusion. And so far as I know, very few of the older liturgical manuscripts, including richly illustrated sacramentaries and pontificals, offer a sequence of images for one specific religious rite as long and complete as that supplied by the ordo of 1250.

All these factors taken together make the originality of this extensive and homogenous cycle of images particularly striking. A new concern for the sequential ordering of the illustrations of a rite—illustrations that are themselves largely new and fresh—reflects, in turn, a need to order, institutionalize, and promote the renewal of that very rite. The illustrations strengthen Le Goff's assertion that the elaboration of the rite served to demonstrate that balance of powers established in France during the reign of St. Louis between the feudal monarchy and the ecclesiastical aristocracy—a point that brings us to the question of the manuscript's date.

The two leading experts on Gothic manuscript illumination, R. Branner and F. Avril, date this manuscript, on the basis of its miniatures, around 1250, the latter pushing it back closer to 1240; and Branner has also identified the Paris workshop and two hands that may have produced them.[5] The date neatly tallies, as François Avril has pointed out to me, with the period between 1243 and 1248 when St. Louis decided to take the Cross and make meticulous arrangements for the governance of the realm during his absence. Given the precarious conditions of his own coronation and his desire to sacralize the image of the king of France, the achievement of an ordo focusing on these concerns fits neatly into the context of Louis's ordering of royal affairs to avoid crises that might be occasioned by his departure, including his death as a martyr of the Crusade. The image of unction on the king's forehead in the form of a red cross might very well be interpreted in this sense (see fig. 4.1).

A detailed analysis of the illustrations, which will appear elsewhere, will consider a number of factors which I can merely list here to suggest their significance. Apart from color, which has already been discussed, one should consider the following:

1. Format. The horizontal rectangle favors the lateral or simply "earthly" aspects of the stages of the ceremony at the expense of vertical relations, which, especially in "mythical" images of investiture, emphasize relations with the divinity.

2. Internal frame. Except for the initials and the very last miniature, it consists of trifoil arches, which suggest more the sacredness of the place where the ceremony is held, than the solid architecture of the building.



Figure 4.1.
Paris, B.N., ms. lat. 1246, fol. 17r. (Photo Michel Pastoureau)


This type of frame serves to establish rhythmic parallels to those of color, presents topographical patterns affirming hierarchic positions carefully distributed among the participants, and posits syntactic patterns articulating the successive or simultaneous moments of the action.

3. Figure and background. The way in which figures are inscribed on the background and on the different superimposed planes establishes another hierarchy of places and persons and an inherent relationship between the figure and its place, as is typical of medieval images.

4. Corporality. The striking whiteness of unmodeled flesh turns the bodies of the various figures into a kind of blank space to be inscribed or invested with Christian signs—particularly the bare chest of the king during unction with the Holy Oil (see fig. 4.1).

5. Vestments and other regalia. The manipulation of ordered sequences (such as dressing, undressing, dressing again) is at least as important as the appearance of the objects themselves.

6. Gesture. This is the means through which the symbolic and ideological content of the portrayed ritual becomes most explicit. Gestures include several relevant features, such as:

a. Place. Place and change of place (less realistic than symbolic), are always precisely indicated for the three main poles of the ceremony, that is, the king, the officiating person, and the altar.

b. Posture. The illuminator carefully presented all the figures in a standing position, except the king, who is depicted in four possible positions, standing, sitting, kneeling, and prostrate, a clear and significant contrast, particularly noteworthy because the images do not exactly follow the text on this point.

c. Positioning of head, arms, and legs. These are also elements in a system in which everything signifies something. The king can be recognized through three gestures reserved to him: his hand (usually the left) placed at the cords of his mantle, or his right hand on his hip with the elbow bent (a traditional gesture of authority), or his legs crossed; at the end of the ceremony, these three positions of his are combined (see no. 14, below, fol. 37v).

d. Orientation. Since we are looking at a "narrative" of the consecration, lateral relations are stressed by three-quarter face, following medieval iconographic practice.[6] Since the progress of the action and its "earthly" character are emphasized, frontal figures gazing directly at the spectator in a "timeless" pose of majesty are avoided.

To demonstrate, at least in outline, what is meant, I describe summarily the fifteen illuminations and elaborate on those three that appear most important for my argument.

1 (fol. 1). (a) Reception of the king and his entourage by the archbishop and clergy at the threshold of the church. (b) The king, seated, surrounded by standing clergy, prays, turned toward the altar.



Figure 4.2.
Paris, B.N., ms. lat. 1246, fol. 4r. (Photo Michel Pastoureau)


2 (fol. 4). Processional arrival of the Holy Ampulla (see fig. 4.2). This is one of the largest illustrations and the only one that depicts a single event, as in the smaller initials. This important stage of the ceremony brings together three groups. On the left, the king at the head of his entourage makes a gesture of assent in the direction of the cortège which fills the central space of the picture: the solemn transfer of the gilded Holy Ampulla by the abbot of St. Rémi under a golden canopy borne by four acolytes dressed in white albs. Movement is stressed by the fact that this central group infringes upon both the compartments behind and in front of it. The abbot carries the Holy Ampulla in his outstretched hands, as though he were presenting a chalice, not on a chain around his neck, as in the ordo of Charles V where one occasionally sees relics and the Holy Ampulla furnished with their hanging chains. This method of transferral seems all the more unlikely since the so-called ordo of Reims contains several measures aimed at protecting the procession of the Holy Ampulla from overly enthusiastic crowds. The cortège is seen to reach the altar on the right where a monk, also dressed entirely in white, turns toward it, holding a vase before him. This object may be the vessel containing the holy chrism, to which only a drop of the precious Holy Oil will be added. Near the altar, the archbishop and a group of bishops face the procession, while the king and his entourage are placed in the position of spectators and followers. R. Branner noted that the head of the abbot of St. Rémi had been redrawn by the same hand that painted the last illumination. One should also note the preponderance of the color white—a symbol, among others, of the Holy Spirit—in the procession of the Holy Ampulla; it is, of course, the heavenly relic that explains the white attire, otherwise inexplicable on so considerable a figure as the abbot of St. Rémi.

All these elements underline the importance of this moment and the exceptional reverence paid to the Holy Ampulla. Compared with this solemn adventus , the king's entry into the cathedral is a rather modest affair—although his return to the palace is another matter (see no. 15b below). What is remarkable in this miniature is the total absence of any "supernaturalism" in the sense described above. In contrast to the text and to certain earlier and later images—such as the ivory plaque with scenes from the life of St. Rémi, where the dove brings down the oil for Clovis's royal baptism,[7] or the ordo of Charles IV, where the dove supplies the vial for the royal unction[8] —this illustration makes no reference to the heavenly origin of the Holy Ampulla. We should further note that no picture illustrates the transfer of regalia from St. Denis, a less significant event than the transfer of that miraculous object that would serve as the high point of the consecration.

3 (fol. 4v). (a) Two bishops ask the people's assent; (b) & (c) The king, led by two bishops, goes to kneel at the altar, while the prelates chant the Te Deum .


4 (fol. 5v). The king lies prostrate before the altar while clergy chant the litanies in responding choirs.

5 (fol. 15v). (a) The lord chamberlain puts the slippers on the king's feet; (b) The Duke of Burgundy attaches the golden spurs.

6 (fol. 17r). The rite of the sword and the king's unction on the head (cf. fig. 4.1).

These two distinct phases of the ceremony are here combined in one image. In the left section a bishop, accompanied by a group of clergy, carries the naked sword upright in his left hand, looking to the right. The sword reappears in the center, placed on the altar from which it is supposed to acquire holiness, along with the two other metal regalia: crown and ring. On the right, the seneschal of France, surrounded by a group of laymen, has received the sword, which he holds in his bent right hand, turning right toward the center. (Note the different gesture of the two swordbearers!) The complex ceremonial handling of the sword by archbishop and king, as described in the ordo, is not depicted; rather, the king is shown kneeling at the altar, his hands joined before him in a gesture that suggests the offering of the sword at the altar, as the rubric prescribes. The principal action in the center is the anointing of the king on the forehead. The archbishop does not do this with his thumb, as prescribed in the ceremony, but with a golden nail. In fact, two distinct steps are condensed here: the extraction with the nail of a drop of Holy Oil from the Holy Ampulla to be mixed with the chrism and the anointing. Moreover, the metropolitan does not hold in his left hand a paten in which the mixing would be done, but rather a vial, as though the unction were to be accomplished with the pure and untouchable oil. Furthermore, he is accompanied, so to say doubled, by a monk in white, who recalls the procession from St. Rémi and attests, in a sense, to the nature of the liquid used. All these traits serve to emphasize the extraordinary sacredness of the oil with which the king of France was anointed. Without being able to discuss here at length the iconography of royal unction, which is sometimes represented as done directly with a vase or horn, sometimes with the thumb, let me note that to my knowledge only a few liturgical manuscripts containing the consecration of a king of France show anointing with a nail. In all likelihood, that iconography was pioneered by our manuscript.

We should also note that the unction, the oil of which is normally invisible, has gained substance on the forehead of the king in the form of a red cross, as though traced with the blood of Christ by a symbolic scarification into the king's flesh.[9] In sum, there is a distinct sacerdotal and christological connotation to the unction. The combination within the same image of the rite of the sword (an instrument for drawing blood) with the anointing is not mere iconographic fancy but a significant association. It might be interpreted in terms of a contract: in exchange for unction, which grants sacredness to


the king, the Church receives his promise to protect her (sealed by taking the cross) and to administer justice.

7 (fol. 19r, historiated initial to the word Unguantur ). Anointing of the king's hands.

8 (fol. 22v, initial of V in Vere ). The traditional image of a priest praying in front of the altar.

9 (fol. 26r, whole page). (a) The ties of the king's tunic are fastened; (b) The king receives the mantle (soccus ); (c) The lay and spiritual peers hold the crown above the head of the seated king; (d) The king, standing, crowned, and surrounded by the peers, receives the kiss of the (bare-headed) archbishop.

10 (fol. 26v, historiated initial of Accipe ). The standing king receives his sword.

11 (fol. 27v, same form). The seated king is given the ring.

12 (fol. 28r, same form). The scepter is handed to the seated king.

13 (fol. 29r, the fourth historiated initial to an Accipe ). Coronation of the standing king.

14 (fol. 37v). (a) The crown of the king and queen, seated, are exchanged for a less ceremonial diadem; (b) The king and queen take communion.

15 (fol. 42, cf. fig. 4.3; illumination by another, perhaps somewhat later, hand). (a) The crown of the standing king and queen are replaced by other ones; (b) The royal procession returns from the church to the palace.

The organization of this last miniature differs in many ways from all the preceding ones. The heads are more powerful, their physiognomy more elongated and sinuous, the drapery more developed; the groups are less compact and their relations more transitive. In the upper register the columns of the arched background are hidden by figures so that the partition is weakened; in the lower, the tripartite architectural frame disappears altogether to give way to an architecture that refers to the subject of the image. On the left there is the portal of a church which the royal procession is seen leaving; and on the right, where the altar had usually been placed, stands a fortified double arch, through which the procession enters. The palace is much larger than the church, and its two crenellated towers are higher than the spires of the belltowers. The central scene takes place under an open sky, suggested by the empty space left on the parchment above the background in the middle. The cortège is led by the seneschal, who holds the sword aloft. His figure is painted entirely over the palace, as though he were about to defend it or take possession of it. The palace portal above the swordbearer corresponds, in a sense, to the canopy over the bearers of the Holy Ampulla. No banner is depicted (nor is there a reference to one in the ordo), but the mantles of the seneschal and queen, who stand before and behind the king, are lined with ermine, which suggests the coat of arms of the royal house.



Figure 4.3.
Paris, B.N., ms. lat. 1246, fol. 42r. (Photo Michel Pastoureau)


Several other features distinguish this royal procession from the preceding illuminations. The king's silhouette is more subtle, more "aestheticized," particularly the position of his head and arms. A woman, recognizable by her coiffure, can be seen in the royal entourage, while all the clergy have disappeared. This procession, a lay counterpart of the one accompanying the Holy Ampulla on fol. 4r, implies a wish on the part of a king (who does not yet bear the physiognomy of a particular ruler) to be seen in person by his people. The people, who are almost totally missing from the other images (with the pale exception of 3a on fol. 4v), are here referred to in an implicit but nevertheless definite way, as the royal cortège crosses the town on foot, after the consecration, in order to be seen. Ceremony turns into spectacle.

What political significance can be attached to the fact that the consecration of the Capetian kings of France was deemed worthy of a cycle of such elaborate images in a liturgical manuscript?

These illuminations confirm in a striking was Jacques Le Goff's proposition that the supreme political project of Saint Louis—whose ideal of kingship lies, beyond doubt, at the basis of these miniatures—was to elevate the image of the Capetian monarchy and to develop its national and international prestige by pushing to its limits the religious and sacred character of the king, and using his paradoxical status of an anointed layman for political ends. It is important to notice the particular emphasis, both institutional and spectacular, placed by the illuminations on the sacredness of the king. The retelling of the consecration in images produces, among other effects, an intense historicization of the rite. Even the processional transfer of the Holy Ampulla and the very special way in which the king's body is anointed—to take only two highly characteristic acts—imply that the intervention of the supernatural, that is, the only means to sacralization, is conceived of as mediated by a liturgical action and by an object of a specifically national character. Although the ecclesiastical establishment kept real control over the sacred, in this affair it was portrayed only in the role of mediator. It could not use the Holy Ampulla for its own ends, for that vial was destined by God for the French kingship and accorded special honor for sacralizing the Capetian monarchy.

At the end of the ceremony, as it is depicted in the last miniature, the king makes use of his new sacrality to gain recognition by the people. The access of the French high clergy to the Holy Ampulla and the immanence of the supernatural in the liturgy is paralleled by a feeling of a quasi-immanence of the sacred in the Capetian dynasty. In fact, the vertical, or supernatural relationship—according to Luc de Heusch, the essence of any ritual[10] —is not particularly explicit in our set of images. Even if it is suggested by such features as the king's prostration before the altar, the cross on his forehead or the whiteness associated with the Holy Ampulla, the relationship with the supernatural is much less explicit in this cycle of images than in other works


of a similar genre. It is the horizontal references and "earthly" relationships that are underlined making rather those transactions explicit that are strictly ceremonial.[11] They are performed by those who represented power in thirteenth–century France: the high clergy as lords spiritual, the secular magnates of the realm, the still rather anonymous members of the court, and the king and queen themselves. The ordo's cycle of illuminations implies that the consecration can no longer be seen as only a mythical foundation of kingship or as the continuance of some immortal rite. It is rather intended to bestow official character on a national tradition by embedding it in a ceremony that was common throughout the West.

If the ordo of 1250 in its entirety succeeds in demonstrating a remarkable balance between the different modes—sacred ritual versus spectacular ceremony, ecclesiastical authority versus royal power on the path to autonomy, national spirit versus shared ideas of Christendom—the images also contain hints at the source of future tensions between these poles by placing value on the earthly, the spectacular, the French, and the powerfully royal aspects. Rarely does an illuminated manuscript of the high Middle Ages offer the historian of politics and ideology and the anthropologist of symbols and rites of power such a complex and enlightening document.

Four The Manuscript of the Ordo of 1250 and Its Illuminations

Preferred Citation: Bak, János M., editor Coronations: Medieval and Early Modern Monarchic Ritual. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1990 1990.