CHD Litanie omnium sanctorum - General Introduction
The Litany - Structure and significance
How to take notes

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Disclaimer 2007: This page was a draft to an unifinished document, which never was finished, but somehow slipped unto the server by mistake some years ago. Now that the error has been discovered will it get a higher priority. The problem is now that the number of recorded litanies on the database has gone up from 500 to more than 1000, which makes it more than difficult to keep the introduction short and simple.

The section with the seven penitential psalms always includes a litany with a row of petitions, where All Saints are asked to intervene before the Almighty for the salvation of the human soul. A number of saints are listed by their name, and each name followed by the prayer "Ora pro nobis", normally abbreviated to "Ora".
The litanies open with the formula "Kyrie eleison" (medieval: "Kyrieleison", and a direct address to God the Trinity (the father, the son and the holy ghost) to have mercy with us (miserere nobis). Then follows the Virgin Mary (dei genitrix, virgo virginum), and the archangels and angels (Omnes sancti angeli et archangeli orate pro nobis).
The saints that follow are divided into cathegories, according to their ranking in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. First the Apostles and disciples (Omnes sancti Apostoli et Evangeliste, Omnes sancti discipuli Domini) followed by a commemoration of the Innocent Children (Omnes sancti Innocentes orate pro nobis). Then all the martyrs with the prothomartyr St.Steven first (Omnes sancti martires orate). Then follow all the confessors, normally arranged after their ranking in life (Popes, Doctors, Bishops, Abbots, Priests, Monks etc.) with Silvester as the most prominent. The last cathegory is the virgins, where the women who were close to Christ in life conventionally are mentioned first.

Apostles and Disciples:
The first cathegory of saints, where all the apostles and disciples are listed, has not been recorded by me. There is very little variation in this section in the 15th Century, in strong contrast to older sources from the 12th and 13th century that display a considerable variety in the number and their sequence. The number, however, of surviving early sources from the same locality, is too scarce to make a fruitful comparison. But there are exceptions where special saints are added at the end, as apostles or disciples. The best known is St.Marcialis, who was very popular, especially in Southern France, but also is included in litanies from Rouen. In order to register such exceptions have I recorded the last four apostles with any additions they might have. As a result can I demonstrate an example: If St.Ursin (Bishop of Bourges) is classified as a disciple or even has a cathegory of his own, is it a good indication that the manuscript had its origin or use in Normandy, and not in Bourges where he was active. His relics were deposited in Lisieux, where his translation was a feast of high degree:


The list of confessors is normally the most interesting part of the litany, because we here often find indicators for the patron of the church, the founder of the monastic order, or some local saints that only were commemorated in their own community. Especially former bishops from the diocese who are unknown outside the district. The method is the same as used for the localization of a calendar, except that we must operate without a date. The hierarchy is not always strictly followed, which also can contribute with interesting details. Silvester is the first confessor, except where the local patron is placed on top. Most litanies from the diocese of Utrecht begins with St.Martin, to mention an important exception, and it is also the case in parts of the archdiocese of Tours. Next come the Fathers of the Church (Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory, Jerome), then the bishops etc. In some litanies are the confessors divided in two sections after their rank: 1. Bishops and other presbyters on top, 2. Monks and hermits below, each section ending with "Omnes"

Last among the virgins are often inserted the virtues Fides, Spes and Charitas (Cf. St.Paul, I Cor. 13,13: Nunc autem manent, fides, spes, charitas: tria haec; maior autem horum est charitas). They were turned into real saints in the medieval mind as the testimony of Usuardus shows on August 1st: "Item Romae, passio sanctarum virginum Spei, Fidei et Charitatis et matris earum Sapientiae: quae sub Adriano principe martyrii coronam adeptae sunt."

Hagiographical analysis:

Structural analysis: Chaos and structure: A good illustration of the complexity we face in comparing litanies is found in two books of hours that apparently have nothing in common. None the less are their litanies at the same time so similar and unusual, that they must be related in some way:
1. French Book of Hours, early 15th Century (Sold Sotheby╣s July 8, 1974, Lot 80): Martyrs: Stephane, laurenti, vincenti, fabiane, sebastiane, iohannes et paule, cosma et damiane, gervasi et prothasi, omnes-
Confessors: Silvester, gregori, martine, augustine, ambrosi, iheronime, nicholae, ludovice, omnes-, benedicte, francisce, anthoni, dominice, ludovice, omnes sci monachi et heremite etc.
Virgins: Maria magdalena, agnes, lucia, cecilia, agatha, katherina, clara, elyzabeth, omnes-
2. Flemish Book of Hours, Use of Rome, with miniatures by the David-Master (Ex Coll. Dyson Perrins; Sold Sotheby╣s Dec. 1, 1959, Lot 87):
Martyrs: Stephane, vincenti, fabiane, sebastiane, johannes et paule, cosma et damiane, gervasi et prothasi, eutropi, blasi, omnes-
Confessors: Silvester, gregori, martine, augustine, ambrosi, iheronime, nicholae, ludovice, omnes-, francisce, benedicte, anthoni, bernardine, ludovice, omnes -
Virgins: Maria magdalena, anna, agnes, lucia, cecilia, katherina, margareta, barbara, clara, elizabeth, omnes-
The relation between these two litanies is shouting for an explanation. The second St.Louis (monachus) is Ludovicus bishop of Toulouse (feast Aug. 28th), only venerated by the Franciscans [Apud Marciliam, sancti Ludovici episcopi et confessoris, et filii regis Siciliae, episcopi Tolosani, de ordine Fratrum Minorum (Migne PL Vol. col.378)].They are both Franciscan, but so are hundreds of other litanies with a different structure. A large number of sources on the database has now shown that it is based on a short standard 'Roman' litany that became predominant in 'Hore ad usum Romanum' from the later 15th century and up to modern times. It is best recognized by having a series of martyrs paired two and two on one line (Johannes et Paule, Cosma et Damiane, etc.)

The Dominican sequence: Nicholas Rogers has collected a very convincing material of Dominican litanies, that proves the stability of the opening sequence of the martyrs and confessors in a book "Ad usum ordinis predicatorum" (of the 15th cent.):
Martyrs: Stephane, clemens, corneli, cypriane, laurenti, vincenti, -
Confessors: Silvester, hylari, martine, augustine, ambrosi, -
(see: N. Rogers: Oxford University College MS.5: A Flemish Book of Hours for a Dominican Nun, in: Flanders in a European Perspective, edited by M.Smeyers & B.Cardon, Leuven 1995, pp.219-235 (Appendix II p.228-29));
The Dominicans were an exception because it was the only major established order who prescribed a uniform liturgy for all districts early in the 15th century. There are, however, many similar cases of local structural traditions, just waiting to be discovered and explained, by comparing the sources where they are found.

A complete Litany c.1400:

Den Haag, Het Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Ms. 75 H 43. Book of Hours, Arras c.1400. Fol. 73-76v°
Le letanie.


Kyrieleyson Xpristeley
son. Xpe audi nos
Pater de celis deus miserere nobis.
Fili redemptor mundi deus mis.
Spiritus sce deus miserere nobis.
Sca trinitas unius deus miserere.
Sancta dei genitrix ora pro nobis.
Sancta virgo virginum Ora.
Sancta maria Ora.
Sancte michael Ora.
Sancte gabriel Ora.
Sancte raphael Ora.
Sancta cherubin Ora.
Sancta seraphin Ora.


Omnes sci angeli et archangeli Orate
Omnes sci patriarche et prophete Or.
Sce iohannes baptista Ora.
Sancte petre Ora.
Sancte paule Ora.
Sancte andrea Ora.
Sancte iacobe Ora.
Sancte iohannes euuangelista Ora.
Sancte thoma Ora.
Sancte iacobe Ora.
Sancte philippe Ora.
Sancte bartholomee Ora.
Sancte symon Ora.
Sancte mathee Ora.


Omnes sci apostoli et euuangeliste Ora.
Omnes sancti Innocentes Orate
Sancte stephane Ora.
Sancte line Ora.
Sancte clete Ora.
Sancte clemens Ora.
Sancte laurenti Ora.
Sancte sebastiane Ora.
Sancte dyonisi Ora.
Omnes sancti martires Orate
Sancte vedaste Ora.
Sancte silvester Ora.
Sancte leo Ora.
Sancte ieronime Ora.


Sancte augustine Ora.
Sancte ambrosi Ora.
Sancte gregori Ora.
Sancte martine Ora.
Sancte gaugerice Ora.
Sancte nicholae Ora.
Sancte anthoni Ora.
Omnes sci confessores Orate
Sancta maria magdalena Ora.
Sancta martha Ora.
Sancta felicitas Ora.
Sancta perpetua Ora.
Sancta agatha Ora.
Sancta agnes Ora.


Sancta cecilia Ora.
Sancta lucia Ora.
Sancta gertrudis Ora.
Sancta katherina Ora.
Sancta tecla Ora.
Sancta margaretha Ora.
Sancta fides Ora.
Sancta spes Ora.
Sancta caritas Ora.
Sancta maria egyptiaca Ora.
Sancta Juliana Ora.
Sancta elizabeth Ora.
Omnes sce virgines Orate
Omnes sancti Orate


Propicius esto parce nobis domine
Ab omni malo libera nos domine
Ab hoste maligno libera
Ab omni dampnatione libera
Per misterium incarnationis
tue libera nos domine.
Per passionem tuam libera
Per sanctam crucem tuam libera
Per gloriosam resurrectionem tuam [l.]
Per admirabilem ascentionem tuam l.
Per gratiam sancti spiritus paracliti l.
A penis inferni libera
In die iudicij libera
Peccatores te rogamus audi.


Ut pacem et concordiam nobis dones t'
Ut ecclesiam tuam regere et defen-
dere digneris te rogamus audi nos.
Ut loca nostra et omnes habitantes meis
visitare et defendere digneris te rogamus
Ut omnibus benefactoribus nostris sempi-
terna bona retribuas te rogamus
Ut omnibus fidelibus defunctis re-
quiem eternam donare digneris t.r.
Fili dei .iij. foys .te rogamus
Agnus dei qui tollis peccata
mundi parce nobis domine.
Agnus dei qui tollis peccata
mundi exaudi nos domine.

Compare this text with another very similar litany, written a generation later, from a french book of hours for the use of Paris c.1430-40, Invocatio sanctorum (Den Haag KB Ms. 135 J 9).
A comparison, in addition, with the litanies in a modern Roman Breviary, will show you that the way of thinking has changed very little on this point (at least in the Catholic Church) since the 14th century.
The "Hypertext Book of Hours " by Glenn Gunhouse has an English translation to its Litanies.

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Last update 15.10.2003