Sarum Use, or Sarum Rite

The word “Sarum” often shows up in our Hymnal, indicating that a hymn tune is based on a plainchant melody from the “Sarum Use.” For example, the tune to which we often sing Hymn #485, “Jesus, thou Joy of loving heart,” is named CHRISTE REDEMPTOR. Our Hymnal indicates (in the upper right-hand corner of the page) that the tune’s origins are from “Sarum plainsong, Mode I.”

Salisbury Cathedral
Photo © Antony McCallum,

“Sarum” is the abbreviation for Sarisburium, the Latin word for Salisbury, a city in south central England. The city is home to Salisbury Cathedral, and Salisbury is also the name of a diocese in the Church of England and in the pre-Reformation Church in England. The “Sarum Use” is the name applied to the ecclesiastical and liturgical order developed at Salisbury, beginning in the early thirteenth century, under the leadership of Richard le Poore, dean of Salisbury from 1198 to 1215 and bishop of the diocese from 1217 to 1228. The Sarum Use predates the consolidation and uniformity of the elements of the liturgy and its exercise that was eventually established in the Western Church.

These elements include the saints’ days recognized in the calendar, the colors used and the specific vestments worn by clergy in the liturgy during specific seasons, and the music that was sung during the Mass and the Office.

By the fourteenth century, the Sarum Use had been adopted in most of England, as well as much of Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and even some places on the continent. While other diocese in England (e.g., Hereford, York, Bangor, and Lincoln) also maintained distinctive liturgical practices, J. Robert Wright claims that the Sarum Use was “the finest local expression of the Western or Roman Rite in England up to the Reformation.”

After the Reformation, in 1549, the Sarum Use was outlawed by Edward VI. While it enjoyed a brief return to use between 1553 and 1558 — during the reign of Queen Mary — Wright explains that “The Use finally met its demise in England with the accession of Elizabeth I by royal injunctions of 1559 that reiterated the Edwardian decree that the Sarum books should be ‘utterly abolished, extinguished, and forbidden.’ In English Roman Catholic seminaries abroad, however, it continued until the Roman Breviary of 1568 and Roman Missal of 1570.”