Notre Dame_edited.jpg
Winchester Cathedral_edited.jpg

Sarum *

The Sarum Rite (more properly called Sarum Use) was a variant of the Roman Rite widely used for the ordering of Christian public worship, including the Mass and the Divine Office. Established by Saint Osmund, Bishop of Salisbury in the 11th Century, it was originally the local form used in the Cathedral and Diocese of Salisbury; it later became prevalent throughout southern England and came to be used throughout most of England, Wales, Ireland and later Scotland until the reign of Queen Mary.  Although abandoned after the 16th century, it was also a notable influence on the pattern of Anglican liturgy represented in Thomas Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer. While occasional interest in the Sarum liturgy has surfaced and efforts have been made at restoration of the liturgy by both Anglicans and Roman Catholics, these efforts have not produced a general revival.


How can the historical Sarum liturgies inform our worship today and move the Christian community toward reconciliation and regenerate a spirit of ecumenism? That question forms the basis of each of our conferences.


A Brief History

In 1078, William of Normandy appointed St Osmund, a Norman nobleman, as bishop of Sarum (today the city is known as Salisbury.) As bishop, Osmund initiated some revisions to the extant Celtic-Anglo-Saxon rite and the local adaptations of the Roman rite, drawing on

both Norman and Anglo-Saxon traditions.


Nineteenth century liturgists theorized that the liturgical usage of Rouen in northern France served as an inspiration for the creation of the Sarum liturgical books. Because the Normans deposed the Anglo-Saxon episcopate, replacing them with Norman bishops, of which Osmund was one, and in light of the similarities between the liturgy in Rouen and that of Sarum, it appears the Normans imposed their French liturgical books as well.


“This conjecture approaches certainty when it is found that the Use of Rouen and that of Sarum were almost identical in the 11th century. A curious and interesting illustration of this will be found in an extract of a Rouen manuscript missal, assumed to be 650 years old... The Rouen Pontifical, of about 1007 A.D., quoted in the same work, shows a like affinity of that of Sarum and Exeter in later days.”[The Sarum Missal in English]


The revisions during Osmund’s episcopate resulted in the compilation of a new Missal, Breviary, and other liturgical manuals, which came to be used throughout southern England, Wales, and parts of Ireland.


Some dioceses issued their own missals, inspired by the Sarum rite, but with their own particular prayers and ceremonies. Some of these are so different that they have been identified as effectively distinct liturgies, such as those of Hereford, York, Bangor, and Aberdeen. Other missals (such as those of Lincoln Cathedral or Westminster Abbey) were more evidently based on the Sarum rite and varied only in details.


Liturgical historians believe the Sarum rite had a distinct influence upon other usages of the Roman rite outside England, such as the Nidaros rite in Norway and the Braga rite in Portugal.


When the Church of England separated from the Roman Catholic Church in the 1530s, it initially retained the Sarum rite, with gradual modifications. Under Edward VI, Protestant pressure for public worship in English resulted in its replacement by successive versions of the Book of Common Prayer in 1549 and 1552. Queen Mary restored the Sarum rite in 1553 and promulgated it throughout England, but Elizabeth I ultimately abolished it in 1559. The Sarum rite continued to be used by Roman Catholic recusants, but through the influence of the Council of Trent and the Counter Reformation it was gradually replaced by the Tridentine Use.


Liturgical History

Many of the ornaments and ceremonial practices associated with the Sarum rite - though not the full liturgy itself - were revived in the Anglican Communion in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as part of the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement in the Church of England. Some Anglo-Catholics wanted to find a traditional formal liturgy that was characteristically “English” rather than “Roman”, and they took advantage of the ‘Ornaments Rubric’ of 1559 which directed that English churches were to be furnished as they had been at the start of Edward VI’s reign, which is to say, in Sarum fashion with few concessions to Protestant practice.** However, there was a tendency to read back Victorian centralizing tendencies into mediaeval texts, and so a rather rubrical spirit was applied to liturgical discoveries. It was asserted, for instance, that Sarum had a well-developed series of colours of vestments for different feasts. Indeed, there may have been tendencies to use a particular colour for a particular feast (red, for instance, was used on Sundays, as in the Ambrosian rite), but most churches were simply too poor to have several sets of vestments, and so used what they had. There was considerable variation from diocese to diocese, or even church to church, in the details of the rubrics: the place where the Epistle was sung, for instance, varied enormously: from a lectern at the altar, from a lectern in the quire, or even on the rood screen.


Chief among the proponents of Sarum customs was the Anglican priest Percy Dearmer, who put these into practice at his parish of St Mary the Virgin, Primrose Hill, in London, and explained them at length in The Parson’s Handbook, which ran through several editions. This style of worship has been retained in some present-day Anglican churches and monastic institutions.


The Sarum Mass has occasionally been celebrated within the Roman Catholic Church. There was a brief resurgence of interest in the 19th century but this did not lead to a revival. More recently, a Sarum Mass was organised by the Oxford University Newman Society for the celebration on the Feast of Candelmas at the Anglican chapel of Merton College, England, in 1997. In April 2000, Mario Joseph Conti, then Bishop of Aberdeen, celebrated the Sarum Mass in the University of Aberdeen’s King’s College Chapel to commemorate the quincentenary of the pre-Reformation founding of the chapel by William Elphinstone, Bishop of Aberdeen.


The Sarum Use has been revived in the Eastern Orthodox Church among a number of communities, including a large number of Western rite Parishes and Missions of the Old Calendarist Holy Synod of Milan; it is also used, in adapted form, by Western Rite members of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, including Saint Petroc Monastery and its missions.



The ceremonies of the Sarum liturgy are often elaborate, compared to many other Roman rites. The Mass of Sundays and great feasts involved up to four sacred ministers: priest, deacon, subdeacon, and acolyte. It was customary to visit in procession all the altars of the church and cense them, ending at the great rood screen, where antiphons and collects would be sung. Finally here at the screen would be read the Bidding Prayers, prayers in the vernacular directing the people to pray for various intentions. The ministers in procession then went to vest for Mass. (This vesting would usually have taken place at the altar where Mass was to be celebrated, since vestries and sacristies are, except in the largest churches, largely a modern introduction.)


Some of the prayers of the mass are unique, such as the priest’s preparation prayers for Holy Communion. The ceremonies are unique also: the offering of the bread and wine was made by one act; after the Elevation the celebrant stood with his arms outstretched in the form of a cross; the Particle was put into the chalice after the Agnus Dei. Communion under one kind was followed by a ‘rinse’ of unconsecrated wine. The first chapter of St John’s Gospel was read while the priest made his way back to the sacristy.  Two candles on the altar were customary, though others were placed around it and on the rood screen. The Sarum Missal suggests that the genuflection is not used, a low bow being customary, but it is not impossible that by the sixteenth century it had been introduced.


The Sarum rite was the original basis of the liturgy in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. This is most evident in its sequence of Major Propers for the Sundays in Advent, which vary considerably from those used in the Roman Tridentine Rite. It also inspired the counting of Sundays after Trinity rather than Pentecost. One may also take note of the marriage rite and the Sarum custom of “plighting troths.”




* Much of this material has been taken and/or adapted from the Wikipedia article found at


** The “Ornaments Rubric” is a passage in the various editions of the Book of Common Prayer. Since the 19th century, the exact meaning of the rubric has been disputed. Anglo-Catholics have traditionally pointed to this rubric for the justification for their restoration of the traditional Eucharistic vestments of western Christianity in the Anglican Communion, whereas Evangelicals have insisted that they permit the choir habit only. The text of the rubric is as follows: “The Morning and Evening Prayer shall be used in the accustomed Place of the Church, Chapel, or Chancel; except it shall be otherwise determined by the Ordinary of the Place. And the Chancels shalt remain as they have done in times past.  And here is to be noted, that such Ornaments of the Church, and of the Ministers thereof, at all Times of their Ministration, shall be retained, and be in use, as were in this Church of England, by the Authority of Parliament, in the Second Year of the Reign of King Edward the Sixth.”