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Sermons, Exegesis, and Performance: The Laon Ordo Prophetarum and the Meaning of Advent


Twelfth-century canons in the northern French cathedral town of Laon read and listened to two different anti-Jewish sermons during the final days of Advent: Vos inquam convenio and Legimus sanctum Moysen. Vos inquam is famous as the basis for the several versions of the Procession of Prophets, plays in which a succession of Christian and pagan figures are brought forward to testify to the divinity of Christ in order to convince the unbelieving Jews of their error. The Ordo Prophetarum from the well-known manuscript Laon 263 is for the most part faithful to the order of prophets presented in the source sermon, but it is unique in moving the appearance of Simeon to the end of the procession and in introducing a new character, Balaam, who does not appear in Vos inquam at all.

The identity of the Laon cathedral community was defined in large part by the exegetical principles that informed the creation of the Glossa ordinaria, the compilation of biblical commentary initiated by the town’s famous schoolmaster, Anselm. The Laon Ordo, then, was not merely a dramatized version of the Vos inquam sermon. Rather, the Laon canons drew on their understanding of both Advent sermons to create a Christmas Eve performance that served as an exegetical primer, one that illustrated the prophetic fulfillment described in the readings of the previous weeks and, through the figures of Simeon and Balaam, set the stage for the Christmas season that followed.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.