Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Crotalus alert

This is for anybody who's curious about what the crotalus sounds like; it's a wooden rattle-like implement used only during Holy Week.  I've heard it used in only one context:  at the consecration of the elements on Maundy Thursday, in place of Sanctus bells.

 But it is also used on Good Friday, and you can hear it  on this video, during the singing of Vexilla Regis in procession:




At the YouTube page, you find, in French, an explanation: the music is Vexilla Regis (Anthoine de Bertrand, 1530-1581) and the video is from the "Mass of the Presanctified on Holy Friday" at Saint Eugène à Paris. In the comments, there's this:
On entend le son des crécelles. J'ai un souvenir d'enfant de choeur. Nous aimions les offices de la semaine sainte, en particulier pour actionner la crécelle. On l'utilisait dès le jeudi saint après le gloria, où les enfants avaient sonné dans le choeur avec une vigueur particulière. La schola continuait a capella et à l'élévation la cloche était remplacée par la crécelle.
Here's my translation of that:
"You can hear the sound of rattles. I have a memory from when I was  an altar boy. We liked the offices of Holy Week, and particularly to activate the rattle.  It was used on Maundy Thursday after the Gloria, during which the choir children sounded [the bells?] with special vigor. The choir continued a capella and at the elevation the bell was replaced by rattle."

In other words: the sound is the French version of a crotalusHere's the Wikipedia page for crécelle - and the text, with translation:
Une crécelle est un instrument de musique idiophone datant du Moyen Âge, aussi appelée brouan et répandue aujourd'hui encore partout en Europe. De conception et d'utilisation simples, elle est un instrument populaire mais aussi un jouet pour les enfants.

Grâce au bruit puissant qu'elle émet, elle était aussi utilisée au Québec par les femmes des agriculteurs pour appeler leur mari au champ, avant la mécanisation de l'agriculture.- Dans la liturgie catholique, avant Vatican II, maniée dans les rues par les enfants de chœur, elle annonçait les offices durant le triduum pascal en remplacement des cloches.

On l'utilisait aussi afin d'avertir du passage de personnes infectieuse, atteintes de maladies redoutées au Moyen Âge : la lèpre, la peste.


A rattle is a percussive musical instrument from the Middle Ages, also known as the brouan,  and still widely used throughtout Europe.  Of simple design and use, it is a popular instrument but also a toy for children.

Due to the loud noise it emits, it was also used in Quebec by farmwomen to call their husbands to the field, before the mechanization of agriculture.  In the Catholic liturgy before Vatican II, operated in the streets by the choir boys, it announced the offices during the Easter Triduum in lieu of bells.

It was also used as a warning that people with infectious illnesses feared in the Middle Ages, like leprosy and the plague, were passing through.

Here are a couple of photographs from that page:

Labeled Crécelle de Pâques (i.e., "Easter Rattle"); photo by Matěj Baťha

Labeled Karfreitagsratsche (i.e., "Rattle, used on Good Friday instead of churchbells")


You can also listen to the sound of the crotaus, too, at the St. Thomas Fifth Avenue website, whenever there's a Maundy Thursday service available on audio.   (Here's the page for 2016.)
Head for the consecration-of-the-elements portion of the recording.

I posted about this once before, and at that time offered an image of a crotalus:
The crotalus (also called a "clapper") is "a wood rattle-like object which makes a terrifying sound. It replaces the Sanctus Bell during certain Holy Week Masses when the ringing of bells is surpressed." After the ringing of the Sanctus Bells throughout the Gloria at Maundy Thursday Eucharist, the bells go quiet until the Great Vigil. And in truth, the noise of the crotalus can be shiver-inducing. (Crotalus is also the genus name for the rattlesnake.)



2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I know this is coming four years after the post, but I was just looking for a video with the sound of the crotalus since I was telling my brother about it.

After showing him a comment on Fr Zuhlsdorf's blog that it sounds like the whip cracking on Christ's back, he saw a video (not this one) with the instrument itself and dismissed it as a New Year's toy (he can be a party pooper, sometimes, but that's something he picked up from me - unfortunate, I know, but not always).

Pity he didn't stay as I was listening to the video here, where it does sound like a whip. Likely the difference in the two videos lay in where and how the instrument was used.

Would you believe, then, I'm really only commenting to correct part of the French translation - «enfant de chœur» is how Francophones say "altar boy" or the more PC version of it now, "altar server". (The «chœur» may refer to the fact they sat in choir or dressed as those who did.)

bls said...

Thanks, anon - I didn't know that.

You can hear the crotalus in its Maundy Thursday context at this page; its from St. Thomas Church New York. It's sounded at the consecration (which begins at about 73 minutes into the audio file.) They will eventually remove this audio file, but it's there now.

It does sound different here - more like the rattlesnake, actually.

Thanks for the comment!

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