The Martyred Virgins - A Gregorian memorial to female victims of violence.
1. Litany, Part 1 [9.04]
2. Tertio decimo, AMEM 434 [3.16]
3. De virginibus (1), LHo 1072 [2.10]
4. Agnes beatae virginis, LH 341 [2.10]
5. Reading from 2 Samuel 13: Amnon and Tamar [2.40]
6. Psalm 43 (42): Indica me deus PM137 [2.08]
7. Reading from Jours de famine et de détresse [3.13]
8. Ingressa Agnes, Psalm 147: 16 AM2 6 [0.57]
9. Reading from The men who killed me [3.54]
10 Improperium, GT 148 [2.03]
11 Reading from The Magdalen [3.52]
12 Vox in rama, Psalm 79 (78): 1 GT.638[2.36]
13 Agnes famula, LV 567 [0.43]
14 De virginibus (2), LHo 1072[4.59]
15 Igne divini, LH 340 [2.43]
16 Christus factus est, GN 108 [3.44]
17 Reading from Tehila Lieberman The text of Naeeda Aurangzeb 1 [0.57]
18 Ave verum, CS 10 [1.32]
19 Reading From Tehila Lieberman:2 The Holy...[1.42]
20 Beati mundo corde, Psalm 37 (36)...GN237 [3.38]
21 Reading from Marthe Link: Forgive us our trespasses [1.44]
22 Stans beata Agnes, Magnificat AM1 789 [4.47]
23 Litany, Part 2 [8.24]
Schola Cantorum Karolus Magnus/Stan Hollaardt
rec. The Netherlands 17, 24 May and 14 June 2011

The beautiful booklet cover for this disc of Gregorian chant is a portion of the painting known as The Mystic Lamb by Jan van Eyck, painted about 1430. I have been to Ghent twice especially to see this huge canvas. It always takes the breath away. We see a huge gathering of young female saints, like St. Barbara with her emblem of a tower and St. Agnes with hers of a martyr’s palm. She died in 304 and is the inspiration behind the CD.
A further layer of inspiration is a recent book by Margaret Viser called ‘The Geometry of Love’. The words of St. Augustine and St. Ambrose lie behind the gist of Viser’s book that the virgin martyrs “died twice … for their purity and for what they believed” (Ambrose) and that “Virginity is really purity of spirit” (Augustine). Even so, female martyrdom continues to this day. The fascinating booklet notes by Jacques Janssen remind us that “Women are frequently victims of violence and sexual crimes especially in war times” and that rape is more common than we are prepared to admit. It’s made worse by many never wanting to speak of the experience. So that is what lies behind this disc and the radio program that began the process in 2004. Schola Cantorum Karolus Magnus prepared this for KRO Radio as a musical exploration of Viser’s book.
So how does the chant map out?
A plan is given in the booklet which I won’t copy out here but you should know immediately that in the middle section of the CD short chants are set to break up some quite distressing readings. There’s the biblical story of the rape of Tamar by her brother Amnon in 2 Samuel. There is a harrowing reminiscence of a Rwandan woman who is gang raped by soldiers. There is Esther whose baby, born out of wedlock, is taken away from her by nuns in Dublin. This happened as recently as 1999 the Nuns having agreed to give her permanent refuge. These are interspersed with chants from the psalms. The last is followed by ‘A Voice is heard in Rama of lamenting and bitter mourning Rachael weeping for her children with none to comfort her’ (Psalm 79) and ‘Vindicate me O God and plead my cause against the ungodly’ (Psalm 43). There is also the chanting of the story of the martyrdom of St. Agnes from the writings of Ambrose. Her rape and death are regarded as a special fate which led her to celestial glory “Agnes overcame the gender of her body and the undefiled enclosure of flesh, prevailed over flesh’.
There are two readings from the ‘Holy Text of Naeeda Aurangzeb’ split by the Ave Verum Corpus chant followed by ‘Forgive us our trespasses’ by Marthe Link. In this she declares, after her violation, that “I want to allow the pain of knowing” and she proclaims that she will soon “let go her bitterment”. This is followed by a hymn to St. Agnes “The blessed Agnes stood in the midst of the fire and stretched forth her hands unto the Lord” and asked for forgiveness although she had done nothing wrong. The point of much of this writing is that many women after rape feel that they have been partially, at least, responsible - to bare the suffering alone, painfully and silently..
After the Magnificat, which is the prayer of praise by the Virgin Mary, a Litany follows. In fact it is Part 2 of the same one that opened the disc “From all oppression/Lord, save your people/From exploitation and poverty… From false accusation…from physical abuse…from sexual exploitation … For fairer treatment … from forced marriages … Good Lord deliver us.”
The sources of the chants from Solesmes’ own Antiphonal and their Liber Hymnarius are given and I certainly approve of these. The chanting by Schola Cantorum Karolus Magnus is atmospheric and appropriate and gentle and reflective. The readings by Catherina van Maanen are clear and thoughtful. For anyone affected by rape, as we have been within our family. For those who would like a spiritual if somewhat harrowing experience which may help anyone who is a victim in any way, then this unique CD may well be worth investing in.

Gary Higginson

Atmospheric and appropriate and gentle and reflective.