Atmospheric Priory of St Pancras in Lewes hosts magical musical evening

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The ancient Priory of St Pancras in Lewes once again echoed with the sounds of Gregorian chant on Saturday.

Fittingly, it took place on the eve of the Feast of the Priory’s patron saint, St Pancras.

Music from the Lewes Breviary was sung in a special service of evening Vespers. Passers-by in Priory Park stopped in amazement as more than 50 singers, dressed in striking grey robes, processed through the site to sing in the ruins of the large reredorter.

The spirits of the singers and congregation were undampened by the onset of a sharp shower as they processed to St John the Baptist Church, Southover, to complete the service in drier conditions.

The service was the culmination of a day of medieval music; a joint collaboration between Lewes Priory Trust and the Schola Gregoriana. Experienced singers and local enthusiasts came together in workshops of medieval music and to listen to Dr Nicolas Bell, curator of musical manuscripts at the British Library, who gave a fascinating, illustrated lecture on the Lewes Breviary.

Remarkably, the Breviary contains all the offices for services at the Priory including those of St Pancras and a rare mass for Thomas Beckett.

This is unusual as most of these were removed from similar books on the orders of Henry VIII at the Dissolution of the monasteries.

The survival of this mass may be accounted for by the fact that the book found its way to France, where it remained, intact, until it was bought at auction by the Fitzwilliam Museum in the 1930s.

After the service participants were treated to a sumptuous monks’ feast of aromatic beef and barley stew with sourdough bread, followed by Sussex apple pudding and honey custard.

The event finished with a talk and demonstration of mediaeval music and instruments by expert and author Dr Mary Remnant.

Chairman of the Lewes Priory Trust, Sy Morse-Brown, said: “We are delighted that this unique musical event was such a resounding success and are grateful to our hard-working volunteers for organising such a wonderful day enjoyed by all.”

Extracts of the singing and Dr Bell’s lecture will be available on the Lewes Priory Trust’s website: www.lewespriory.org.uk