A tradition of music
In times gone by, no doubt the chants of the monks would have been audible across the low marshland with its reed fringed rivers. So too would their song. Matins, Prime, Terce, High Mass, Vespers and Compline would have been heard across the marshes as medieval plainsong. Music was an integral part of the monks’ worship.
That musical tradition was carried into the parish churches associated with the Abbey. A recent study of medieval graffiti has taken in both the gatehouse at St Benet’s as well as local churches. The survey at St Benedict’s Church in Horning revealed a rare snatch of medieval musical notation, pictured here.
The Horning snippet is the only known music graffiti in Norfolk. Since the ability to write music was a rare skill in those days, it was almost certainly done by a monk. It is also the only remaining trace of documentation of the monks’ music. However, housed in the Norfolk Record Office is the fragment of an account for 1533-34 of Thomas Westaker, Precentor of St Benet’s. It is believed to refer to the purchase or repair of service books or music, showing that music and prayer remained central to the religious community, even towards its end.
More recently the musical tradition has been revived by the Brethren of St Benet’s. This group of Horning men meet regularly for a meal and devotional talk, ending the evening by singing Compline in plainsong as the original Brothers would have. They also help arrange the annual ecumenical service in the ruins of St Benet’s Abbey church in which music plays a central role, led by a Salvation Army band.
Ludham’s St Catherine’s church, which once belonged to St Benet’s Abbey, has picked up the theme, making a name for itself as a classical music venue with a pleasing acoustic. St Catherine’s is described as the Abbot’s Church, its size reflecting the wealth of St Benet’s Abbey at the time it was built. The annual music festival is well-known locally.