Adam of Saint Victor

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Adam of Saint Victor (Latin: Adamus Sancti Victoris; died 1146)[1] was a prolific poet and composer of Latin hymns and sequences. He has been called "...the most illustrious exponent of the revival of liturgical poetry which the twelfth century affords."[2]


Adam of Saint Victor was born in the early part of the twelfth century, probably at Paris, where he was educated. The first reference to him dates from 1098, in the archives of Notre Dame Cathedral, where he held office first as a subdeacon and later as a precentor. He left the cathedral for the Abbey of Saint Victor around 1133, probably because of his attempts at imposing the Rule of St Augustine at the cathedral.[3]

Adam likely had contact with a number of important theologians, poets, and musicians of his day, including Peter Abelard and Hugh of St Victor, and he may have taught Albertus Parisiensis.[citation needed]

He lived in the abbey, which was somewhat of a theological center, then in the suburbs of Paris but included in it subsequently through the city's growth.[2] He died there some time between 1172 and 1192.[citation needed]


According to John Julian, "His principal merits may be described as comprising terseness and felicity of expression; deep and accurate knowledge of Scripture, especially its typology; smoothness of versification; richness of rhyme, accumulating gradually as he nears the conclusion of a Sequence; and a spirit of devotion breathing throughout his work, that assures the reader that his work is "a labour of love."[4]

Anglican Archbishop Richard Chenevix Trench characterized Adam of Saint Victor as "the foremost among the sacred Latin poets of the Middle Ages".[2]

In Mont Saint Michel and Chartres, Henry Adams wrote that Adam "aimed at obtaining his effect from the skillful use of the Latin sonorities for purposes of the chant."

The translator of medieval hymns, John Mason Neale, described Adam of St Victor as "to my mind the greatest Latin poet, not only of mediaeval, but of all ages".[5]


Adam of St Victor's surviving works are sequences for liturgical use, not theological treatises.[6][7]

Jodocus Clichtovaeus, a Catholic theologian of the 16th century, published thirty-seven of his hymns in the Elucidatorium Ecclesiasticum (1516). The remaining seventy hymns were preserved in the Abbey of Saint Victor until its dissolution during the French Revolution. They were then transferred to the Bibliothèque Nationale, where they were discovered by Léon Gautier, who edited the first complete edition of them (Paris, 1858).[4]

Around 47 sequences by Adam survive. In a practice that developed from the ninth century onwards, these are poems composed to be sung during the mass, between the Alleluia and the gospel reading. The sequence therefore bridges the Old Testament or epistle readings and the gospel, both literarily and musically.[8]


  1. ^ Adam of St. Peter, Sequences, Peeters Publishers
  2. ^ a b c A'Becket, John Joseph (1907). "Adam of Saint Victor" . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  3. ^ Fassler, Margot E. (1984). "Who Was Adam of St. Victor? The Evidence of the Sequence Manuscripts". Journal of the American Musicological Society. 37 (2): 233–269. doi:10.2307/831174. ISSN 0003-0139. JSTOR 831174.
  4. ^ a b Julian, John. "Adam of St. Victor", Dictionary of Hymnology, 1907Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  5. ^ J. M. Neale, Mediaeval Hymns and Sequences, 3rd edition (1867), pp. ix–x.
  6. ^ These texts were gradually rediscovered in the nineteenth century.
  7. ^ The critical edition of these texts is Jean Grosfillier, ed, Les sequences d'Adam de Saint-Victor: Étude littéraire (poétique et rhétorique). Textes et traductions, commentaires, Bibliotheca Victorina 20, (Turnhout: Brepols, 2008), pp252-481. They are now fully translated in Adam of Saint-Victor, Sequences. Introduction, Text, Translation, and Notes by Juliet Mousseau, Dallas Medieval Texts, (Leuven: Peeters, 2011). In addition, Hugh Feiss, On Love, (2010), p71, argues that three additional Marian sequences seem likely to be by Adam of St Victor. The Latin text is in Bernadette Jollès, ed, Quatorze proses du XIIe siècle à louange de Marie, (Turnhout: Brepols, 1994).
  8. ^ Boyd Taylor Coolman and Dale M Coulter, eds, Trinity and creation: a selection of works of Hugh, Richard and Adam of St Victor, (Turnhout: Brepols, 2010), p182.

Further reading[edit]

The modern critical edition of the Latin text is:

  • Grosfillier, Jean (2008). Les séquences d'Adam de Saint-Victor: Étude littéraire (poétique et rhétorique), textes et traductions, commentaires. Bibliotheca Victorina 20. Turnhout: Brepols. ISBN 9782503526591.

English translations of Adam's work are in:


  • Fassler, Margot E. (April 1987). "The Role of the Parisian Sequence in the Evolution of Notre-Dame Polyphony". Speculum. 62 (2): 345–374. doi:10.2307/2855230. ISSN 0038-7134. JSTOR 2855230. S2CID 161832131.
  • Fassler, Margot E. (2011). Gothic song: Victorine sequences and Augustinian reform in twelfth-century Paris (2 ed.). Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press. ISBN 9780268028893.
  • Husmann, Heinrich (April 1964). "Notre-Dame und Saint-Victor. Repertoire-Studien zur Geschichte der gereimten Prosen". Acta Musicologica. 36 (2/3): 98–123. doi:10.2307/932420. ISSN 0001-6241. JSTOR 932420.

External links[edit]