Antoine Busnois: Anthoni usque limina

As we continue to peruse the sacred repertoire of the 15th century Catholic composer, Antoine Busnois, we feature today his Antiphonal praising Saint Anthony of the Desert, for whom there was an explosion of devotion in the 14th century, when, at Avignon, during the outbreak of a plague of shingles, his relics borne in procession caused the immediate cure of hundreds of sick.

In response, the Avignon pope founded an Order of Saint Anthony, which was like a third order, to which anyone could subscribe. Its duty was to care for the sick by establishing hospices for the ill, outside of the city limits and caring for the sick there, for free. It was the continuation of a long tradition in the Church of such hospitals, dating back from at least the 8th century at Constantinople.

This is the English translation of the Antiphon which is heard here, in this piece:

Anthony, calles to the limits
of the earth and sea
and even further,
by God’s provision,
since you have defeated
demonic attacks
with manly bravery,
hear the choir
singin your deeds
with sweet song.

Save this choir,
with your help,
from the cesspool of hell,
so that, after this vale of tears,
Satan’s fire scorches us not.

So strong was the devotion to this Saint for the cure of shingles, that the disease is still known in many places as Saint Anthony’s fire. And if the use of bells, as is done in this performance, is according to Busnois’ text, then the Antiphon was perhaps used in processions of the Saint relics, as an invocation to the Saint, by those seeking his favor.

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