Posted by: kljolly | January 18, 2016

Infant Baptism

Figuring out an infant’s baptism in tenth-century Northumbria is quite complicated but therefore presents the fiction author with some latitude, since the available service books differ in the sequence of events.

For what follows, I rely on Bedingfield, Gittos, and Keefer, as well as Orchard (editor of Leofric Missal) and Page (editor of the Red Book of Darley excerpts), all noted in the references.  I would like to dedicate this post, though, to the first three, who introduced me to liturgical studies.  So Brad, Helen, and especially Sarah, many thanks!

By the tenth century, baptism had evolved away from an Easter series of events to an ad hoc single event occasioned by the birth of an infant.  As the various Anglo-Saxon laws and canons indicate, this might be performed within the first week of life, or nearer the birth if the child was sickly.  Other sources on baptism include Bede’s Homilies, and the later writings of Ælfric and Wulfstan.

The condensed single ceremony retained elements of the older sequence timed with the events leading up to Easter, but the order varies in the extant service books.  So while the Romano-Germanic Pontifical and Gelasian Sacramentaries give us a certain order found in English service books like the Missal of Robert of Jumièges, some Anglo-Saxon books, notably the Leofric Missal and the Red Book of Darley (which has Old English rubrics!), deviate in a way similar to the bilingual Irish Stowe Missal.  As Seumas pointed out in his comments on the previous post, it is possible that a Northumbrian priest might follow an Irish-tinted ritual.

So, what all goes into the baptism?  Here is a list, with some caveats about the order:

  1. Christening:  the infant is named.
  2. Exorcism:  prayer for expulsion of the devil.  Darley puts here an exsulfation with the priest blowing three times on the child saying Exi ab eo spiritus inmunde et da locum spiritui sancto paraclito in nomine patris et filii et spiritus sancti while signing on the forehead and breast.  Meanwhile, Leofric skips ahead to the font blessing.
  3. Salt is exorcised, sanctified, and placed in the infant’s mouth.  Darley asks the child’s name at this point, and at several points below.
  4. Prayer follows this but has an unclear relation to the previous exorcism.  In Darley’s preparatory prayers, the priest recites the Pater Noster, Creed, and the Gospel lection (detailed below in the usual order), makes the sign of the cross in the right hand of the child and says Accipe signaculum domini nostri ihesu christi in manu tua dextera ut te singnes [signes] et de aduersa parte repelles et in fide catholica permaneas et uiuas cum domino semper in secular seculorum.
  5. Exposition of the Gospels:  this used to be a quite extensive explanation of all four and reading of each of their introductions, but is usually replaced with a reading from Matthew, although Darley has a Mark passage on Jesus receiving the little children.
  6. Introduction or presentation of the Creed and Pater noster:  again, these used to be explained in some detail to the baptismal candidates, but in the condensed version might be presented with the Credo queries below.
  7. Pre-Abrenuntio prayer in which the devil is told off.  This originates in the longer Easter version because at this point they have returned early on Holy Saturday after a Chrismal Mass on Maundy Thursday.
  8. Effeta (open up!):  infant anointed with spit and oil.  Darley has after the font blessing, with spit placed on the nose.
  9. Abrenuntio:  3 questions are asked about renouncing the devil, his works, and his pomps, to which the sponsor (e.g. the infant’s godparent) each time answers abrenuntio.  At this point the priest anoints the child with the oil of exorcism using a cross sign from head and across the shoulders, just prior to the baptism in the font.  Darley does not have this exorcism, perhaps because of the earlier exsulfation exorcism, and places the Abrenuntio after the font blessing and Effeta.
  10. Font:  they process to the font, sometimes chanting a litany (not sure if the above exorcism takes place before or after this procession); the font is consecrated by pouring chrism into the water in a cross shape.  Leofric has this consecration earlier before all the exorcisms, which makes a real hash of things as Orchard notes.  Darley also has the font blessing right after the Nec te latet prayer, which is usually right before the Abrenuntio and oil business above.
  11. Credo:  these three questions test belief in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to which the sponsor answers, Credo.  Darley also has the sponsor answer a fourth query, vis baptizari (do you wish to be baptized?), to which the godparent answers on the infant’s behalf, volo (I will).
  12. Baptism:  infant is dipped three times for the Trinity and signed with the Chrism.  Darley has the priest here repeat the formula In nomine patris et filii et spirtus sancti while signing on the nape of the infant’s neck.
  13. Water distribution:  in some instructions, the blessed font water is sprinkled on not just the infant but also the people around the font and they are allowed to take some to sprinkle at home, presumably the infant’s home.
  14. Vesting in white:  the baptized infant is dressed in white.  In Darley, the chrismal cloth is laid on the child’s head and a lit candle (!) is placed in its hand while the priest recites Accipe lampadem prayer (a vestige of the Paschal candle?).  The candle shows up in later service books, but Ælfric also mentions it.
  15. Confirmation:  If, or when, a bishop is present, the child is confirmed.

Taking this sequence, I can probably create a plausible baptism of Aldred in 918, maybe even just use the Darley ritual with its Old English rubrics neatly handed to me. Darley also has a second sequence for baptizing a sickly child that might be useful.

The next question (and post) is how Aldred’s baptism might fit into the same day where his uncle Bishop Tilred is also performing rites for his dead father Alfred.


Bedingfield, M. Bradford. The Dramatic Liturgy of Anglo-Saxon England. Woodbridge: Boydell, 2002.  Chapter 7.

Gittos, Helen. “Is There Any Evidence for the Liturgy of Parish Churches in Late Anglo-Saxon England? The Red Book of Darley and the Status of Old English.” In Francesca Tinti, ed., Pastoral Care in Late Anglo-Saxon England. Woodbridge: Boydell, 2005, 63-82.

Keefer, Sarah Larratt. “Manuals,” in The Liturgical Books of Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Richard W. Pfaff. Old English Newsletter Subsidia 23, 1995, pp.99-109.

Orchard, Nicholas, ed.  The Leofric Missal, 2 vols.  London:  Henry Bradshaw Society, 2002.  See vol. 1, pp. 113-18 and vol. 2 nos 2480-2506.

Page, R. I. “Old English Liturgical Rubrics in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, MS 422.” Anglia 96 (1978): 149-58.



  1. Thank you for these details and explanations, especially the note on exsufflation. Now I understand the instruction ‘exsufflas 7 tanges eum’ in the Stowe Missal; it is part of the exorcism, not just a sigh!

  2. Re: ‘Old English rubrics neatly handed to me’. These are, of course, in West Saxon dialect, not the language of early 10th century Northumbria. Depending on how you wish to use them, they may be of limited use for providing local colour.

    • Actually, the Old English makes it easier for me to translate into modern English versus Latin instructions.

  3. […] and marking done, I have finally gotten back to finishing the narrative of newborn Aldred’s baptism, occurring with his father’s funeral at the Easington estate manorial […]

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