I picked a funny little book from my bookshelf yesterday; 'Latin in Church: The history of its pronunciation', written in 1934 by F. Brittain, Fellow of Jesus College Cambridge, and University Lecturer in Medieval Latin. My edition is a 1955 reprint.
It is an entertaining tract, much of it concentrating on the 'battle' between the classical pronunciation and the 'italian' pronunciation of the Victorian Catholic Church. Brittain notes that in the 1870s, a new pronunciation was introduced to Oxford and Cambridge by those who sought classical authenticity - rather than the flat 'english' pronunication that had been regularly used in this country. This new pronunciation occasioned controversy in the Catholic Church, where the Ultramontane movement had been encouraging an italianate pronunciation. Cardinal Manning, famously, tried hard - but with mixed success - to adopt an italian pronunciation. Wilfred Meynell writes:
Like all ecclesiastics he had acquired what is considered to be the italian pronunication, and had even taken evident pains to be very Italian indeed, as an act of homage to the Italian conditions of modern English Catholicism ... But the English tongue made of his Latin the most British thing conceivable, all the same. I never heard him speak French, but I know precisely the kind he must have had.
Despite the enthusiasm for italianate pronunciation, Brittain notes that the new 'classical' pronunication was gleefully taken up by some 'Roman Catholic clergy who, about the beginning of the twentieth century, had the greatest enthusiasm for it.' He continues:
..the rhythmical, rhymed verses of St Thomas Aquinas and Thomas of Celano, with their homely, half-romance vocabulary, were sung to the accents of Virgil, Horace and Cicero.
The main champions of the classical pronunication were the monasteries, notably Downside and Ampleforth. But it intruded into other spheres as well (and here is the reason for today's posting!):
The new (ie classical) pronunciation was used by some, though not all, of the clergy at Westminster Cathedral in 1903. Its use was never officially adopted there, neither did it survive very long. One priest, however, who heard it there always retained the clearest recollection of its effect on him. He had always been brought up on the Italian pronunication, and had not come into contact with the classical pronunication before. .. Consequently, when he heard some of the clergy singing in sighcula sighculorum, his first impression was that this must be a Cockney pronunciation of Latin; and when the preacher went up into the pulpit - it was a feast of the Blessed Virgin - he expected to hear him describe Our Lady as 'Our Lidy'.
I cannot imagine that Cardinal Vaughan, who wanted his Cathedral to be more Roman than Rome itself, would have tolerated any deviation from the italian norm. Today, both clergy and choir use a thoroughly Italian pronunciation. For me, this has been a fascinating journey, having studied Classics at University, and been subject to ever-new theories of authentic pronunciation. I went up as a new student pronouncing the name of the great Roman politician Cicero as 'Sisero', but was at once informed that I should be saying 'Kikero'. Before I left, the latest theories had us saying 'Tsi-tsero'. It was something of a relief to go to Rome where the italian pronunciation had the double benefit of making sense, and sounding lovely. So I gratefully enunciated 'Chee-chero'!
It has always thrilled me to hear an Italian speak Latin; it brings the language to life in a way that laboured pronunciations, even if more accurate, cannot. That italianate latin it is not the original pronunciation is implied, to me, by the Italian inability to pronounce two consonants back-to-back. Hence, a small 'vowel' sound is inserted, as in 'benedicat-eh-vos' or 'pater-eh-noster'. All in the very good cause of euphony, surely an important concept in the liturgy. I recall my delight at hearing an Italian guide in the Vatican Museums telling her band of tourists that there would never be another Pope called Sixtus because 'Sixtus sextus' sounded far too brutto!
As Peter Jones notes in 'The Intelligent person's Guide to Classics', the pronunciation of Latin arouses fierce passions. How true. I was requested one evening by a visiting and indignant choir to adopt a more 'english' pronunciation for my celebration of Mass, as the music being sung was the very native Byrd and Tallis. Naturally I declined, hinting that I was outraged at the suggestion. In fact, I was very amused. But perhaps my refusal is bolstered by more than aesthetics: Peter Jones notes that church pronunciation 'is nothing but the modern Italian that Pope Pius X tried to impose upon the Church in 1912'. I've not managed to find the document to which he refers, but if any readers know of it and can point me in its direction, I shall ensure it is enshrined in the Cathedral sacristy!