May 4, 2017 5:58 pm
Updated: May 4, 2017 6:30 pm

Historical artifact brought back to life through Halifax connection

WATCH: A historical artifact connecting Halifax to 16th-century Europe is now front and centre in an exhibition that took nearly 20 years of research to piece together.


A research project that took nearly 20-years to complete is now taking centre stage in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia’s (AGNS) latest exhibition.

“The centuries of silence has now been broken with the exhibition,” said Judith Dietz, the curator of Centuries of Silence: The Discovery of the Salzinnes Antiphonal.

The project began when Dietz, a former associate curator at AGNS, was searching the Patrick Power Library at Saint Mary’s University (SMU) for exhibition material.

During her search, she came across a large illuminated antiphonal, tucked away atop a shelf in the special collection section of the library.

“It was the size, the physical size of the book that attracted my attention,” Dietz said.

The choir-book was donated to the SMU library in 1975, Dietz found it in 1998.

Her passion for historical European art ignited her curiosity and she became absorbed with the mysteries the choir book held.

“It was the opening of the first page that clinched it for me. I knew I had to research the manuscript to find out exactly, who were these nuns?” she said.

The nuns displayed throughout the antiphonal is the highlight of the manuscript.

“The Antiphonal is a music-manuscript and what makes it so significant is the portrayal of nuns from the Abbey of Salzinnes,” she said.

The book originated from the Cistercian Abbey of Salzinnes, on the outskirts of Namur, Belgium.

It was made for the former cantrix and prioress, Dame Julienne de Glymes, between 1554-1555.

A 16th-century cultural artifact, that’s believed to have been brought to Halifax by Bishop William Walsh.

Walsh crossed the Atlantic in the mid-1800s, he was the first Archbishop for the Archdiocese of Halifax.

The book is full of ancient hymns and Dietz contacted a musicologist at Dalhouise University to help transcribe the music.

“The chant that’s in it (the antiphonal) is the medieval liturgical repertoire from the Cistercian Order, so it is medieval chant,” said Jennifer Bain, the musicologist who worked on the project.

Once the chants were transcribed to modern-day musical notations, a choir in Belgium recorded them.

“It’s mainly music from the so-called ‘Divine Office.’ So, if you had to sing vespers or matins, or the parts of the hours that you come together in church and pray,” said Hendrik Vanden Abeele, the artistic director who led the choir.

The exhibit opens Friday and runs until Oct. 29.

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