Department of Music

Wordless Singing in the Medieval Church

Image of an ancient manuscript

An inaugural published catalogue of the famous neuma melodies that were borrowed and interpolated in the performance of the medieval Divine Office liturgy


On the most important days of the Christian year, medieval worshippers abandoned their text-based songs in favour of exuberant flights of melody. These melodies, known as 'neumata', were widely shared and reused across Western Europe, in multiple contexts, above all within the chants known as responsories. Speculation about their spiritual power was rife, and they inspired significant musical creativity. To date, however, scholarship has been stifled by the absence of a published inventory. Capitalising upon extensive research undertaken in an embargoed PhD dissertation from the 1970s, as well as the PI's personal inventory of melodies (2013-present), this project will fill that gap, synthesising these existing records into a publicly accessible database. As well as providing the first comprehensive catalogue of neumata, the database's relational design will enable scholars to explore for the first time the interconnections between wordless singing practices, liturgies, geographies, and religious affiliations across medieval Western Europe.

Contribute to this project

Finding a neuma melody can be like searching for a needle in a haystack. The project has covered over 130 manuscripts so far, but we know there are more examples to be found. If you happen to know of an example in a manuscript not listed here, you are warmly encouraged to send an email to Henry Parkes

Principal Investigator

Henry Parkes 


British Academy 

Leverhulme Trust 



Department of Music

The University of Nottingham
Lakeside Arts Centre
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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