From the Mailbag: Good Pre-Schism British Prayer Source?
Q: Ben, can you recommend a good source for the Orthodox prayers of Old England, something that contains pre-Schism British prayers (in coherent English, please) from a verifiable source? I am interested in learning about and praying with the pre-Schism British Church.
A: Certainly. By far the best collection of various prayers from pre-Schism England is a wonderful little volume entitled, Christ the Golden-Blossom: A Treasury of Anglo-Saxon Prayer by Douglas Dales. In addition to being a bona fide scholar (the kind with degrees) -- and the author of several other well-received titles on Orthodox England -- Dales is the Chaplain and Head of Religious Studies at Marlborough College. Christ the Golden-Blossom selects and translates fitting prayers from the pre-Schism era. Dales arranges the Orthodox prayers and readings from the saints, first according to the major feasts of the Temporale (the Church Year), then commemorates the major pre-Schism saints of the Anglo-Saxon Sanctorale -- again with a reading by or about the saint in question, a brief biography, and appropriate collect(s). The book is also a beauty to behold, with photographs, rare artwork, and what one might call early British iconography on nearly every page.
The reason I recommend this text is your (rightful) concern with a book's underlying sources and trustworthiness. Christ the Golden-Blossom draws all its prayers from three sources: the Nunnaminster Codex of the ninth century, the Canterbury Benedicitional, and the Portiforium of St. Wulfstan. Most helpful, Dales lists the original source underneath each prayer. It is also easily available, inexpensive, and somewhat comprehensive (as a personal prayer book and devotional). With appropriate searching, you can find it as low as $14.50 a copy, brand new, in a beautifully illustrated hardback with rare illuminations. Used, one can find it at $8.
The only drawback to mention is that Dales has translated these beautiful prayers into modern English. However, the rarity of the prayers, beauty of presentation, and devotional insight make that worth overlooking. One can easily "Elizabethify" the translation without much more than changing "You" to "Thee" and adding an "eth" or "est" where required. I've quoted at least one of its prayers on this blog (where I performed such a minor tweak).
If you are interested in the Hours as prayed in pre-Schism times, you should get a copy of the Monastic Diurnal and begin a fruitful oblature as an Orthodox Benedictine. If you are committed to using only Sarum prayers, a number of items are available from archive.org. You could contact our friend Fr. Michael of St. Petroc Monastery; his long-awaited Saint Colman Prayer Book (not St. Colman PB!) will include a small and adapted Breviary more than fitting for any dedicated non-Monastic.
Several other "Sarum Psalters," "Old Sarum Rite Missals," and "Old England" prayer books have been published over the years by various vagante and Pseudodox groups. These works, often described by the learned as "fanciful" (at the most charitable), are unverified individual works not authorized by the Orthodox Church, nor used within Her. One would be well-advised to put as much space as possible between oneself as such materials.