Mater ora filium — 14th century polyphony

This source of this charming piece of 14th century polyphony is a Gradual of Sarum chant now in the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library1 Both the composer and the text’s author are unknown and it seems likely as it was the only polyphonic item in the gradual that it was intended for liturgical use. It’s based on a cantus firmus in the middle voice, with a lively top voice and a musical arch structure which incorporates some fine four against three rhythmic writing and a false relation of B flat against B natural. It’s all too brief alas but to make up for that it ends with a delightful musical cluster of five notes in the final cadence. Enjoy :-).


Mater ora filium – 14th century polyphony

Mater, ora filium,
ut post hoc exilium
nobis donet gaudium
sine fine.
Mother, pray thy son
that after this exile
he give us joy
without end.
Sola spes errancium
mersos per naufragium
salva sedans tedium
mortis trine.
O sole hope of the wayward,
save them that are drowning in a shipwreck,
and assuage the grief
of threefold death.

Performers: The Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, directed by GeofFrey Webber.

  • Alto – Carris Jones.
  • Tenor – Charles Normand.
  • Bass – Samuel Queen.


  1. Rawl. liturg. d. 3.

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