Sacred music in Early Modern Japan

In 1605, the Jesuit presses in Kyushu published a manual of sacraments for the missionaries in Japan. Edited by then Bishop of Japan Luís de Cerqueira, it was a rare print in black and red, following the tendency of other manuals of the same kind printed in Europe at the time. (1)


One of the most interesting characteristics of the Manuale ad Sacramenta Ecclesiae ministranda was the inclusion of written pieces of sacred music to be played in Japanese churches.

For example, it includes Tantum ergo, a chant common in Catholic churches sang during the veneration and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. I cannot say for sure, as I don’t have enough knowledge of baroque sacred music, but this was probably the composition by Tomás Luis de Victoria to Tantum ergo. As noticed by Irving, Victoria was one of the “usual suspects” frequently found in Portuguese and Spanish parishes at the time. (2)

Tantum ergo has been performed by many vocal groups nowadays as well. A simple search on YouTube results in dozens of examples, including some which refer to Cerqueira’s Manuale…, like the one here. In the Manuale…, the lyrics read as follows:

Tantum ergo Sacramentum
Veneremur cernui:
Et antiquum documentum
Novo cedat ritui:
Præstet fides supplementum
Sensuum defectui.

For a translation, see the page for Tantum Ergo on Wikipedia.

On the internet, the Manuale… can be easily found at the website of the Municipal Library of Toulouse, from where I took the pictures used in this post. It is available to be read online or for download as a PDF file.

Beyond the French original, there are other four extant copies: one in Rome (Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu), one in London (British Library), and two in Japan – Sophia University’s Kirishitan Bunko and at the Tōyō Bunko.

There is a Japanese translation, which was published in 2006. However, as far as I’m concerned, there are no translations for any Western language. For more information on the manual, see the Kirishitan Bunko website.

(1) For example, the 1585’s Manuale ad Sacramenta Ecclesiae ministranda, published in Salamanca. Click here.

(2) IRVING, David R.M. Colonial Counterpoint: Music in Early Modern Manila. OUP, 2010, p. 161. See also IRVING, David R. M. “En los confines de la tierra: influencia ibérica e intercambio musical entre Japón y Filipinas en los siglos XVI y XVII.” In: CARRERAS, Juan José and MARÍN, Miguel Ángel (eds.). Concierto Barroco: Estudios sobre música, dramaturgia e historia cultural. Universidad de la Rioja, 2004.