Symbolism, Sacred Art, Metaphysics

The Rationale Divinorum Officiorum


572 pp Fully illustrated.  “One of the most important medieval books on divine worship.” – Encyclopedia Brittanica

The Rationale Divinorum Officiorum is arguably the most important medieval treatise on the symbolism of church architecture and rituals of worship. Written by the French bishop William Durand of Mende (1230-1296), the treatise is ranked with the Bible as one of the most frequently copied and disseminated texts in all of medieval Christianity. It served as an encyclopedic compendium and textbook for liturgists and remains an indispensable guide for understanding the significance of medieval ecclesiastical art and worship ceremonies.

Providing the meanings that were originally associated with the art, architecture, rites, and vestments of the Church, this account transforms the worship experience by teaching what certain elements are used and why they are used. Claiming architects should be filled with the spirit of faith and knowledge of the meanings of all structural details and designs of the church, the author illuminates the meanings of the physical elements like the nave, the altar, the cross, and bells. He also clarifies the mystical significance of the chancel site, the glazed windows and pillars, the bell and its clapper, the altar cloths, and how the steps leading up to the altar refer both to Jacob’s Ladder and to the degrees in worshippers’ hearts.

This beautifully illustrated publication of Durandus’ Rationale brings us the most complete Medieval treatise of its kind with all the richness and depth of the living, enduring tradition about which he wrote. In 1284 C.E., the renowned canonist and liturgical writer, William Durandus, wrote:

‘How sad, in these times there are many who seem
to hardly have any understanding of things they daily
engage in, pertaining to the practices of the Church
or her divine worship. Nor do they know what they
signify or why they were instituted.”

His work on sacred symbolism addressed this dilemma for the clergy and thus laity of his own time—and now does so, for ours.

Product Description

In the world today, where so many are searching for and exploring the roots of Christian spirituality and practice, Durandus’ words ring as true for us as they did in his own time.

Durandus’ Rationale remains the standard authority for the ritual of the thirteenth century church and for the spiritual significance of the art, architecture, holy rites, sacraments, and vestments used therein. In this fully illustrated edition, Durandus’ work is brought to life by a plethora of pictures showing relevant churches, artifacts, and raiment—nearly all from the 12th and 13th centuries, that clarify and illustrate the text, and which are set against modern photographs of the church and its rites today.

A connection is demonstrated between the past and present which allows us with vividness to trace the roots of our spiritual practice while providing attention to scholarly detail and exploration of the symbolism of a living spirituality.

In this work, Durandus, and essays explaining and discussing his work by these scholars who translated his opus from Latin, lead us into an understanding of how the architecture, sacraments, and vestments of the priests symbolize and lead both laity and clergy toward spiritual purification and progression in the inner life.

This is a must read for anyone interested in art history, symbolism and the Medieval world or who simply wishes to understand the Medieval roots out of which Christian practice has arisen today.


The Rationale Divinorum Officiorum is arguably the most important medieval treatise on the symbolism of church architecture and rituals of worship.
Columbia University Press
Of his liturgical works, the Rationale divinorum officiorum (c. 1285–91), a general treatise on the liturgy and its symbolism, is considered one of the most important medieval books on divine worship. The Speculum was printed at least 39 times between 1473 and 1678, and the Rationale even more.
Encyclopedia Brittanica
Readers with an interest in liturgical and sacramental theology, the history of the liturgy and its symbolism, and developments in the medieval period in particular, will recognize the name of William Durand or Durandus (1230–1296), Bishop of Mende, and author of the Rationale divinorum officiorum or “Rationale for the Divine Offices.” This work is one of the most important, famous, and plentiful commentaries on the material and spiritual aspects of the Mass, the Office, and the sacramental rites—including the church building, its furnishings and decorations, the altar, bells, the cemetery, with substantial theological reflection on consecrations, unctions, and sacraments (Book 1); the ranks and orders of ministry, from the cantor up to the bishop (Book 2); the clergy’s garments and equipment, including Mass vestments, stockings, sandals, gloves, miter, ring, staff, pallium, and the liturgical colors (Book 3); “the Mass and each action pertaining to it,” from the preparations for Mass and Introit through the whole Mass of the Catechumens and Mass of the Faithful, until the final blessing (Book 4); the canonical hours of the Divine Office (Book 5); the Proper of the Time (Book 6); the Proper of Saints (Book 7), and the ecclesiastical calendar and its determinations (Book 8).
New Liturgical Movement
It is fascinating to read about the different layers of symbolic meaning that priests in the middle ages put upon the different aspects of the church building and liturgy.
S.W., customer
With the recent increase in liturgical studies, one rejoices that important source material, such as Durandus' monumental opus, would be made available in English to those unable to work with the original Latin text.
M.A., Customer