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A precentor is a person who helps facilitate worship. The details vary depending on the religion, denomination, and era in question. The Latin derivation is præcentor, from cantor, meaning "the one who sings before" (or alternatively, "first singer").

Latin Indo-European language of the Italic family

Latin is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. The Latin alphabet is derived from the Etruscan and Greek alphabets and ultimately from the Phoenician alphabet.


Ancient precentors

The chief precentor was the highest position in many ancient Mesopotamian cities (see Music of Mesopotamia).

This article treats the music of Ancient Mesopotamia.

Jewish precentors

Jewish precentors are song or prayer leaders, leading synagogue music. A Jewish precentor is typically called a hazzan or cantor. In the Middle Ages, women precentors leading prayers in the weibershul (women's gallery) were known as firzogerin, vorsangerin, foreleiner, zugerin, or zugerke.

<i>Hazzan</i> Jewish cantor

A hazzan or chazzan is a Jewish musician or precentor trained in the vocal arts who helps lead the congregation in songful prayer. In English, this prayer leader is often referred to as cantor, a term also used in Christianity.

The cantor in the Reform movement is a clergy member who fills a diverse role within the Jewish community. Cantors lead worship, officiate at lifecycle events, teach adults and children, run synagogue music programs, and offer pastoral care. Cantors typically serve along with other clergy members, usually rabbis and occasionally additional cantors, in partnership to lead synagogue communities. The Reform cantor is a professional office with a prescribed educational path and professional organization. Cantors are "invested", a term borrowed from the idea of priestly vestments, at the conclusion of study. "Investiture" confers the status of clergy to cantors, just as "ordination" does for rabbis.

A firzogerin,, alternately vorsangerin, foreleiner, zugerin, or zugerke, was a historic role in the synagogue for a learned Jewish woman leading women in prayer from the weibershul as a precentress, parallel to the main service led by a male chazzan.

Christian precentors

A view of York Minster from a street named Precentor's Court View from Precentor's Court.jpg
A view of York Minster from a street named Precentor's Court

A precentor is a member of a church who helps facilitate worship. The role of precentor was carried over from the synagogues into the early church. [1]

Synagogue Jewish or Samaritan house of prayer

A synagogue, is a Jewish or Samaritan house of worship.

Catholic precentors

Ancient era

The term precentor described sometimes an ecclesiastical dignitary, sometimes an administrative or ceremonial officer. Anciently, the precentor had various duties such as being the first or leading chanter, who on Sundays and greater feasts intoned certain antiphons, psalms, hymns, responsories etc.; gave the pitch or tone to the bishop and dean at Mass (the succentor performing a similar office to the canons and clerks); recruited and taught the choir, directed its rehearsals and supervised its official functions; interpreted the rubrics and explained the ceremonies, ordered in a general way the Divine Office and sometimes composed desired hymns, sequences, and lessons of saints. He was variously styled capiscol (from the Latin caput scholæ, head of the choir-school), prior scholæ, magister scholæ, and primicerius (a word of widely different implications). Victor of St. Hugo tells us that in the care of the primicerius were placed the acolytes, exorcists, lectors, and psalmists (chanters).

Psalms Book of the Bible

The Book of Psalms, commonly referred to simply as Psalms or "the Psalms", is the first book of the Ketuvim ("Writings"), the third section of the Hebrew Bible, and thus a book of the Christian Old Testament. The title is derived from the Greek translation, ψαλμοί, psalmoi, meaning "instrumental music" and, by extension, "the words accompanying the music". The book is an anthology of individual psalms, with 150 in the Jewish and Western Christian tradition and more in the Eastern Christian churches. Many are linked to the name of David, but his authorship is not accepted by modern scholars.

A bishop is an ordained, consecrated, or appointed member of the Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight.

Mass (liturgy) type of worship service within many Christian denomination

Mass is the main eucharistic liturgical service in many forms of Western Christianity. The term Mass is commonly used in the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, as well as in some Lutheran, Methodist, Western Rite Orthodox, and Old Catholic churches.

Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages the principal dignitaries of cathedral, collegiate chapters, and monastic orders, imitated the example of St. Gregory the Great in acting as directors of chant-schools. The schola was always in attendance when the bishop officiated in his cathedral, and to the precentor was assigned a place near the bishop and high in dignity. His office was obviously one demanding much learning and executive ability, and his dignity corresponded with his duties.

Middle Ages Period of European history from the 5th to the 15th century

In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages lasted from the 5th to the 15th century. It began with the fall of the Western Roman Empire and merged into the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery. The Middle Ages is the middle period of the three traditional divisions of Western history: classical antiquity, the medieval period, and the modern period. The medieval period is itself subdivided into the Early, High, and Late Middle Ages.

Cathedral Christian church that is the seat of a bishop

A cathedral is a church that contains the cathedra of a bishop, thus serving as the central church of a diocese, conference, or episcopate. Churches with the function of "cathedral" are usually specific to those Christian denominations with an episcopal hierarchy, such as the Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, and some Lutheran and Methodist churches. Church buildings embodying the functions of a cathedral first appeared in Italy, Gaul, Spain and North Africa in the 4th century, but cathedrals did not become universal within the Western Catholic Church until the 12th century, by which time they had developed architectural forms, institutional structures and legal identities distinct from parish churches, monastic churches and episcopal residences.

Chapter (religion) body of clergy in Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Nordic Lutheran churches

A chapter is one of several bodies of clergy in Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Nordic Lutheran churches or their gatherings.

In the cathedrals of England, France, Spain, and Germany, a precentor sometimes ranked next to the dean, sometimes next to the archdeacon. In some instances a precentor's sphere of activity was much broader, including the duty of installing deans, canons, and other dignitaries; and in some monasteries, the duties of librarian and registrar. But from the fourteenth century the title and dignity were largely handed over to incumbents whose musical knowledge did not fit them for the duties to which the name of precentor owed its origin; the dignities remained, but the duties became obscured. "In France, some chapters retain traces of the dignity of Precentor, and one may see sometimes an archdeacon, sometimes a titular or honorary canon, carrying the baton cantoral, the insignia of his office". [2] This "baton cantoral" is a silver or white staff. "In the dioceses of Aix, Carcassonne, Coutances, Dijon, Metz, Orléans, the dignity of Precentor is still the highest in the chapter.... Some chapters have sub-chanters, those of Arras being among the honorary resident canons", [3] where also the quoted statutes of the Bishop of Dijon may serve to illustrate the modern idea of the office of precentor: "The Précenteur or Grand Chantre is the head of the choir and ... brings the antiphon to the bishop when officiating pontifically. Sacristans, chanters, choir-boys, and employés of the Cathedral are placed under his surveillance. He will also preserve order and silence in the sacristy"). [4] [5]

Anglican precentors

A precentor is a person, usually ordained, who is in charge of preparing worship services. This position is usually held in a large church. Most cathedrals have a precentor in charge of the organisation of liturgy and worship. The precentor of a cathedral is usually a residentiary canon or prebendary and may be assisted by a succentor (particularly in the daily task of leading choral singing). In some cathedrals (including Canterbury), the precentor is a minor canon and therefore part of the foundation but not part of the chapter.

The pulpit and communion table from the Church of Scotland church in Duirinish, Skye. Between the two is the box for the precentor. Pulpit and Communion Table in Duirinish Church - - 1548755.jpg
The pulpit and communion table from the Church of Scotland church in Duirinish, Skye. Between the two is the box for the precentor.

Traditionally the precentor's stall (seat) in the cathedral is on the opposite side of the quire from that of the dean, leading to the traditional division of the singers into decani (the dean's side) and cantoris (the precentor's side).

Presbyterian precentors

In Presbyterian churches that worship in the historical fashion (i.e., sing a cappella; see Presbyterian worship), a precentor is a person (man or woman, not necessarily clergy) who leads the singing, often by means of conducting techniques, but sometimes just by singing from amongst the congregation.

Churches that use a repeat-after-me manner of singing called lining out (used primarily when sufficient numbers of psalm books are unavailable, or the congregation insufficiently literate, as was the case in the black church in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird ) are usually led by the precentor, much as with other non-instrumental churches.

Public schools and Cambridge

The title "precentor" is also used at two English public schools, Radley College and Eton College, and a public school in Sri Lanka, S. Thomas' College, Mount Lavinia, to refer to the head of music. These school precentors have no specific religious duties although, as part of their musical function, they may conduct the college chapel choir. At Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, the precentor's main responsibility is as director of the college choir, which provides music for chapel services.

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The Latin term primicerius, hellenized as primikērios, was a title applied in the later Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire to the heads of administrative departments, and also used by the Church to denote the heads of various colleges.

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The succentor ("under-singer") is the assistant to the precentor, typically in an ancient cathedral foundation, helping with the preparation and conduct of the liturgy including psalms, preces and responses. In English cathedrals today, the priest responsible for liturgy and music is usually the precentor, but some cathedrals, such as St Paul's, Southwark Cathedral, and Durham, retain a succentor as well. Lichfield used the title "subchanter". Westminster Abbey also retains the tradition; Brecon Cathedral has only a succentor, and no precentor. The succentor is normally a minor canon.

Obedientiaries, the plural of Obedienciary, from the Latin Obedientiarius, meaning someone in an 'obedient', i.e. subordinate, position, is a term commonly used in medieval times for the lesser officials of a monastery who were appointed by will of the superior.

In Catholicism, the cantor, sometimes called the precentor or the protopsaltes is the chief singer, and usually instructor, employed at a church, a cathedral or monastery with responsibilities for the ecclesiastical choir and the preparation of liturgy.

According to both Anglican and Catholic canon law, a cathedral chapter is a college of clerics (chapter) formed to advise a bishop and, in the case of a vacancy of the episcopal see in some countries, to govern the diocese during the vacancy. These chapters are made up of canons and other officers, while in the Church of England chapters now includes a number of lay appointees; in the Roman Catholic Church their creation is the purview of the pope. They can be "numbered", in which case they are provided with a fixed "prebend", or "unnumbered", in which case the bishop indicates the number of canons according to the rents. In some Church of England cathedrals there are two such bodies, the lesser and greater chapters, which have different functions. The smaller body usually consists of the residentiary members and is included in the larger one.

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Richard David Fenwick is an Anglican prelate, and was Bishop of St Helena from 2011 to 2018.

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A scholaster, from the Latin scholasticus (schoolmaster), or magister scholarum, was the head of an ecclesiastical school, typically a cathedral school, monastic school, or the school of a collegiate church, in medieval and early-modern Europe. Depending on the size of the school and the status of the institution to which it was attached, the scholaster might be the only teacher, the head of a considerable educational establishment, or have oversight over all the schools in their city or territory. The scholaster might be a dignitary in a cathedral or collegiate chapter, alongside the provost, dean, cantor, succentor, precentor, archdeacon, treasurer, cellarer, sacristan or almoner. It was not unknown for a scholaster to take the revenues of the post and deputise somebody else to carry out any teaching work involved.


  1. Moseley, Dr. Ron: Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church
  2. Migne, "Dict. de Droit Canon", s.v. Chantre.
  3. Migne, "Dict. de Jurisprudence", s.v. Grand Chantre.
  4. Henry, H. (1911). "Precentor". In The Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved June 15, 2010 from New Advent
  5. Precentor, The Cistercians in Yorkshire. Retrieved June 15, 2010.