Listening yesterday evening to a recording of the Miserere, I was reminded of Catherine Wilmot's evocative portrayal of the Tenebrae service. Miss Wilmot was a young Irish woman who accompanied Lord and Lady Mount Cashell on their tour of the Continent in 1801-1803 during the brief peace with revolutionary France. Her journal, edited by Thomas U Sadleir M.A. was published in 1920 as An Irish Peer on the Continent. Here is what she says—spelling, punctuation etc are as in the original.
This ceremony[Tenebrae] coming late in the evening, every Lady is drest in deep mourning with a black veil, and is handed into the place set apart for her, the gentlemen sitting at the opposite side. Excepting the Altar there is no light, but there is sufficient to glimmer on the figures in the “Last Judgment” done by Michael Angelo and reckon’d one of the finest paintings in the world. This glimmering effect of yellow light upon the figures seem’d to fancifully set them in motion and gave an illusion to the scene particularly to a group of Angels to the Front, who held the last Trumpet and woke from their graves those who were represented in every gradation of preternatural change…………The ceremonies began by the lamentations of Jeremiah and ended by the Miserere which was perform’d by innumerable Musicians, in so heavenly a manner, and in such heartrending strains, heaving through the sweetest chords, broken and scatter’d, from the spirit of contrition with such angelic force, that it seem’d a celestial intercourse which reach’d the skies, to absolve the sins, which humiliation acknowledged through those deeply plaintive and slow expiatory peals!
There are many recordings of the Miserere available. Here is a short extract which I have chosen because it was recorded in the Sistine Chapel and shows some of the frescos.
And here is the full version, sung by the choir of New College, Oxford
Image of the Last Judgment is from Wikipedia.