Dancing is not often associated with Christian liturgy, at least in modern experience. Yet according to the Mitralis de Officio of Sicard, bishop of Cremona (1185–1215), composed about 1200, the circular dance (chorea) provides a key metaphor for understanding the liturgy of Easter. Sicard here draws together two earlier discussions of the subject, both from the twelfth century and of enormously wide influence, manifesting a more positive attitude toward dance than found in many early medieval commentators on the liturgy: the Gemma animae (Jewel of the soul) of Honorius Augustodunensis, composed for a monastic audience in the early twelfth century, probably in Germany, and the De ecclesiasticis officiis of John Beleth, a secular cleric writing probably in Paris circa 1150–1160. While many scholars have observed the renewal of interest in the pagan authors within a literary context in the twelfth century, the witness of liturgical commentaries from the period has been little noticed. Sicard implies that the festivities of the pagan Saturnalia and its associated freedom of expression (the so-called “December freedom”) can legitimately be used to explain the festivities that take place at Easter:
All Christians ought to come together freely at the above mentioned daily offices to celebrate the glory of the resurrection, which will be revealed in us. This solemnity is therefore the jubilee of Christians, when quarrels are settled, offenses forgiven. Let those who had sinned be reconciled, let debts be canceled. Let work places not be opened, merchandise not displayed for sale except for those things without which a meal cannot take place. Let prisoners be freed, shepherds and servants not forced to service so that they are able to enjoy freedom and to delight in the festivity of future joy. Thus it is that in the cloisters of certain churches even bishops enjoy the December freedom with their clerics, even to descending to the game of the circular dance or ball (ludum choreae vel pilae)—although it seems more praiseworthy not to play; this “December freedom” is so called in that in the month of December, shepherds, servants, and maidservants were governed among the gentiles with a kind of freedom by their masters, so that they could celebrate with them after the harvest was collected. And note that the gentiles established circular dances to honor idols, so that they might praise their gods by voice and serve them with their whole body, wanting to foreshadow in them in their own way something of the mystery. For through the circling, they understood the revolution of the firmament; through the joining of hands, the interconnection of the elements, through the gestures of bodies, the motions of the signs or planets; through the melodies of singers, the harmonies of the planets; through the clapping of hands and the stamping of feet, the sounding of thunder; but what those people showed to their idols, the worshipers of the one God converted to his praise. For the people who crossed from the Red Sea are said to have led a circular dance, Mary is reported to have sung with the tambourine; and David danced before the ark with all his strength and composed psalms with his harp, and Solomon placed singers around the altar, who are said to have created sound with voice, trumpet, cymbals, organs, and other musical instruments.