Born in 1835 at Bouzemont, France, Dom Joseph Pothier was ordained a priest in the diocese of Saint-Dié in 1858, before immediately joining St Peter's Abbey, Solesmes under Abbot Dom Prosper Guéranger.
By founding in the then derelict priory of Solesmes the first new abbey of the Order of Saint Benedict in France, Dom Guéranger had re-established monastic life in the country after it had been wiped out by the French Revolution.
Dom Pothier later was made subprior (1862-1863 and 1866-1893) of Solesmes, then claustral prior (1893-1894) of St Martin's Abbey, Ligugé, a former deserted priory which had been resettled by Solesmes, and superior (1895-1898) of the colony of monks from Ligugé being in turn repeopling the monastery of St Wandrille (Fontenelle), an ancient and abandoned Benedictine abbey - also suppressed during the French Revolution - in Saint-Wandrille-Rançon, Normandy.
Pope Leo XIII having restored the abbatial title of Fontenelle specially for him, Dom Pothier was eventually raised to the dignity of Abbot of St Wandrille's Abbey (installed on 24 July 1898) - becoming the first abbot of the monastery since the French Revolution and its first regular abbot since the 16th century - and the Cardinal-Archbishop of Rouen (primate of Normandy), assisted by the abbots of Solesmes and Ligugé as co-consecrators, conferred the abbatial blessing upon him on 29 September 1898, in the presence of three other prelates and 150 priests.
A musicologist, disciple and collaborator of Dom Prosper Guéranger, Dom Pothier contributed to the reconstitution, the restoration and the renewal of the Gregorian chant, a form of monophonic, unaccompanied sacred song of the Roman Catholic Church.
Besides being the composer of many Gregorian songs (Officium Defunctorum, 1887) and the writer of a huge amount of articles, Dom Pothier was also the head and editor of the Revue du Chant Grégorien (1892-1914) - supervising the publication of several works (Hymnes, Christmas office, Antifonario, Cantus mariales) -, the founder of the Paléographie Musicale publication for the dissemination of medieval liturgical manuscripts, and the author of a new edition of the choir books based on manuscripts of the Gregorian chant and of several studies on the plainchant, including Les mélodies grégoriennes d'après la tradition (Gregorian Melodies According to the Tradition), 1880, his chief work which became the standard work on the subject.
Dom Pothier was appointed president of the newly created Pontifical Commission on the Vatican Edition of the Gregorian Liturgical Books by Pope St. Pius X in 1904. As chairman of this commission for the reconstitution of the music of the Roman Catholic Mass, Dom Pothier lived in Rome from 1904 till 1913.
His Liber Gradualis, 1883, marked the beginning of a reform in liturgical chant and was used as a basis for the Gradual Vatican which was published, under his responsibility, in 1908.
The Most Reverend Dom Pothier died at the old priory of Conques, Belgium in 1923; the Bishop of Luxembourg and six prelates attended his funeral at Clervaux abbey, Luxembourg (his remains later were transferred to Saint-Wandrille in 1962).
The exiled community of St Wandrille's Abbey, under Dom Pothier as Abbot, founded in 1912 a new priory in Canada, Saint Benedict Abbey, Quebec, which later became independent within the Solesmes Congregation.