O Sacred Head, Now Wounded
The hymn is based on a long medieval Latin poem, Salve mundi salutare, with stanzas addressing the various parts of Christ's body hanging on the Cross. The last part of the poem, from which the hymn is taken, is addressed to Christ's head, and begins "Salve caput cruentatum." The poem is often attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153), but is now attributed to the Medieval poet Arnulf of Louvain (died 1250). The seven cantos were used for the text of Dieterich Buxtehude's Membra Jesu Nostri addressing the various members of the crucified body
The poem was translated into German by the prolific Lutheran hymnist Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676). Although Gerhardt translated the whole poem, it is the closing section which has become best known, and is often sung as a hymn in its own right. The German hymn begins, "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden". The closing section has also been translated into English, by several writers, but is best known as "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded".
The hymn was first translated into English in 1752 by John Gambold (1711–1771), an Anglican vicar in Oxfordshire. His translation begins, "O Head so full of bruises." In 1830 a new translation of the hymn was made by an American Presbyterian minister, James Waddel Alexander (1804-1859). Alexander's translation, beginning "O sacred head, now wounded," became one of the most widely used in 19th and 20th century hymnals.
Another English translation, based on the German, was made in 1861 by Sir Henry Baker. Published in Hymns Ancient and Modern, it begins, "O sacred head surrounded by crown of piercing thorn."
In 1899 the English poet Robert Bridges (1844-1930) made a fresh translation from the original Latin, beginning "O sacred Head, sore wounded, defiled and put to scorn." This is the version used in the 1940 Hymnal (Episcopal), the 1982 Hymnal (Episcopal; stanzas 1-3 and 5), and the Church of England's New English Hymnal (1986) and several other late 20th-century hymn books.
The English Hymnal, 1906 has a translation attributed to "Y.H.", referring to Bridges' translations for the Yattendon Hymnal, of which he was the editor.
The music for the German and English versions of the hymn is by Hans Leo Hassler, written around 1600 for a secular love song, "Mein G'müt ist mir verwirret", which first appeared in print in 1601. The tune was appropriated and rhythmically simplified for Gerhardt's German hymn in 1656 by Johann Crüger. Johann Sebastian Bach arranged the melody and used five stanzas of the hymn in his St Matthew Passion, stanza 6 also in his cantata Sehet, wir gehn hinauf gen Jerusalem, BWV 159. Bach used the melody on different words in his Christmas Oratorio, both in the first choral (#5) and the triumphant final chorus. Franz Liszt included an arrangement of this hymn in the sixth station, Saint Veronica, of his Via Crucis (the Way of the Cross), S.504a. The Danish composer Rued Langgaard composed a set of variations for string quartet on this tune.
Lyrics (J.W. Alexander's version, 1830)
O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
How pale Thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish, which once was bright as morn!
What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.
Men mock and taunt and jeer Thee, Thou noble countenance,
Though mighty worlds shall fear Thee and flee before Thy glance.
How art thou pale with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How doth Thy visage languish that once was bright as morn!
Now from Thy cheeks has vanished their color once so fair;
From Thy red lips is banished the splendor that was there.
Grim death, with cruel rigor, hath robbed Thee of Thy life;
Thus Thou hast lost Thy vigor, Thy strength in this sad strife.
My burden in Thy Passion, Lord, Thou hast borne for me,
For it was my transgression which brought this woe on Thee.
I cast me down before Thee, wrath were my rightful lot;
Have mercy, I implore Thee; Redeemer, spurn me not!
What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.
My Shepherd, now receive me; my Guardian, own me Thine.
Great blessings Thou didst give me, O source of gifts divine.
Thy lips have often fed me with words of truth and love;
Thy Spirit oft hath led me to heavenly joys above.
Here I will stand beside Thee, from Thee I will not part;
O Savior, do not chide me! When breaks Thy loving heart,
When soul and body languish in death’s cold, cruel grasp,
Then, in Thy deepest anguish, Thee in mine arms I’ll clasp.
The joy can never be spoken, above all joys beside,
When in Thy body broken I thus with safety hide.
O Lord of Life, desiring Thy glory now to see,
Beside Thy cross expiring, I’d breathe my soul to Thee.
My Savior, be Thou near me when death is at my door;
Then let Thy presence cheer me, forsake me nevermore!
When soul and body languish, oh, leave me not alone,
But take away mine anguish by virtue of Thine own!
Be Thou my consolation, my shield when I must die;
Remind me of Thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfolds Thee. Who dieth thus dies well.
- Henry, H. (1912) Salve Mundi Salutare in The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Online copy, New Advent (retrieved March 8, 2013)
- Hymns For the Living Church. Carol Stream, IL: Hope Publishing. 1974. page 136. ISBN 0-916642-01-1
- The Book of Hymns. New York: Testament Books. 1989. ISBN 0-517-16241-5
- O SACRED HEAD, NOW WOUNDED Cyber Hymnal.
- O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden / Text and Translation of Chorale bach-cantatas.com, words German - English - Latin, use in Bach's works
- Chorale Melodies used in Bach's Vocal Works / Befiehl du deine Wege bach-cantatas.com, Hassler's melody
- O Sacred Head, Now Wounded HymnSite.com. Melody (MIDI) and piano score (pdf file).
- O Sacred Head, Now Wounded at Peachnote.com, the music score search engine.
- Audio sample by Serri Youngward from her Sons and Daughters CD