The Wessobrunn Prayer, sometimes called the Wessobrunn Creation Poem (German: Wessobrunner Gebet, Wessobrunner Schöpfungsgedicht), believed to date from c790, is among the earliest known poetic works in Old High German.
The poem is named after Wessobrunn Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Bavaria, for centuries the repository of the sole manuscript, which is now in the Bavarian State Library in Munich (ref: Clm 22053, III, ff 65b/66a).
The date of composition is put at around 790 or a little later, while the surviving manuscript dates from about 814. The author of the verses is unknown, although from the content and a couple of linguistic features (see below), it seems highly probable that it was composed after an Anglo-Saxon model for use in the Christian missions to the heathen taking place in Germany at this time.
The place of origin of the manuscript is also unknown. It was not written in Wessobrunn; a number of Bavarian religious establishments could have produced it, the most likely being Augsburg or Regensburg. The conspicuous oddity in this manuscript of the use of the star-rune as a shorthand symbol for the syllable "ga-" is shared by only one other manuscript, also Bavarian, viz., Arundel MS. 393 in the British Library.
The poem is in two sections: the first is a praise of creation in nine lines of alliterative verse, and the second is the actual prayer, in free prose. The two together constitute a prayer for the wisdom and strength to avoid sin.
The two-part structure is reminiscent of Germanic magic spells (as evidenced for example in the Merseburg Spells): a transcendental precedent is first evoked (in this instance the gift of creation made to human beings by the Creator), according to the pattern of which the thing prayed for may be performed.
Some features in the first section reflect the language and idiom of Old German oral epics, using stem- and introductory formulae known from the Anglo-Saxon and Old Saxon traditions (manno miltisto, dat gafregin ih). The concept of creation from nothing (creatio ex nihilo) described here is however genuinely Christian. It has been speculated that the first five lines may once have been, or formed part of, an independent cosmogony.
|Original text||English translation|
Cot almahtico, du himil enti erda gauuorahtos enti du mannun so manac coot forgapi forgip mir in dina ganada rehta galaupa enti cotan uuilleon uuistom enti spahida enti craft tiuflun za uuidarstantanne enti arc za piuuisanne enti dinan uuilleon za gauurchanne
Of the Creator
Almighty God, Who created heaven and earth and gave so much good to men, in Your grace give me right belief and good will, wisdom, wit and strength to resist devils and turn from evil and do Your will.
- The script of the title (which is in Latin) is uncial, that of the text Caroline minuscule.
- Throughout, the prefix ga- is represented by the Marcomannic rune ᛡ (giltch) and the word enti by ⁊, the Tironian sign for the Latin word et ("and").
- In v 4, from the context it is likely that the word sterro ("star") is missing, to refer to the sun, moon and stars, with the translation as above. (If on the other hand there is no word missing, the translation of this line would be: "Neither anything at all, nor shone the sun"). The word scein appears in the manuscript as stein.
- In v 9, the word "is" seems to be missing at the end of the line.
The poem has been set to music many times in the 20th century. Arrangements include those by Heinrich Kaminski as part of the work Triptychon for voice and organ (1931), and by his pupil Carl Orff, published as part of the series Schulwerk (1950–54). Other settings include those by Hans Josef Wedig, op. 11, (Version 1) (1937), for male choir and organ, and the motet Mir gestand der Sterblichen Staunen als der Wunder grösstes... by Leopold Katt (d 1965).
More recent interpretations by composers in the classical tradition include those by Felix Werder in 1975 for voice and small orchestra, and by Michael Radulescu in two works: De Poëta in 1988 for four choirs and bells, and in another arrangement of 1991 re-worked in 1998 for soprano and organ.
One of the most unusual settings is by the German composer Helmut Lachenmann in his Consolation II (1968), in which component phonetic parts of the words of the prayer are vocalised separately by the 16 solo voices in a texture of vocal 'music concrete'.
- Steinhoff, H-H, 1999. Wessobrunner Gebet, in: Verfasserlexikon, vol. 10, cols. 961-965.
- (German) E-Text of the Wessobrunner Prayer (Bibliotheca Augustana)
- Another translation into modern German, with notes(University of Dallas)