1 O sacred Head, now wounded,
with grief and shame weighed down;
now scornfully surrounded
with thorns, thine only crown;
O sacred Head, what glory,
what bliss 'til now was thine!
Yet, though despised and gory,
I joy to call thee mine.
2 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.
3 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.
Source: Trinity Psalter Hymnal #336
|First Line:||O sacred head, now wounded, With grief and shame weighed down|
|Title:||O sacred head now wounded|
|German Title:||O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden|
|Author (attributed to):||Bernard of Clairvaux|
|Author (attributed to):||Arnulf, Abbot of Villers-la-Ville|
|Translator:||James W. Alexander (1829)|
|Author (German version):||Paul Gerhardt|
|Source:||Salve caput cruentatum, Latin|
|Notes:||Paul Gerhardt translated "Salve caput cruentatum," the seventh section of the Latin poem "Salve mundi salutare," into German as "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden." James W. Alexander then translated the German into the English "O Sacred Head Now Wounded."|
This hymn text is often attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, a French abbot and founder of the Cistercian Order in the early twelfth century. In certain medieval orders, monks would spend hours meditating upon the crucifix. They would mentally divide the body of Christ into parts and meditate on each part respectively. Bernard (some think it was medieval poet Arnulf of Louvain) wrote a poem of fifty lines for each part of Christ’s body - his feet, hands, side, breast, heart, and head, and called it, “A rhythmic prayer to any one of the members of Christ suffering and hanging on the Cross” ('members' here refers to body parts). Bernard’s prayer to Christ’s head was the text hymnist Paul Gerhardt translated into German in the seventeenth century, and from which we have the English translation, “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.” Just as Bernard would meditate on the crucifix, so too does this text call us to remember the wounded and broken body of Christ as He suffered for us. It is not an activity we can ever particularly enjoy doing, but in the midst of reflecting on this in sorrow, we find buried, beneath our grief and shame, a pearl of joy; we can call this Savior, “though despised and gory,” our own. He suffered because of His love for us; we remember because of our love for Him.
The author of the original Latin text is often disputed. Some argue it was written by Arnulf of Louvain in the thirteenth century, but most attribute the text to Bernard of Clairvaux, as part of a seven-part prayer to the suffering body of Christ on the cross. Albert Bailey describes the Latin text as “thoroughly medieval and monkish in conception” (The Gospel in Hymns, 274). In the seventeenth century it was translated into German by Paul Gerhardt, and into English from the German by James Waddell Alexander in the nineteenth century. Alexander’s translation has undergone many alterations over the years, so it is nearly impossible to find any two modern hymnal versions in agreement about the text as a whole. The three verses shown in the Psalter Hymnal are the most common, though some hymnals include a fourth verse which begins: “Be near me, Lord, when dying; O show thy cross to me….”
The tune HERZLICH TUT MICH VERLANGEN, also known as PASSION CHORALE, was originally composed for a secular German courting song entitled, “Confused are all my feelings, A tender maid’s the cause.” It’s either quite funny or slightly disturbing that the same tune can be used for something as quaint as an old love song, and something as reverent and somber as this Passion hymn. The editors of the Psalter Hymnal Handbook describe this as “a glorious melody whose beauty has done much to fit the private devotional text onto the lips of congregations” (PHH).
This hymn needs little accompaniment, for the text and voices crying out, along with the “glorious melody,” is enough to carry the song. Consider a simple piano and violin accompaniment, as demonstrated by Fernando Ortega in his recording. For at least one verse, have the instruments drop out entirely and sing a cappella, making use of Bach’s beautiful harmonies. Amy Grant’s a cappella recording is an excellent example of this.
This hymn is traditionally sung on Good Friday. During a Tenebrae service, it could be sung after the Shadow of Desertion of the Shadow of Crucifixion & Humiliation. The subject matter of the hymn covers the entirety of Christ’s suffering, however, so it could really be sung at any point during the service.
Laura de Jong, Hymnary.org