The Good Friday Hymn: O Sacred Head Sore Wounded

Apr 19, 2019 by

by Margaret Ashworth, The Conservative Woman:

[…]  And so, it seems, the story ends . . .

The words of the Good Friday hymn O Sacred Head Sore Wounded originate in a long Latin poem believed to have been written by Arnulf of Leuven (c1200-1250), a Belgian abbot. Salve mundi salutare is a cycle of seven cantos each addressed to a part of Jesus’s crucified body. The last part, from which the hymn is taken, is addressed to Christ’s head, and begins ‘Salve caput cruentatum’ (‘Hail, bloodied head’).

The whole poem was translated into German in or before 1656 by the Lutheran hymnist Paul Gerhardt (1607–1676). The closing section became a hymn in its own right beginning ‘O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden’ (‘O head, full of blood and wounds’) and first appeared in Johann Crüger’s hymnal Praxis pietatis melica in 1656.

The first English translation was made in 1752 by John Gambold (1711–1771), a vicar in Oxfordshire. It begins, ‘O head, so full of bruises.’ An American Presbyterian minister and theologian, James Waddel Alexander (1804-1859) reworked it in 1830, beginning ‘O sacred head, now wounded’, and this became widely used in 19th and 20th century hymnals.

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.

In 1899 the English poet Robert Bridges (1844-1930), who later became Poet Laureate, 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 Church of England’s New English Hymnal (1986) and several other later 20th century hymn books.

Read here

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