Hymn Story: O Sacred Head, Now Wounded

“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” is considered a Christian Passion hymn.  It is based on a long Latin poem “Salve mundi salutare” from the Middle Ages. Each of the seven stanzas addresses various part’s of Christ’s body on the cross.  The part this hymn is taken from involved Christ’s head. It is believed Arnulf of Leuven wrote the poem, although it has often been mistakenly attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux.

German Lutheran hymnist Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676) reworked the Latin version and translated the entire poem. The German hymn begins with “O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden”.

John Gambold (1711-1771) first translated the hymn into English in 1752. His version begins with  “O Head so full of bruises.”

Presbyterian minister, James Waddel Alexander (1804-1859) translated the hymn in 1830, starting it with “O sacred head, now wounded.”

The German and English versions of the hymn are set to music by Hans Leo Hassler. He wrote the melody around 1600 for a secular love son  “Mein G’müt ist mir verwirret [de]”.

Johann Sebastian Bach used an arrangement of the melody for his “St. Matthew Passion” and “Christmas Oratorio.”

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