Tuesday, March 27: “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”

Tuesday, March 27: O Sacred Head, Now Wounded

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded is a Christian Passion hymn based on a long Latin text written during the Middle Ages. Stanzas address the various parts of Christ’s body hanging on the cross (feet, face, pierced side, knees, hands, breast and heart).

Paul Gerhardt translated the full poem into German, but the closing section became the best known and is sung as a hymn. James Waddell Alexander’s translation into English began “O Sacred Head, now wounded” and became one of the most widely used in 19th- and 20th-century hymnals. (It is the translation used in our Lutheran hymnals.)

The music for the German and English versions is by Hans Leo Hassler, written around 1600. In 1656 Johann Cruger appropriated Hassler’s tune and simplified the rhythm. Johann Sebastian Bach arranged the melody and used five stanzas in his St. Matthew Passion. He also used the text and melody in a cantata, and the melody with different words in his Christmas Oratorio. Franz Liszt included an arrangement of this hymn in the sixth station of the cross. Paul Simon based his “American Tune” melody on this hymn.

Prayer: 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 till now was thine!
Yet, though despised and gory, I joy to call thee mine.

Lord, be my consolation; Shield me when I must die,
Remind me of thy Passion When my last hour draws nigh.
These eyes, new faith receiving, From thee shall never move;
For he who dies believing Dies safely in thy love. Amen.

Carolyn Koehl