O Sacred Head, Now Wounded
By Steve Eulberg
For Mountain Dulcimer Players in D-A-d Tuning


The true origins of “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” are still debated. Some sources suggest the 11th century, while others attribute the text to Arnulf of Louvain (1200-1251) in the 13th century. Still others believe that the source is later still because the poem first appeared in an anonymous Latin manuscript from the 14th century.

Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676) used the final stanza of the Latin, “Christ’s head with sharp thorns crowned,” as a basis for his German translation, “O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden,” (O head with blood and wounds) which was first published in its entirety in Johann Crüger’s Praxis Pietatis Melica (1656).

During the early 18th century, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) harmonized this hymn and used the tune in many of his works. Bach’s harmonization is the one that is most used in the North American hymnals.

“O Sacred Head” is a hymn typically played during Holy Week, a time of reflection on what Jesus Christ has done for us. Specifically, this hymn commemorates what took place at the time of the crucifixion on Good Friday.

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