Singing through the Year: O Sacred Head, Now Wounded

This week’s hymn is “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”—a hymn for Maundy Thursday instead of Easter since this is Holy Week.

“O Sacred Head” is a medieval Latin hymn that was translated by the American Presbyterian pastor, James W. Alexander in the 1800s. It comes from a tradition of meditating on Jesus’ crucified body. Another example of this tradition is Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu Nostri that the Immanuel choir will sing later this month, with movements on Christ’s feet, his hands, his heart and so on.

“O Sacred Head” was also translated by Paul Gerhardt, a seventeenth-century German pastor and hymn writer. His translation is the reason we English-speakers sing “O Sacred Head” with a German chorale tune that J. S. Bach harmonized.

Here’s a link to a simple piano version if you are learning the hymn and to a choral setting (with slightly different translation) if you would like to listen.


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.

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,
And grant to me Thy grace.

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.

Full text and score here >>>

Singing through the Year is a weekly series related to upcoming Sundays’ lectionary readings. It began as a personal project as I sang to my infant son, but now it features hymns used at the church where I am organist.