The hymn is based on a long medieval Latin poem, Salve mundi salutare, with stanzas addressing the various parts of Christ’s body hanging on the Cross. The last part of the poem, from which the hymn is taken, is addressed to Christ’s head, and begins “Salve caput cruentatum.” The poem is attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153).
Lyrics: O Sacred Head Surrounded
(Latin: Salve caput cruentatum, St. Bernard)
O Sacred Head surrounded
By crown of piercing thorn!
O bleeding Head so wounded,
Reviled and put to scorn!
Death’s pallid hue comes o’er Thee,
The glow of life decays,
Yet angel hosts adore Thee,
And tremble as they gaze.
In this, Thy bitter passion,
Good shepherd, think of me,
With Thy most sweet compassion,
Unworthy though I be:
Beneath Thy cross abiding,
Forever would I rest;
In Thy dear love confiding,
And with Thy presence blest.
Meditation by St. Alphonsus De Liguori
Ah, cruel thorns, ungrateful creatures, wherefore do ye torment your Creator thus? But to what purpose asks St. Augustine, dost thou find fault with the thorns? They were but innocent instruments–our sins, our evil thoughts, were the wicked thorns which afflicted the head of Jesus Christ: “What are the thorns but sinners?”
Thou, too, therefore, O my soul, didst then inflict torture upon the venerable head of thy Redeemer by thy many consentings to evil: Know thou and behold how grievous and bitter it is for thee to have left the Lord thy God.” Open now thine eyes, and see, and bitterly bewail all thy life long the evil that thou hast done in so ungratefully turning thy back upon thy Lord and God.
Ah, my Jesus! No, Thou hast not deserved that I should have treated Thee as I have done. I have done evil; I have been in the wrong; I am sorry for it with all my heart. Oh, pardon me, and give me a sorrow which may make me bewail all my life long the wrongs that I have done Thee. My Jesus, my Jesus, pardon me, wishing, as I do, to love Thee forever.